Sunday, October 10, 2010

Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race 2009 - Fells Point Baltimore, Maryland to Portsmouth, VA

*Please note this is a recap of the 2009 race that has been posted in 2010.* 

Wednesday was a full day at Fells Point with over forty schooners participating in the parade of sail that ceremoniously circled the harbor. The day had deteriorated  weather wise to growing overcast skies, but spirits were not swayed by the dampened weather. Cheers of greetings rang out from numerous pockets of spectators lining the shore while the schooners hailed "huzza" echoing  in return from the multiple decks.

Parade of Sails in Baltimore Harbor, Maryland.
Later, at the heels of  the sail, the race organization held a dinner for the race participants at the Latin Palace followed by sea shanty singing at the Wharf Rat that quickly filled to a packed house and the roar of jubilant singing.  Although this unique establishment has certainly had its wooden timbers shaken in the past, it accepted the exultant sailors like a weather beaten vessel.

Wharf Rat in Fells Point, Maryland.

Captains and crew gathered Thursday morning at central square as the town criers issued forth various proclamations. I do not remember the proclamations word for word, but I due recall that the Spirit of Independence was mentioned regarded something about an exploding head on the boat. I dare not elaborate further except to state that it was one of those moments when you just had to be there to appreciate it. The race organization covered a few last details and held an appreciative prayer of safe passage. Following a short safety meeting to apprise the rules of engagement, crews returned to their vessels, and shoved off for the starting line located approximately 15 miles south of Fells Point, at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. The weather continued to deteriorate throughout the day, and the schooners raised as much sail as they could muster in efforts to make the line with time to jockey for position to begin the race. The conditions at the start line were windy, overcast and drizzly as an eventual 35-knot Nor'easter was looming over the fleet.

Town Criers Fells Point, Maryland.

The start time for the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race was 13:30 hours and we very close to the start line quickly setting all canvas. The Pride of Baltimore, Schooner Virginia and Mystic Whaler were soon past us, but hey, they are in the AA class so surely they would breeze by an A class boat. We didn't see them again until our arrival in Portsmouth, Virginia. Now I appreciate racing, the speed, competition,and the history of the race as schooners once competed for business, but if you enjoy sailing as much as I do then being on the water is far superior  to being moored to a jetty? Savor the moment! Carpe Diem.

Pride of Baltimore at the start of GCBSR

The schooners were spread out far and wide across the Chesapeake into the evening and by dusk we were by ourselves with no others in sight, with the exception of a spotted commercial tanker in the distance as we sailed towards the Thimble Shoals and the finish line. Frequent radio chatter was heard throughout the night between sailboats and commercial container ships discussing position, but fortunately there were no incidents and the fleet of schooners sailed safely through the pitch-black night.

The Nor'easter continued to build during the night creating inclement weather and frigid conditions during deck watch and frequent tacking.  Dawn brought a gray bay and continued rough conditions with white capped seas. We crossed the finish line just north of Willoughby Spit with a total race time of 23:45-hours. Log entries were kept every hour on the hour, throughout the night and we eventually learned that we had finished last in our class.

In Portsmouth the town rolled out the red carpet to the boaters for the first annual Schooner Days, a celebration of the arrival of the Great Chesapeake Bay Race schooners. Olde Towne was abuzz with activity and Starboards Coffee Kiosk made enough coffee to keep everyone content in the windy and drizzly frigid weather. We had a breakfast at Roger Browns Saturday morning and a great cookout that  afternoon and evening at the North Landing with sing along sea shanties with the Tanners Creek Whalers. Many folks came around and toured the boats (even in the record breaking cold weather) with great enthusiasm.

A cluster of schooners at Portsmouth, Virginia's High Street Landing.

So that concludes the prelude to this years 21st running of the GCBSR. Please check our blog Schooner Racing on the Chesapeake often for ongoing updates and pictures of this years events and race and we look forward to seeing you again in Olde Towne Portsmouth, Virginia during Schooner Days, October 15-17, 2010. See you there!

Tanners Creek Whalers perform during the GCBSR  finale celebration  in Portsmouth, Virginia.

*Sadly noted that the Schooner Virginia will not be a participant in the 21st running of the GCBSR due to ongoing budgetary shortfalls. The Schooner Virginia holds the record time of 11 hours, 18 minutes and 53 seconds in the 2007 Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race. Hats off you and a stout salute for your time. Please contribute to the Schooner Virginia and help her get back under sail! You can visit her website at:  The Schooner Virginia needs your support! You can also contribute by buying Schooner Virginia merchandise. Go to the Schooner Virginia ships store @ Schooner Virginia Ships Store.

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