Hank Moseley, first mate of the “Pride of Baltimore II,” starts the orientation of the schooner’s guest crew with a discussion of a “man overboard situation.”
“We’re going to start this conversation by talking about what you can do to prevent yourself from being the one who ends up in the drink,” Moseley tells the guests, who signed up to sail on board—and help in any way they can—during the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race, from just south of Baltimore harbor’s Bay Bridge to Portsmouth, Virginia, an overnight trip of 127 nautical miles.
“They’re not here for a spa experience,” explains Jan Miles, captain of the “Pride.” “It’s about participation.”
Miles notes that, in a reversal of typical roles, it’s the permanent crew that interviews the paying guest crew, to be sure that they know what they’re getting into.
“That said, we won’t force anyone to do anything that they’re uncomfortable with,” he adds.
Though unfailingly polite, the mostly 20-something crew is not at all shy about asking the guests to lend a hand, and the guests are not at all shy about jumping right in. At the Parade of Sail, the cruise around the Inner Harbor the day before the race itself, that amounts to pulling a lot of ropes.
“When I say ‘Let’s go,’ you yell ‘Os,’” barks Moseley.
As he yells his part, about a dozen guests lined up on a rope like a tug-of-war team relax and take a deep collective breath. Then they yank with everything they have; their shout, “Os!” becoming an energy-focusing, martial arts kiai.
“They really want us to help out and be a working guest crew,” says Rebecca Mitch McKee.
“It’s a lot to take in,” adds her sister, Michele Mitch. “We are sailors, we’re eager, and we’re ready.”
The adult sisters are on board the “Pride” with their parents and other family members.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime, bucket list kind of item,” says Michele.
The guest crew works and works hard, but it’s a completely different trip for the permanent crew. Miles, Moseley, and Second Mate Meredith McKinnon give orders, and the crew repeats and immediately obeys those orders.
“Load Gun Three,” states Captain Miles.
“Load Gun Three,” repeats crew member Kris Jones, as he packs materials into the cannon’s fuse chamber.
“Fire on Three,” states Miles.
“Fire on Three,” repeats Jones, a short and slight young guy with one-and-a-half inch plugs in both earlobes.
He lights the fuse with a portable blow torch and quickly jumps back.
Yes, they are working, but the permanent crew are enjoying themselves, too, but more intensely and without the element of leisure.
“How many people can say they work on a sailboat and shoot cannons?” says Jones.
The tone changes a little bit for some more serious work that must be done after the parade. High above the deck (100 feet?) crew members must “furl”—or put away, the sail. About six crew members free-climb the rope ladders running from near the top of the mast to the sides of the deck.
There’s a small problem at the cross beam from which the sail hangs.
As crew member Joe Hauser makes his way up the mast, ship’s cook Kevin Moran yells down to him: “The bunt jigger is stuck under the top yard yoke.”
“Well, take it out,” Hauser replies.
“Wow, what a great [expletive] idea,” responds Moran sarcastically. He had, of course, already tried to take it out.
The six crew members are standing on a rope that runs parallel and a couple feet below and behind the cross beam. For balance, they lean forward on their bellies against the cross beam. Though by now they are clipped in to a safety line, it’s attention-getting work. All the crew members on the mast can’t get the jigger out, so they call down to the deck for assistance, which is readily given. By and by, the crew furls the sail and climbs back down to the deck.
Captain Miles says goodbye to the last guests as they leave the ship for the night.
“Have a good night, and be careful ashore,” he says. “It’s crazier out there than it is on the water.”
The “Pride of Baltimore II” took second in its class in the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race, which raises money and awareness for stewardship and environmental education on the waters of Chesapeake Bay.
by Erik Zygmont