Issue: March 2003
So Near Yet So Far

Everything is close, yet you still feel blissfully away from it all at Spring Cove Marina in Solomons, Md.  


    You’ve got to figure that anyone who’s sailed around the world has seen a marina or two and knows what makes a good one. So maybe it’s not so surprising that Spring Cove Marina in Solomons, Md., is consistently among the best chosen by this magazine’s readers. Its president and part owner, Trevor Richards, is a transplanted South African who met his wife Liz - also an owner - in Australia while circumnavigating. How they came to put down roots in Solomons is a story in itself, but in the process they have created a place that has a special, homey atmosphere - not to mention a year-round, covered, heated, regulation-length swimming pool and consistently terrific bathrooms. (Don’t laugh. In certain boating circumstances, a steaming shower in a spotless, private, roomy bathroom is next to heaven.) I first stayed at this marina 12 years ago while racing at what was then Solomons Island Race Week. Even then I was taken with its quietude and tall pines that hummed in the breeze. My most recent visit was last fall, and things have changed very subtly here, but only for the better.

    Spring Cove sits on 10 acres well upstream in Back Creek, entirely protected from the elements yet offering 12 feet of water for transient boats up to 120 feet long. Its 250 slips spread like a fan around the waterfront, with landscaped pathways and boardwalks linking the docks. Gardens are everywhere - tiny beds of impatiens and hostas shaded by hickory and oak trees, rock-bordered gardens of petunias, and in front of the pool a spread of hardy tropicals. The gardener is 70-year-old Barbara Hrivnak, a slipholder who, Richards says, “just keeps going and going, adding on all the time.” With gardens, benches and little decks tucked throughout the marina, it feels like you’ve tied up your boat in a park, and it’s easy to see why this place was one of the first in Maryland designated as a Clean Marina. (Another part of Richards’s ongoing Clean Marina effort was to install a central-vacuum pump-out system on the docks this winter; boaters will be able to plug directly into the system at their slips, rather than having to move their boats to the pump-out station.) 

    Up a slight hill from the docks sits the marina’s slate-blue main building, which houses the office, a gift shop, a playroom and lending library, laundry, storage lockers for slipholders and the bathrooms. No locker-room-style bathrooms these; each is individual and private and decorated in a variety of boaty motifs. This is also where we found the pool, where, even in mid-October, slipholders were happily swimming while enjoying a panoramic view stretching down Back Creek. Richards sponsors a local swim team that needed a place to practice, so he lengthened the pool for competition, heated it, and during the winter covers it in a plastic bubble.

    It took my kids about two seconds to find the playground behind the picnic area, which sits on a slight hill just behind the main building and is blissfully shaded with tall loblollies. Past the playground is the Naughty Gull, the marina’s restaurant, which serves lunch and dinner daily in season (seafood, steak, pasta, soups and sandwiches) as well as a Sunday brunch and take-out (410-326-GULL). The marina’s service operation and dry storage area are well back from the water. Operated by Richards’s brother Alan, the yard has a 30-ton lift and three mechanics on staff. The yard labor rate is $40 an hour ($65 for mechanical), and Richards does allow do-it-yourselfers, as long as they abide by the environmental rules; he rents dustless sanders, for instance, which boatowners are required to use if sanding bottoms.

    Just past the boatyard area, it’s a three-minute walk to the entrance to the Calvert Marine Museum; go a bit farther and you’ll find West Marine, Woodburn’s World Class Gourmet Deli, several fast-food joints, a liquor store and the post office. You can rent a bike from the marina to pedal into Solomons proper - $10 per day, $5 per half-day, with kids’ seats available. Everything is close, yet at this marina you feel secluded. And you don’t even have to sail around the world to find it.