The Gathering Place

Sea Ray owners gather at Maryland’s Deep Creek Marina to enjoy the changing leaves and the company of friends.

They call it “the third place.” A location, separate from the home and the workplace, where people can gather and establish a sense of community and civic engagement. Urban planners note the third place’s importance in fostering healthy societies. Coffee shops and bookstores, fully onboard with the concept, work to cultivate a living-room vibe, enticing visitors to linger with free Wi-Fi and refills.

But the best third places happen naturally, attracting a vibrant community whose members all have something in common—be it children of the same age, pets on the same play schedule or a shared love of the water. Marinas have a way of becoming that third space, and the most enduring ones tend to take on a life of their own.

Maryland’s Deep Creek Marina is one such place. Having undergone a major renovation just over a year ago, the popular Sea Ray dealership now boasts an expanded indoor showroom and the Marina Club, an inviting spot where customers meet for events, parties and impromptu hangouts over casual pub fare. It was here that a group of Sea Ray owners gathered last October for a final fall hurrah, set against a backdrop of brilliantly colored leaves. Couples Jim and Kim Alster, Susie and Bob Dimsa, and Richard and Michelle Warner convened to trade a summer’s worth of stories before heading outside to cruise the adjacent Deep Creek Lake.

The state’s largest inland body of water was formed in the 1920s, part of an Army Corps of Engineering project that resulted in its 60-plus miles of shoreline. The lake’s many winding curves and inlets provide amply varied terrain for boaters to explore. “You get the sense that you’re out in the middle of nowhere in stretches where the properties are a hundred yards back from the shore,” Kim describes. “And in other areas, there are beautiful vacation homes right down to the water.”

“It’s a beautiful area and a natural home base,” echoes Susie, who grew up boating here with her family and was determined to keep the tradition going. She and Bob now keep a condo on Deep Creek and came in for the weekend from Pittsburgh to spend time on their beloved 240 Sundeck before putting it away for the winter.

Of course a Sea Ray itself is an extension of the third place concept. “There’s something very powerful about it. As soon as you get on a boat you just instantly relax,” Susie says, adding that she and Bob usually make it a group affair. “The biggest thing for us is when our family comes down, and our friends join us—to us that’s what’s most important. Watching my nieces and nephews and brotherin- law go flying around on the tube…” she trails off with a laugh. “Those days are where your memories are. My parents come down here, and they’re older, so it’s nice to bring them out. The lake and the boat give us all a place to go, a destination.”

The Alsters readily second that notion. “The Deep Creek Marina guys are awesome,” Jim adds. “The owner, Adrian [Spiker], and Captain Scott [Kennedy] and Kim Green, all of them are so quick to step up and help with whatever we may need.” Kim nods in agreement. “They’re extended family,” she says.

The couple frequents Deep Creek Lake on their 260 Sundeck, a recent trade up from their previous Sea Ray, a 230. “I’m convinced the 260 is the biggest boat we’ll ever need,” Jim says. “It’s phenomenal. Performs amazingly, easily gets up to 50 mph. We can get 12 people on there and never feel crowded, almost like we’re in different rooms.”

“He’s in back under the Bimini with his laptop while I’m up in the bow,” Kim chimes in. “With the dogs!” Jim adds. The Alsters’ three life jacket-wearing pups, Phoebe, Katie and Zoe, are a fixture on the lake and can even occasionally be coaxed into the water via a tube tied off the swim platform—what Kim calls their “puppy launch pad.”

Both Alsters work in high-pressure jobs and relish their time at Deep Creek for the way it forces them to forget the deadlines and stresses of the office. For the most part, anyway. “I do love that dichotomy of taking an urgent phone call from a place that’s just the most relaxed environment possible,” Jim chuckles.

As the late-autumn afternoon wound to a close, the group took their respective Sea Rays for a bonus lap around the area in front of the marina, savoring the crisp air and lingering smells of grass and earth. Then they headed back to the Marina Club for easy conversation about everything and nothing at all.

In his book The Great Good Place, sociologist Ray Oldenburg identifies eight characteristics that define a third place. Of these, it’s the last that really resonates with the boaters of Deep Creek—and pretty much any location that draws a Sea Ray crowd: “Occupants of Third Places will often have the same feelings of warmth, possession and belonging as they would in their own homes. They feel a piece of themselves is rooted in the space, and gain spiritual regeneration by spending time there.”

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