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Photos by Dori Arrington

Finding Grit and Charm Where North Meets South

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Exploring the tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay in and around Baltimore is an opportunity every boater should take. Between the breadth and beauty of the Chesapeake Bay, there are few places better to enjoy a boat. Downtown Baltimore wasn’t always an attractive boating destination, the working waterfront was more of a place to escape than to seek out. A concerted effort by business and elected leaders changed all of that in the late 70’s and early 80’s, when Baltimore’s Inner Harbor became the place to be. The opening of the National Aquarium and Maryland Science Center’s downtown waterfront locations cemented the Inner Harbor’s success, well into the 21st century.

Outsiders will be forgiven if they misunderstand Baltimore, as Baltimore hasn’t always been sure of its own identity. It first helps to understand Baltimore exists in the perpetual shadow of its wealthier and some would say more sophisticated neighbors of New York, Philadelphia, and Washington DC; yet it need not make any apologies for what it is. Baltimore is Baltimore; it is not pretentious, it is a dichotomous mix of a refined southern city with agrarian roots, overlayed with a rough and tumble northern immigrant industrial ethos. Baltimore could easily be described as a mix of Charleston and Pittsburgh, exemplifying the best and worst of both.

If you asked me to define Baltimore in a single word, it would be “grit.” In the field of positive psychology, grit is “the demonstration of passion and perseverance, in the quest of a goal, despite being confronted by significant obstacles and distractions.” Baltimore seems to continually face significant challenges, yet perseveres in the face of these. Today it exudes charm, in spite of its frequent reputation for being more “crime city” than “charm city.”

Today visiting boats are drawn to the steamed crabs, the National Aquarium and Camden Yards, each unique experiences found nowhere else. But it doesn’t end there. The neighborhoods around downtown Baltimore’s marinas are a wondrous mix of old and new. Chic bistros on 400-year-old cobblestone streets are worth the walk into the neighborhoods around the harbor.

While Baltimore’s Inner Harbor kickstarted its renaissance, it is but a small piece of the vibrant harbor today. The trendy new area today is Harbor East, a once blighted industrial area separating the Inner Harbor from the historic Fells Point district. Many of the industrial buildings in the area that could be saved have been converted into shops and residences. Those beyond saving were razed to make way for exciting new projects, full of businesses by day and lively entertainment by night.

In a perfect example of Baltimore’s grit, imagine having 27 acres of prime waterfront property off limits to development due to industrial and chemical contamination. This was the case with an abandoned factory in the city. In one of the most successful reclamation projects in any urban industrial area, “Harbor Point,” the former chromium factory turned environmental super-fund site, is now a thriving mix of commercial and residential life located on the harbor’s north shore.

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Equally successful projects were undertaken on the southern shore of the harbor years ago when local business leader Kevin Plank had the vision to purchase and rehabilitate a former soap factory into the headquarters of his growing company Under Armor. The Tide Point development helped revitalize an entire neighborhood of classic but neglected Baltimore row houses into desirable modern homes.

Tide Point benefited from being next to another Baltimore landmark and perennial favorite–Fort McHenry, the historic location of a War of 1812 battle. With a 180-degree view of the Patapsco River, Fort McHenry was a strategic location from which to protect the city, our country and today has an unparalleled view of the future it helped insure. An awe-inspiring event is watching the Blue Angels fly over the nation’s flag as it waves above Fort McHenry during Fleet Week, which is celebrated in the harbor every September.

Boaters also have the unique experience of positioning themselves on the exact spot where Francis Scott Key was inspired to write our National Anthem, while being held captive aboard a British Naval ship. A special U. S. Coast Guard maintained buoy marks the spot where the ship carrying Key was anchored in 1814 as Fort McHenry was bombarded. Key watched the British bomb the fort for 25 hours until they finally gave up, unable to destroy the fort.

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Baltimore’s Fells Point neighborhood has always been one of its greatest treasures and still is today. The old city pier located in Fells Point, which once served as the police station for the television series Homicide, is now “The Sagamore Pendry,” an upscale boutique hotel.

On the sand volley ball courts of Rash Field, players are illuminated by the red neon glow of the Domino Sugar sign, part vestige of Baltimore’s past, and part of the ongoing healthy mix of the current residential and industrial environment in the city.

It only takes a brief scan of news sources to know Baltimore still struggles like many modern urban centers, but the bigger crime would be to avoid one of our country’s most welcoming and vibrant cities. You may come to Baltimore as a visitor, but if you’re willing to let it, Baltimore has a way of making everyone feel at home.

This article originally appeared in the December 2022 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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