Friday, October 8, 2010

Recounting last years Schooner Race- Portsmouth to Fells Point Baltimore, Maryland

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

This story began one day in September, 2009, with a phone call from my friend Joe Elder, the owner, with his wife Alison, of Skipjack Nautical Wares and Marine Gallery in Portsmouth, Virginia. Joe wanted to know if I would be interested in participating in the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race aboard the schooner Spirit of Independence as a photographer, reporter and member of the crew. The purpose was to document the event from the time the Spirit left Portsmouth until the time it returned. Then photograph the Schooner Days events throughout the following weekend. "What a great opportunity this would be," Joe expressed. "You'll have a great time and what an adventure!"

Schooner Spirit of Independence under way.
I thought about the offer for a few days with a little apprehension since I'm by no means a seasoned sailor and this assignment sounded like it potentially required skills that I may lack. My boating experience has been limited to smaller crafts-- canoeing/kayaking whitewater rivers, motor boating on the Rappahannock River and years of live-aboard dive boat trips scuba diving around the globe. I had had the opportunity to sail aboard the Spirit for the first time a few months earlier. We sailed from Portsmouth, VA to Yorktown as an overnight sail. Crewing on board a 65 foot schooner as part of the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race is a whole different story?  This is not like an amusement park ride that you can simply get off after a short time. Once you've committed to participate and the boat leaves the dock, you're there. If the weather gets rough, you ride it out. You get seasick, you tough it out. And who knows what kind of conditions you might run into on the bay.

But the adventure did sound quite amazing...imagine the thrill of being under sail on a sleek schooner chasing the wind as a participant in the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race!

I arrived in Portsmouth on a Friday afternoon after an uneventful drive from my home town, Charlottesville, Virginia, and met up with Captain J. C. Waters and the crew of the Spirit. We worked the next day provisioning the schooner and getting her ready for the trip up the bay.  We set sail bright and early Sunday morning for Baltimore, Maryland, with a small gathering of friends waving us off as we headed away from her slip at Tidewater Yacht Marina, north up the Elizabeth River, and then into the Chesapeake Bay. The sail up the bay was a lot of fun with clear skies, light winds and calm seas. Two watches, port and starboard divided two of our three captains, Joy Waters and Peter Youngblood, with several crew members each to sail the boat non-stop on four hour watches. During each watch our duties were to take the helm for at least an hour, keep a careful lookout for any hazards, trim the sails, and navigate the boat using electronic GPS. At dusk we dined on a scrumptious meal prepared by our competent cook while the darkness falling over the bay allowed an incredible panoramic view of the night sky and the glow of the brightening Milky Way. Later in the evening the moon appeared orange and bold above the shimmering bay and suggested an omen of good things to come. Not that mariners have ever been a superstitious kind!

After a non-stop thirty hour trip up the bay, we finally reached our destination, Fells Point, Baltimore, Maryland. We moored - rafted to the Schooner Pirates Lady - along a wharf and headed into the historic district that featured a wide variety of pubs and restaurants in search of fellow schooner-folk. We nestled into a eatery called Shuckers, a sports bar on Thames Street with views of Baltimore's Inner Harbor, and used their free WiFi to report back and check emails. Gotta have WiFi! Thanks Shuckers!

Waterfront view from Shucker's.
Schooner Spirit of Independence moored next to Schooner Pirates Lady at Fells Point Baltimore, Maryland
The rest of Monday and Tuesday everyone scattered in a variety of directions: meeting sailors, exploring the city, shops, restaurants and showers available to the boaters a short walk away from the dock. Fells Point it's cobble stone streets and quaint shops has the feel of an old time shipping town at the height of the age of sail. If you like burgers, check out Kooper's Tavern, sit at the table upstairs by the window and look out into the harbor while you dine. You won't be disappointed and I'm definitely going back this year for sure!  

Kooper's Tavern with awesome burgers and harbor view.

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