Flohom 1 Bay Escape is a boat that, physically, won’t take you anywhere.
It is a 53-foot houseboat tied up at Butler’s Marina in Eastport, a floating getaway with a majestic view across the mouth of Back Creek to the Chesapeake Bay and beyond. There is a tiny outboard on the back, true. But it’s far less important than the white-on-white living room-kitchen, or the queen-size bedroom or the 1½ bathrooms aboard.
And the spacious top deck, a perch above a forest of sailboat masts and canvas boat tops, can be, well, transporting.
“The view is incredible,” said Brian Meyer, co-founder of the company behind this spot on the water, Flohom. “Sunrise comes up over there and that sunrise and sunset will be big elements of our brand.”
If Meyer and his partners are right, this boat will be just the start of a network of houseboats linked by a website and services, creating a single waterfront hotel spread across multiple states. One day, they hope, it will redefine what it means to live on the water.
“We start here in our hometown, in Annapolis, and then Baltimore is where Flohom 2 is going,” said Meyer, who created the concept with Towne Park founder Jerry South and marina owner Marcellous Butler as partners. “Flohom 3 is going to be at Ferry Point Marina (in Arnold) and then after three is when we start expanding out of the state.”
Right now, it’s typically the wealthy who live on the water. A waterfront home along the Severn River and just down the street from Flohom 1 is under contract for almost $10 million — a price that proves access to the Chesapeake Bay can be an exclusive club.
While Flohom 1 and its future counterparts won’t be cheap — $450 to $550 per night is roughly the same rate for other waterfront stay in Annapolis — it will expand access to a lifestyle to those who can only afford it for a night or two.
“I look at it and sometimes I’m like, ‘Wow, that’s a lot of money,’” Meyer said. “But then I think about what we built into the experience we’re giving people and there’s nothing like it.”
From the outside, Meyer and his partners Butler and South have the look of a healthy startup.
They say they have raised $1.6 million from individual investors toward their $2.5 million goal. Their plan is to prove the hotel concept works, setting up 12 locations over 18 months. If occupancy rates and revenues meet expectations, they’ll use a production facility in Baltimore to expand to 60 houseboats along the East Coast.
Eventually, they want to make enough boats to sell floating waterfront homes that can be added to marinas or private docks for flexible living space.
“For a variety of reasons, in the U.S., this just really hasn’t taken off,” Meyer said. “Now there are floating communities that exist — Seattle, Sausalito [California], and San Francisco. There’s actually even one unit here [in Annapolis] and in D.C. at The Wharf.”
Those are single locations, and what Meyer has in mind is reaching that hard-to-achieve status — brand.
“These waterfront properties can be redeveloped into floating communities by simply placing Flohoms in the boat slips and modernizing a little bit on land,” Meyer said. “With some more modern amenities, people can either long-term rent or actually own a home for a third or less of the cost of what a waterfront home would cost and have a similar, or what I believe is a better, experience.
“Being on the water, that’s our vision and where this is going.”
Meyer started his waterborne entrepreneurship in Annapolis almost a decade ago with Capital SUP. He sold his stake in the popular paddleboard and kayak rental to partners in 2018 so he could focus on getting more people on the water through a nonprofit called the Live Water Foundation and, during COVID lockdowns in 2021, Flohom.
Meyer first pitched Butler with the idea of growing oysters at his 30-slip marina. Butler, who redeveloped townhouses at the marina, and Meyer started talking about the concept of Flohom. He saw the appeal for mom-and-pop marina owners like himself, but also institutional investors that have bought up locations over the last decade.
“When I looked at it, I was like, ‘This has all the makings,’” Butler said. “I started to really go through my mind for who would be the perfect person who would take the vision. … and scale it to what it could possibly be.”
He looked to South, a friend who turned his 1980s valet parking startup in Annapolis into a business with $200 million in annual revenue. He sold it in 2014 to a Boston venture capital firm.
South saw manufacturing as the bottleneck. The current boatbuilder, East Coast Houseboats in New York, makes about six boats a year, he said.
“We were up there to see him and we went to work on a plan to raise money to be able to buy these boats as fast as this guy can make them while he teaches us how to build them here at scale and with real velocity,” South said.
The partners just leased space at the Baltimore Peninsula development, where they plan to eventually hire roughly 20 full-time employees and make Flohom one of the biggest boatbuilders on the Chesapeake.
Butler said the work they’ve done to find marinas in cities like Annapolis or Baltimore, where regulations don’t prevent houseboat rentals and that have attractions within walking distance, is key to the plan. His marina is steps from restaurants and bars and is connected by water taxi to cultural spots in downtown Annapolis.
“You take that same slip that you were getting $12-$13,000 a year [from],” Butler said. “You put one of these in and now you’re making $80,000 off of that one slip. It’s just a game changer.”
Back in March, I met up with Meyer at a landside space inside Port Annapolis, a boatyard across Back Creek from Butler’s Marina. Flohom 1 was up on stilts as a small work crew fitted it out for launch. The basic boat had been trucked from New York.
Up a ladder were finished rooms ready for furniture. Top and back decks were still under construction. It’s a modular, one-bedroom home with marine-grade electrical and other systems atop steel and fiberglass pontoons.
Meyer said Annapolis is the right place to start Flohom because of its fundamental paradox. It is a well-known waterfront city where only a few people get to be on the water. It has just one waterside hotel, the Annapolis Waterfront Hotel, that markets its one-of-a-kind location on Spa Creek (full disclosure, my wife works there).
“Why in a historic maritime city that claims to be the sailing capital of the world is there just one hotel with half of the building facing the water?” Meyer said. “That’s all the waterfront rooms that we have in the city.”
You can rent houseboats in the city through various short-term rental websites. One is down the creek from Butler’s, suspended on a lift above the water. You can rent sailboats and powerboats, too.
In some ways, Flohom is the logical next step in the evolution of Annapolis away from the small town on the bay it was for much of the 20th century. Old boatyards, with names like Sarles and Petrini, are long gone, replaced by homes most often described as “luxury.”
It won’t be cheap to stay at Flohom 1, but it will democratize the waterfront. Meyer wants more people to experience what it’s like to experience life on the water.
“I hate the word luxury,” he said. “Because I’ve always wanted to create more accessibility and affordability around the water.”