- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Gentlemen, start your Evinrudes.

It may not be Marina del Rey, but Washington — a city of starched, buttoned-down Brooks Brothers types — has lots and lots of boats. Big boats, little boats, paddle boats, sailboats, kayaks and canoes, and come Memorial Day the Potomac River often turns into a riot of recreational regattas, complete with booze and bikinied babes.

Boaters all say the same thing: once on the water, you’re no longer in Washington.

Tying up to the Georgetown waterfront means getting to “The Wall” first. Power players jockey for position, and on warm summer nights, they bob in the water blaring classic rock while streams of singles and tourists at Tony & Joe’s open-air bar stare with envy and even hop on board for a cocktail and maybe a cruise.

“Some are looking for a free drink,” said Johnny Gatewood, 34, standing in his gleaming white $100,000 Chris-Craft Continental cruiser named “Jack On The Boat.” He works for a telecommunications company and says the real point of owning a boat in Washington is to “get away from stress.” And yes, lying on the deck was his dog, Jack.

Never mind that filling up the tank costs $400.

“Boaters are cool people. You get every type of social and economic status,” Mr. Gatewood said.

Meanwhile, moored beside him was “Shameless,” a $200,000 Sonic fast boat that looks the size of Dupont Circle. “Shameless” owner Jack Hendricks sipped cocktails with friends — builder Jack Stoddard and his daughter, Trina. Mr. Hendricks owns Cycles for Less, a motorcycle dealership.

Power boaters are “an elite group,” said Miss Stoddard, 35. “Whoever gets to ‘The Wall’ first controls the line. It’s a clique. If you’re the lead guy, you have the right to say who is behind you. It’s the ‘in’ crowd.”

“This is a good time to hang out with my buddies,” said Marine Sgt. Eddie Wright, standing on the dock next to the new flashy boat he won after a reality TV show, “Rock the Boat,” chose his name in a drawing for a wounded vet.

Sgt. Wright, 30, lost both arms at the elbow in an April 2004 rocket grenade ambush in Iraq. Tall and good-looking, he was holding an energy drink in a hook attached to a prosthesis.

“I have no name for it yet. Maybe ‘Look No Hands,’” he said to the laughter of his two Navy buddies.

But Washington Harbour is not the only popular mooring destination. Old Town Alexandria has become a hot place to tie up, and tie one on at the many bars on King Street.

The Gangplank Marina on Water Street is a favorite with the anti-tourist set, who sit eating soft shell crabs and drinking Coronas on warm summer nights at Cantina Marina, imagining themselves in the Bahamas with a Red Stripe and conch fritters. The dress is power chic: tiny tank tops, strapless bandeaus, shorts and Key West shirts.

What is the boating culture in Washington?

“It’s a hard question. Because it’s not Miami,” said Tara Bradshaw, who was sitting with Bob Schellhas, 40, who works for a Washington bank. He bought his 23-foot Crownline power boat last year. “I live downtown in a condo,” Mr. Schellhas said. “I like to be outside.”

Boating in Washington is “not a destination,” he added. “You’re in the city. It’s a nice way to relax after work.”

“It’s a place to escape,” Miss Bradshaw said.

In the end, some Washingtonians even decide to make the water their permanent home. Two years ago, retired Adm. Bill Wright and his wife, Jean, sold their house, put the furniture in storage and bought a 43-foot diesel trawler, “Chapter III,” which sleeps six.

They were back in Washington over the holiday weekend to visit their children. “We live onboard, and have for the last two years,” the 64-year-old admiral said. “When it gets hot, we go to Canada; when it gets cold, we go to Florida.”

Still, with water, water everywhere, there is one thing Mrs. Wright says is lacking.

“I probably miss a bathtub.”

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