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Farewell to a friend and other Annapolis tidbits

The infinitely small boating-related corner of my inconsequential nautical world in Annapolis survived several hits in 2012. But what little activity remains of my social life was greatly diminished by the death in September of a colorful Eastportian character nicknamed “Budweiser Dave,” who was only 59.

David 'Budweiser Dave' Sells

I came to know this thin, bearded boatyard worker soon after he arrived in town in the late 1970s. I would encounter him now and then and was greatly amused by him at an old boaters’ hangout, Marmaduke’s Pub. This joint attracted characters and was opened by the now deceased George Tyler — a very tall, larger-than-life 300-pound character himself who once covered his entire barroom floor with sand for a beach party.

David “Budweiser Dave” Sells worked at the Annapolis Harbor Boatyard in Eastport for some 34 years, but on his days off he donned a palm tree-motif shirt and straw hat to become a weekend warrior at local drinking establishments. He would show up and bang on the door of ’Duke’s, shouting, “I wanna Bud!” Barmaid Kathy Prati would let him in, and she nicknamed him for his great thirst for Budweisers.

From there he sauntered along to a dive up the street called The Wharf (also Patton’s Pub) and from there to Davis’s, capped by a final return visit to ’Duke’s. He liked nothing better than the times when I rounded up a pretty waitress as a volunteer to pose with him for photographs. His Sunday routine was always cut short in order to rest up for a hard week at the yard. He called it his “school night.”

At the no-nonsense boatyard, he was all about work and had no time for small talk. Sometimes he would commute to work by motor scooter, but usually he walked the short distance from his bachelor pad. He often arrived at 6:30 a.m., an hour before he was scheduled, and stayed on later if needed. “He would walk around and check on the boats and equipment. We could always count on him,” boatyard owner John Norton says.

At Dick Franyo’s Boatyard Bar & Grille, a trendy, upscale spot that replaced The Wharf, he commandeered a stool at the end of the bar — his name is on it — where busy servers placed orders and gossiped. He always had an eye for the ladies and would occasionally act as an unofficial greeter by the front door. One of his favorites there was barmaid Wendy Foard, who would invite him to Thanksgiving dinners or drive him home after her work shift ended.

During social events at the Eastport Yacht Club, he was a dancing fool and usually soloed on the floor, except when he got lucky. On New Year’s Eve he donned formal attire and made the rounds in a high top hat but never wandered off course and across the Spa Creek Bridge into historic Annapolis. In the spring he would sit for an annual “makeover” to remove heavy facial growth, whacked away in a shave and buzzcut by the heavy-handed Leon at the old Leon’s Barber Shop. He emerged looking like a shrunken head inside an adult body, his old straw hat falling over his ears.

I always shouted out, “Hey, old-timer!” when I motorsailed past his Travelift on my way out of the harbor. I knew that irritated the hell out of him, and he always countered with “You’re the old-timer, not me” when I came across him on weekends.

Dave died of cancer of the esophagus. Surviving his memory is a tall Budweiser bottle affixed to the top of an outer piling at the lift, as if he left it there. He is also survived by his brother, Mike, who has worked at the yard for 38 years, is now its senior mechanic and was responsible for luring Dave here in the first place.

* * *

For 18 years Howard Rogers presided over his colorful Raven Maritime Studio at the busy corner of First Street and Severn Avenue in Eastport in a wooden, one-story residential shop zoned historic. Unfortunately, it is to be gutted and barricaded on two sides by a three-story office complex, though the protected shell of the structure will remain.

As a result, Rogers has moved his operation to his new residence and garage workshop at 278 Hillsmere Drive, just outside Eastport. “I am emotional about leaving Eastport and certainly will miss all the friends I have made, but I had no choice,” he says. Incidentally, he notes that his $550 rent did not change in 17 of those years.

Rogers, 68, is a kind of Renaissance man who arrived in the United States in 1970 from his native England and continued in his profession as a high-end carpenter and ship joiner, cabinetmaker, maritime artist and creator of custom, hand-carved boat name boards. He also has amassed a 26,000-image collection of historic British tugboats and paintings of them.

I often waved to him during my daily rounds of Eastport, going to and from my little cubbyhole office and my sailboat. Every morning and evening he loyally raised and lowered a number of faded flags — the banners of the Maritime Republic of Eastport, the Cross of St. George, the Union Jack and the Maryland state flag, along with the Stars and Stripes. “But I plan to continue making my 3 to 5 p.m. happy-hour visits to Davis’s Pub in Eastport,” he says. Rogers can be reached at (443) 214-9629.

* * *

Sarles, the oldest (since 1907) boatyard in Annapolis, was sold to a local developer last August for an undisclosed sum. Bret Anderson, the president of Pyramid Builders, also bought the companion Petrini’s Shipyard (since 1947) next door on Spa Creek in Eastport. This sounded like one of those “end-of-an-era” stories, but there are waterfront maritime zoning restrictions regarding development.

Sarles is just around the corner from my boat and convenient to my consultations with such boatyard pros as Dave, Big Steve and Shorty. They have provided scraps of wood and cut pieces for me because they have the proper tools for such jobs. I would hire Shorty for chores in areas of my boat that I couldn’t reach. Big Steve was working on a 1939 42-foot Matthews when I last visited in late September.

Sarles and Petrini’s had undergone some recent changes. Debra Smith purchased Sarles in 2005 for $3.5 million. John Petrini, who bought the boatyard from his family for $1.5 million in 1999, died in 2012, and the property went to his wife, Judith Dodge-Petrini.

Smith had come up with the idea of establishing a kind of “maritime village” at her 1.5-acre yard, which has the last operating marine railway in town and had developed an expertise in working on wooden boats. It also has two of the few covered commercial boat sheds in town.

Anderson, a longtime resident of Annapolis, says of his plans: “I want to create a new legacy and operate a marine village committed to excellence. Most structures there are nearing the end of their life spans and need reconstruction. We are intent on keeping their existing charm and to give these properties the attention, care and vision they deserve.”

Jack Sherwood is writer at large for Soundings.

December 2012 issue