Slip Shopping

Long, long ago, from a city far, far away… 

CA and I enjoyed looking at boats and marinas. In the years BC (Before a Craft), we’d make excuses to visit marinas just because boats were so cool.

There’s a basic aesthetic of shape to the hull and topsides. There’s the technical aspect of deck fittings and hardware. And there’s a fitness for purpose in the hydrodynamic and aerodynamic worlds. And they’re cool. Even when we knew nothing about boats, there’s a level of supreme coolness to them.

When the stakes were low, it was big fun. 

Now, however, the stakes have been raised. Our essential home, Red Ranger, is down in Deltaville while we’re working up here in McLean. It’s a right long drive down to Deltaville of a Saturday. And Winter is Coming™. We need to find a new home for Red Ranger

Back in ’06 or ’07 we settled on A Idea, and started trying to shop. At the time, it was just A Idea and a poor marina decision was inconsequential. We’d seen Annapolis. We’d seen San Diego. We knew what sailing nirvana looked like. And we knew there were waiting lists for slips. We weren’t sure how to make the decisions. 

We used spreadsheets to compare and contrast every nuance as we tried to come to grips with all the unknowns.


Its hard to move forward with A Idea, when we’re unclear on what we’re doing. And — at the time — we didn’t even have a boat. So it’s really a kind of three-part shopping expedition. To find out what’s important, then find a boat and then find a slip. But we’d like to know approximately where that slip was before buying a about. Otherwise we might wind up settling for a slip so far away that the boat merely languished. Chicken? Egg?

Once upon a time we flew to Baltimore and spent a long weekend driving around looking at Marinas. We weren’t sure what we wanted, but it wasn’t there. We looked at Norfolk and it seemed like a reasonable compromise between what we thought might be a good idea and reality of holding down a day job, finding a boat, fitting it out, and taking off to purse A Idea.

We created spreadsheets with lists of marinas and details details details about each marina. We sat in the car after each tour and filled in the cells on the spreadsheet. We wanted to be sure we didn’t do something completely stupid.

We created hugely detailed spreadsheets when nothing was at stake.

The Bold New World

Now, we’re shopping with a few more years of experience. And a boat. There’s a lot more at stake.


The conversations are suddenly very focused.

Us: “42ʹ overall, 13ʹ6″ beam, 6ʹdraft, 30A shore power.” 

Them: “Well…” followed by a sales pitch.

That’s sort of it. We’ve seen a few marinas, and we now know what we need. And the bottom line is that we don’t need much. 

I rebuilt the engine cooling system at anchor in a river. See “Heat Exchangers Exchanged.” We’re sort of competent at some things. 

[Let’s not get carried away here. We’ve met people who’ve pulled their prop shafts while in the water. Yes. They opened a giant hole in the boat and jammed a plug into it without losing any parts or sinking. We’ve met people who’ve redesigned and rebuilt their rudder. When it comes to self-sufficiency, we’re barely moving the needle.]

The marinas (and yacht clubs) seem to compete on amenities. They compete on what we want.

At the boat show, we talked to a guy from a totally Posh Yacht Club. The Whitby Rendezvous is held at a small yacht club’s facility. It was a remarkable contrast between West River Sailing Club and Posh Yacht Club. 

  • WRSC has a bar/kitchen and a two rooms with some furniture. Heads. Cinderblock showers. Boat Launch. Dock. Moorings. No actual staff.
  • Posh Yacht Club had a giant bar, a full-time chef, three huge rooms, patio, outdoor fireplace, pool. Posh heads with tiled showers. Four docks. Four grill and picnic table pads. A guy who appeared to be a paid concierge and (perhaps) a secretary or receptionist of some kind. A $75/month minimum at the bar/dining area. Fuel. Pump out. A membership fee above and beyond dock fees.
  • On and off, we've been at Deltaville Marina. A lounge. Heads with fiberglass stall showers. A pool. A gazebo with grills and a picnic table. Four docks. A paid dock master. Fuel. Pump out. Adjacent to a top-shelf boatyard: Deltaville Boatyard. Walking distance from Ace Hardware and West Marine.

That seems to be the spectrum: from approximately nothing to just about everything. We spent some time the Ortega Landing marina. It was comparable to the Posh Yacht Club, without the membership fee. We’ve spent time at anchor, as well as city docks (with almost no amenities) and other tiny, family-operated marinas that are little more than docks in a creek.

The Decider

Besides the fabulous Posh Yacht Club, we’ve looked at some marinas more in line with Deltaville Marina.

How do we decide?

More nerdy spreadsheet action?

Actually, no. We no longer need the crutch of a formal decision-making process.

We’re down to this:

Sturdy Docks with safe walkway access to carry heavy things down to the boat?

Nearby hardware stores or West Marine (or both.)

Nearby marine services for the things we can’t easily do ourselves: 

  • engine, transmission, and fuel;
  • complex structural fiberglass;
  • complex rigging — mostly dealing the masts themselves;
  • sail loft.

Since we have a working fuel tank, I may take on the center fuel tank as a long-running project next winter. Or. I may hire diesel tech to rework the fuel plumping and add a filter/transfer pump.

So far?

Herrington Harbor North.

Seems to have everything we need and only a little of stuff we might merely want. 

Bonus: they’re an Eco-Lifestyle Resort. This has a lot of appeal. 

© Steven Lott 2021