Sailboat Operation In Question

SNOW HILL– Operators of a West Ocean City sailboat say its season is in jeopardy following the news that their lease is being canceled.

Connections of the Alyosha, a sailboat that docked at the West Ocean City Commercial Harbor, said the boat’s future in the resort is unclear following last week’s decision by the Worcester County Commissioners to cancel the boat’s lease. While the boat has gotten lots of public support, the commissioners haven’t agreed to reconsider the issue.

“I’m very thankful for the support,” said Alyosha’s Steve Butz. “It gives me a little hope.”

In 2019, the commissioners approved a five-year lease with the Alyosha that allowed the sailboat to dock in a 64-foot space that runs along the bulkhead at the county boat ramp. Butz, who’d previously used the boat to circumnavigate the world with his family, charters the boat to give patrons the chance to experience open-ocean sailing. Last week, however, the commissioners voted 5-2 to give the boat’s connections 90 days notice that they were canceling the lease. Commissioner Jim Bunting, who proposed the lease be canceled, said the dock was better used by residents unloading their boats at the county ramp.

Butz said he’s heard no complaints about the boat and had no idea the lease was even going to be a topic at the meeting last week. He said there was no mention of the economic benefit the Alyosha brings to Ocean City. According to Butz, the Alyosha experience attracted more than 2,300 people last year—people who patronized local bars and restaurants after visiting the boat.

“The other thing that wasn’t mentioned at all was the value of having the Worcester County brand and logo (which was on the Alyosha) in front of hundreds of thousands of beachgoers,” he said.

Butz said the boat’s customers and  supporters had reached out to the commissioners regarding last week’s decision but that they weren’t getting a response. He’s not sure if he’ll be able to have the boat in Ocean City this summer, as it took him a long time to find the dock space at the harbor.

“It’s a spot that allows the boat to be protected in a strong west wind,” Butz said. “It’s not possible anywhere else.”

At this week’s meeting of the commissioners, Commissioner Joe Mitrecic told his peers he felt they’d made a mistake canceling the lease. He said the boat’s annual payment of $8,500 was more than other boats paid for slips in the harbor and that the Alyosha had flown the Maryland’s Coast logo during the hundreds of trips it made.

“I don’t think we can look at it as an $8,500 contribution to the county,” he said. “I think it goes well beyond that. I think the commissioners made a mistake. Many commissioners asked for more information this week. I could say something snarky about that but I’ll just close with that.”

Though there was no other discussion at Tuesday’s meeting, when contacted afterward Commissioner Eric Fiori, who represents District 3 where the harbor is located, said he wanted the Alyosha to find a dock that worked but didn’t believe the boat should compromise the space near the boat ramp.

He added that in 2019, the lease hadn’t gone through the bidding process the county typically used.

“The process in which the contract was written was not fair,” he said.

He stressed that the commissioners weren’t opposed to the boat but rather the way the lease had been done.

“Government can’t pick and choose favorite businesses,” he said.

As for whether the issue will come up before the commissioners again, Butz said the agenda was set by the president of the board, Commissioner Chip Bertino.

“I don’t see it coming before the commissioners a second time,” Bertino said when asked for a comment this week.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.