OCEAN PINES — Negotiations have fallen apart between a local boat captain and the Ocean Pines Yacht Club about the creation of a water ferry service between Ocean Pines and Ocean City.
Danny McDorman, who owns and captains OC Swimcall, a 49-passenger boat that’s primarily used for parties and tours, says he thought the deal was “all but done” and had hoped to use Memorial Day weekend as a litmus test to see if a water ferry service was doable and potentially profitable.
“I got a call late last week saying that they had some concerns and they wanted to go in a different direction,” said McDorman, “but I received thousands of positive responses about the idea, and I hope there’s a way to get it done at some point down the road.”
Jerry Lewis, the manager at the Yacht Club, says there were just too many uncertainties with the idea.
“The logistics weren’t all there,” said Lewis. “For a service like that, you need infrastructure and consistency, and I just didn’t see how he could provide that consistency if he was also going to be renting the boat out for parties as well.”
Yet, Lewis says while the water ferry service may never get off the ground, the idea to utilize McDorman’s boat as a value-added post-dinner cruise for Yacht Club guests is still very much on the table.
McDorman, who is also a Coast Guard veteran, thinks the Yacht Club would be a perfect spot for a water ferry service and could be a smaller-scale headquarters similar to the Cape May/Lewes ferry shove-off point in Delaware.
“I think there would probably be some concerns about people coming back over into Ocean Pines from the bars in Ocean City, but I think it would be a great service for locals to get back and forth to work and for people who don’t want to deal with traffic in the summer months,” he said.
If you’ve ever found yourself stuck on a gridlocked bridge over tranquil waters on Routes 50 and 90 on a Saturday afternoon during the summer season, the frustrated or even entrepreneurial mind may start to look at the endless line of cars trying to get into Ocean City and wonder why no one has ever started a water taxi service that would swiftly shuttle locals and tourists to their destinations by boat rather than by car.
Fifteen years ago, Alex Trimper had the same thought, but he acted on it, starting the city’s first and only water taxi service, Buzzboat.
The trouble is it’s always remained a very small operation, one without the budget for advertising.
“I have a 12-person boat, and mostly I just shuttle people to the various bars and restaurants in Ocean City,” said Trimper. “But, I would end up spending all the money I make on advertising the business so it has just stayed small. It keeps me busy, believe me, I get over 100 calls a week.”
Trimper is a Realtor in Florida during the offseason, and he comes back to Ocean City for this summer to operate his water taxi and be close to his mother. He says the overhead costs are likely what have kept others from trying to start a similar service.
“Even for my small boat, the startup costs coming into a summer season are close to $7,000,” said Trimper. “I probably make a little more than that each summer.”
Most of Trimper’s ridership is made up of students who live on 28th Street and young people who want to avoid the roadways and go barhopping on the water.
“I can’t tell you how many times I was between Fager’s and Seacrets and Fishtales and other spots this past weekend,” said Trimper, “I could’ve been out there all day and all night if I wanted to be.”
Trimper says he often wonders why the city doesn’t follow in the footsteps of coastal communities like Fort Lauderdale, which helped to kick start a water taxi service more than three decades ago.
Today, Fort Lauderdale’s water taxi service is a vital component of its transportation system, offering seasonal passes, a growing fleet and more than 12 transit stops on a defined network of waterways.
“Nobody wants the liability,” says Trimper. “Every summer I promise myself that I won’t ever do it again, but when the next summer comes around again, I keep putting the boat in the water. I don’t do it for the money. I do it because there is a very real need for a water taxi service here.”
Trimper says the ferry service that McDorman envisions is equally needed in the community, but says the logistics of putting all of it together would take a serious amount of time, resources and money.