For our 20th wedding anniversary, we did a road trip down to the Florida Keys – a destination that we had visited a number of times before, only this time was different… we brought a Hobie sailing trimaran with us. The experience of exploring the Keys by water was so spectacular and enjoyable, that I don’t want to do it any other way ever again. By car the Florida Keys are just kinda “meh”, because of all of the traffic, strip malls, souvenir shops, and the like. But by boat – any boat – the Keys are elevated into a truly special experience that will be memorable for years to come.
Photo info: Twilight with the gulls on Marathon Key Gulf View Waterfront Resort Marathon, Florida June 2010 Apple iPhone 5S
Down near the southern tip of Maryland, at the very edge of the water bordering the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay, is a personal Mecca of ours – Courtney’s Restaurant. We used to keep our boat at a marina that was within walking distance of the restaurant, so we became regulars over time. Breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, brunch, lunch, dinner, afternoon tea, supper, whatever – it didn’t matter what time or occasion, Courtney’s was the place for us. Why? The amazing seafood.
In truth, the entire operation is the very definition of a classic seafood dive – the restaurant itself is a no-frills cinder block construct that was once an oyster shucking house from an earlier era with worn interior furnishings, surrounded by several of the original buildings that are in various stages of weathering and disrepair, with an uneven parking area that’s partially flooded at high tide, and a small RV campground that obscures the beautiful and expansive views of the water – but helps to pay the bills when business at the restaurant is slow.
Unlike most other seafood restaurants in and around the Chesapeake Bay, this dive is owned and operated by 75-year-old Chesapeake waterman Tom Courtney and his wife, Julie, with increasing assistance from their younger family members. Here’s a video of Tom at work on the water.
Tom goes out on the water early every morning and catches, cleans, and preps all of the fish on their menu – before handing them over to Julie, who does all of the cooking. The dishes are simple and rustic, but the freshness can’t be equaled. The place is a long way from nowhere and the service is slow, but the food is totally worth the experience.
Photo info: Courtney’s Restaurant Ridge, Maryland June 2012 Sony 18-55/3.5-5.6 zoom lens Sony NEX-5N digital camera
Photo info: Food Courtney’s Restaurant Ridge, Maryland August 2015 Sony RX100 IV digicam
Photo info: Dining room Courtney’s Restaurant Ridge, Maryland February 2015 Apple iPhone 6 Plus
Photo info: Decrepit out building Courtney’s Restaurant Ridge, Maryland May 2014 Apple iPhone 5S
Photo info: The parking area Courtney’s Restaurant Ridge, Maryland January 2012 Apple iPhone 4S
Photo info: After high tide Courtney’s Restaurant Ridge, Maryland August 2015 Sony RX100 IV digicam
Photo info: Food Courtney’s Restaurant Ridge, Maryland May 2014 Apple iPhone 5S
Today I’m writing about the iconic Domino Sugar refinery in the Inner Harbor of Baltimore, Maryland. Why? Because the refinery – which processes 14% of the sugar used by the entire country annually – had a massive three-alarm fire that broke out three-days ago. The blaze totally destroyed the main raw sugar storage shed – called “the sugar shack” by employees – and there were initial reports about the fire damaging other parts of the facility, concerns which have since eased as the refinery resumed limited operations a day later. The total amount of damage has not yet been declared, because the blaze is still being investigated, but it’s safe to say that operations there will be impacted to some extent. Here is the best video I could find of the fire, and the ensuing collapse of the sugar shed – captured by a local news helicopter just as the structure fell (see it at the 2:49 mark).
Anyone familiar with Baltimore knows about the Domino Sugar facility, located in the Locust Point neighborhood on the Inner Harbor. The “Domino Sugars” sign dominates the skyline both day and night, even though the refinery is so quiet that it appears to be closed. And that’s what brings me to the title of this post. Even though there is little to no external activity visible to most observers, this Domino Sugar refinery is one of the biggest producers of sugar products on the entire East Coast – employing 510 full-time workers and processing some 6.5 million pounds (2.948 million kg) of raw cane sugar every day. The company is quoted as saying that their two other refineries – located in New York and Louisiana – will be able to cover for the Baltimore facility until it’s able to resume full operations again.
I was fortunate enough to participate in one of the rare public tours offered by the company back in April 2015, rare because Domino Sugar doesn’t offer regular public tours of the facility – they only seem to offer the tours once every year or two, and finding out about them in advance is nearly impossible. That said, here are the images that I’m able to share; I state it that way because the company is very security conscious, we were only allowed to take photos in a few specific locations, and all faces of visitors and employees had to be removed.
We walked through the grounds between the buildings to the main raw sugar storage shed – the sugar shack – and were allowed to take photos of the amazing sight inside, where as much as 60 million pounds (27 million kg) of raw, unrefined sugar can be stored at any one time.
I had taken my 35mm film camera to record photos of the tour, but there was so much raw sugar particulate floating in the air that I was concerned about damaging my gear – so I put it away and used my iPhone for all photos after that. When looking at the images, it appears that there’s fog inside the structure – it’s not fog, but actually high amounts of airborne raw sugar dust.
Anyone concerned about industrial safety and the flammability of sugar can tell you that working in such an environment is tricky, though Domino went to great lengths to keep the risk to a minimum. And anyone familiar with the sugar industry will tell you that fires at sugar refineries are an unfortunate regular occurrence.
One of the impressive aspects of the sugar shack is that once the raw sugar is unloaded from the massive cargo ships and piled within the structure, the raw sugar is moved by large end-loaders to wherever it’s needed.
Another staggering statistic is that over 40 of the huge vessels dock here every year and unload their cargo – or roughly one massive cargo ship every 9 days. The image above shows the piers where the sugar is unloaded by cranes using buckets – 10,000 pounds per bucket – which seems archaic, until you understand that the raw sugar has to be carefully handled so it doesn’t melt into big chunks that can’t be used. Everything in the facility is built around the fact that sugar is a delicate, highly flammable product with a low melting point.
When walking around the grounds with the tour group, the aroma of sugar and crème brûlée (melted sugar) walked through the air. We also found walking to be a little challenging because there were large chunks of sugar scattered underfoot all over the place. I had hoped we could take photos of the production lines inside the refinery – but that was forbidden – so instead here are some official videos of what it looks like inside.
Once we completed the interior tour, we were led to the roof of the refinery to see the huge neon sign that the building is famous for and to see the panoramic views of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.
I hope this post helps to show why people in and around Baltimore love Domino Sugar and hope the best for the company.
Photo info: All images recorded during the refinery tour Domino Sugar refinery in the Inner Harbor Baltimore, Maryland April 2015 Apple iPhone 6S