A Maryland dad sells his tech business, circumnavigates the globe with his family and opens a water-cruise business in Ocean City that provides jobs to middle- and high-schoolers from Baltimore, via a not-for-profit partnership. It’s a story that’s hard to root against, and we haven’t even mentioned the ice cream cruise yet.
Captain Steve Butz is the owner and operator of OC Bay Hopper and Sail Alyosha, a boating outfit in Ocean City with offerings so expansive that it feels like a challenge to leave the events calendar on their website without making a booking. They have 19 types of cruises, with prices ranging from $15 for a one-way shuttle ride to $150 for tours with food.
The company had a simple enough start. Butz created a water taxi service to connect North Ocean City with Downtown Ocean City because he knew the area needed water transportation. His fleet has since expanded to four ships, catering to all manner of boating tastes.
Book them for:
- Daily catamaran sunset cruises
- Private charters
- Food-focused jaunts from OC Foodie Tours, whose rides stock BBQ, Shore Craft beer, pizza or ice cream
- Nature tours to Assateague Island or coastal bays
- Hands-on crabbing trips
The menu of excursions is interesting. The story behind the company is extremely interesting.
Before he was Skipper, Butz was a tech executive. Toiling for years at a software company, he kept his eye on a grander plan: “I put my nose to the grindstone, worked all the hours, got on all the planes — but in the back of my head, my guiding light was, ‘I’m doing this because I’m gonna get a boat, we’re gonna sail it around the world, I’m gonna take my kids out of school for a year and we’re gonna be together as a family,’” he says.
And he did.
Butz sold his company in 2014, bought a 50-foot catamaran and spent two years practicing. He began his multi-year circumnavigation in 2016, finished it in 2019, and managed a 12-month leg during which his wife Lisa and their children (twin 13-year-olds and an 11-year-old, if you can believe it) sailed from Tahiti to Australia.
We sat down with the sea captain to learn more about his vision, the offerings of his fleet, and the scariest thing that happens when you’re on the ocean with your family of five for a year straight.
InsideHook: There’s a lot going on with your boating business. What’s the big picture?
Captain Steve Butz: I had been a social worker in Baltimore City [where I’m a resident] and I really wanted to get back into doing something that would benefit the kids there. I tried to come up with a high-visibility business where I could bring kids down and hire them as workers/first mates. This was a long term plan — I was thinking seven to eight years to build the business before pivoting to workforce development — but with COVID, I saw an opportunity to speed things up. So I partnered with a nonprofit in Baltimore City called Next One Up. Kids get to live and work down in Ocean City. They have an RA who teaches life skills like grocery shopping, learning how to cook and live on your own. This year we have seven kids. It’s small numbers, but we’re growing.
Yours isn’t the typical tech success story — you hear about folks who do well in that industry and then jump right into additional opportunities within the sector, but not you.
I have partners that were in business with me [who] look at me and think, “What the heck are you doing? People will pay you over here.” And I’m looking at them saying, “What are you guys doing?! None of that was much fun. It was a grind!”
I think it’s much better to do something where your purpose is coming through. I was able to find a path that allowed me to marry my passions: passion for the water, passion for kids in Baltimore City and passion for Ocean City.
How did you convince your family to pause their lives and hit the high seas for a year? And this was before the pandemic, when people started breaking the rules/routine!
It took some convincing, but we had talked about it for so long it was almost an inevitability. We very strategically chose to miss eighth grade — nothing good happens in eighth grade. [We spent four months in New Zealand and] the kids were able to do some online schooling there because we had better internet connectivity.
What was the most harrowing moment at sea?
We were 600 miles off the coast of Lisbon, Portugal, and we were in a very bad situation. We eventually got to 25-foot waves crashing against the boat. My wife had an absolute meltdown, and the kids were sitting in their state rooms, and I was thinking “Please! Why do I have to have my family on board for this?!” So yes, moments like that, they come.
Yeesh. How about the best moment?
Almost the whole year! You’d pull into an anchorage, each one more beautiful than the next. We spent a week [at Niue in the South Pacific]. You could see 100 feet down, there were whales playing off the back of the boat every morning, there were underwater caves to explore. There were so many of those moments, they way outweigh the pain. [That said] I have no intention of circling the world again. Once was quite enough.
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