New money floats at the Georgetown waterfront.
You, too, can be a boat ho.
Say there’s nothing so sexy to you as a man who’s man enough to shell out six figures for a floating piece of jewelry. And say Don Johnson remains your paragon of male style. And just say, for a minute, that you really, really like Coors Light. Then get yourself to the Georgetown waterfront on a Friday night. Dress up, head on down, and walk around until you get invited onto a yacht.
Imagine the payoff: You might end up with a hunk of a man—and an even bigger hunk of yacht. Not to mention a new appellation—”boat ho.”
If you meet the above parameters and are in the market for a really big boat that happens to have a man attached, Heath Bourne is the type of commodity you will be shopping for. He is a 30-year-old mortgage broker who spends his days bringing home buckets of cash for Maryland’s Calvert Mortgage. But at night, he is a boat ho’s dream. Bourne looks as if he just strolled out of a Bret Easton Ellis novel. He is fit, tanned, and extremely handsome, with sun-bleached blond hair from many days out on the yacht. He is one of the finer landlocked captains who rarely take their grotesquely large boats anywhere beyond a small public dock underneath the Whitehurst Freeway.
“We have what we refer to as ‘boat hos,’” Bourne says. “They basically walk up and down the dock looking for a boat to get on.”
Bourne met his girlfriend, Karen Cannon, last year on his boat. “I used to be a boat ho,” Cannon confirms.
Ray Towles, a fellow mortgage banker who co-owns the Fine Lyon with Bourne and another young professional, seconds the assessment. “She was one of the best boat hos ever,” he says.
The swinging life of a boat ho sounded nifty as I checked out some of the rides that pull up at the dock—conveniently located in front of gobs of onlookers at the Sequoia and Tony and Joe’s restaurants. There may not be many waves in the Potomac, but there are plenty of swells on the beach. Size not only matters, it rules. Remember when the minivan turned into the 19-foot-long Ford Excursion? That’s the same transformation Bourne and his buddies have given the vessel formerly known as the yacht. The scene makes The Great Gatsby look like The Old Man and the Sea. Every week, two or three dozen behemoths that happen to travel the few hundred yards from marinas in exotic locales like Alexandria and Fort Washington to tie up, hang out, and conspicuously consume.
“It gets crazy,” Cannon says, “but it is a cheesy kind of crazy.”
It’s 9 o’clock on a dripping-hot August night, and dozens of Fiberglas Titanics have already chugged up to dock outside the waterfront bars. The coolers in the sterns are stocked with cases upon cases of canned beer. Bikini-clad women and bare-chested men lounge on the crowded sterns and cockpits of the vessels. Hootie & the Blowfish are blaring out of one yacht’s windows.
The crowd is generally early to mid-30s, mostly white, and mostly from the Virginia and Maryland suburbs. It is a semi-rowdy scene, soaked in alcohol as people hop from boat to boat bumming beers and dart in and out of the waterside bars.
Aboard a boat called The Southern Waves, Don Hewatt and his friends are consuming enough variously colored and carbonated liquids to sink the ship. “A buddy said to me, ‘What did you do [for fun] before you had a boat?’” says Hewatt. “I had no clue….Number one, you can drink on the boat. And there are so many people walking up and down. The thing I like about it is, it’s outdoors—it’s not smoky or crowded. And Domino’s delivers right down to the boat!”
The spectacle is lurid enough to make even the most devoted skeptic of the ’90s economic boom into a true believer. That IPO money may be just on paper, but at least some of it is floating right here in the Potomac, in the form of boats that cost as much as your parents’ house. The tall, fat yachts are joined here and there by massive cigarette boats, which may accommodate just two people but still constitute a mighty efficient way to get huge money down a rathole. “It’s people in their 30s acting like people in their 20s,” boat owner Scott Zechman says.
“Yes, but now we have more money,” fellow boat owner Scott Delgado adds.
In fact, the money isn’t buying much in the way of open-sea getaways. The boats dock directly under National Airport’s flight path—meaning that every few minutes, the Dave Matthews Band has to make way for USAirways. And while the ears have to contend with jet noise, the nose has to deal with diesel fumes—trapped by the freeway—muscling out the aroma of Coppertone.
And once the yachters get dressed up in their 45 feet of money, all they can do is come here and park. The public dock is just a strip of concrete in front of the bars, not even a hundred yards long, way too small for the average Friday. The partiers are left to tie onto one another, stacking up five or six in a row out into the river.
The cozy logistics means that aquatic visitors have to climb across each other’s boats to visit the bars or one another. Steve Gross says his boat, Seas the Day, sometimes gets trapped by the other boats. “Sometimes we tie up maybe six or seven deep,” he explains. “The guy on the inside is pretty much there for the evening.”
So is everyone else. This is about the only place to go in about a hundred miles. It may be a short drive, but once you have your boat on the Potomac it’s 150 miles to Annapolis and some real nautical partiers, or a six- to seven-hour boat ride to the Chesapeake Bay’s recreation spots. On the other hand, the assembled revelers—most of whom look a lot more adept at navigating Internet mergers than the seven seas—may like it that way: Out in the ocean, there’s nobody to profile for.
Patent lawyer Jay Spiegel’s Twin Fountains is 46 feet long and 15 feet wide, and has more accouterments than my house. I’ve got a fixer-upper kitchen and an oversized mutt named Brutus. He’s got a full galley, a dinette, and five pure-bred miniature dachshunds with names like Mia and Solo who are being raised on board. He’s also got a multidimensional sound system and two diesel engines. He docks near Mount Vernon and has been coming up to Georgetown since 1987.
“When you are a boater in Washington, there are very few places you can go,” Spiegel explains. “There are very few destinations. You can go here, or you can go to Alexandria, or you can go to Occoquan. This is the best place of them all because it has the most restaurants and bars. It is free of charge. It is safe.”
Safe, that is, until the boat owners start eyeing each other’s, ah, vessels.
Bourne, of the Fine Lyon, explains how the mine-is-bigger-than-yours dynamic of the Georgetown scene can knife your pocketbook faster than any Potomac river pirate. “Me and him had a boat,” prior to the Lyon, he says of co-owner Paul Addington, a doctor who works on patients’ spines.
“First time out, we decided we needed a bigger boat,” Addington interjects.
The result is 40 feet long and weighs 18,000 pounds. New, the Lyon would cost $300,000, but Bourne and his buddies got it for a song at $75,000. The plush cabins below sleep six and are comfortably cooled by forward and aft air conditioners. There are a TV, a VCR, a stereo, a hang-up closet, and a bathroom bigger than many in Manhattan.
The Lyon seems equipped to motor to Ireland. But the farthest Bourne has taken her from her dock right across the river in Virginia is to a party in Baltimore. Still, the co-owners are happy to spend money on fueling up for the really important things—like keeping their beer cool in the fridge: The Lyon’s 900-horsepower engines burn 40 gallons of fuel an hour.
“High-octane-test stuff is all you can put in her,” part-owner Towles says. “So you have to spend.” It used to be that a beat-up pontoon and a 12-pack constituted a floating party. Now it takes a massive configuration of Fiberglas, chrome, and roaring iron. Just add water—and lots and lots of money. CP