Intimate dockside event boosts Md. Port

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The Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race, run each year in mid-October, is like Thanksgiving dinner, says volunteer Colleen Bell Donlin — lots of preparation and a big party.

The Schooner Rendezvous in Cambridge, Md., the following weekend is “the 10 p.m. turkey sandwich,” Donlin suggests.

“A homey, intimate event,” she says. “It’s just a winding-down thing,” a “really earthy, fun event.”

This year’s rendezvous on the Cambridge waterfront, where a dozen or so schooners will dock for three days, will be the third installment. Roger Worthington, skipper of the modern schooner Prom Queen, says he started the rendezvous in 2006 to stir interest — locally and afar — in the second-deepest port in Maryland.

“I was concerned with the economic viability of Cambridge … and access to the water,” says Worthington, who docks Prom Queen in Cambridge and has homes there and in Hagerstown, Md. Cambridge, a small city on the Choptank River about 15 miles upstream from the Chesapeake, has a rich maritime history, but little current industry other than a recent spurt of waterfront condominium development.

“I thought if I can demonstrate the harbor is the best asset they have, maybe [city officials] can see something,” says Worthington.

“Initially [organizing the rendezvous] was like pushing a big lead ball up a hill,” says Worthington. But last year, 2,500 spectators showed up, clamoring for tickets to dine with the crews of the 15 schooners that had come to town, he says.

For this year’s rendezvous, from Oct. 24-26, more and larger schooners have reserved dock space, Worthington says. Joining the Sultana, from Chestertown, which has made both prior events, will be the Pride of Baltimore II, the Mystic, the Mystic Whaler and the Virginia, among others, he says.

“I don’t think I would miss it ever again,” says John Edgington, skipper of the Mystic Whaler, a commercial vessel from New London, Conn., that first participated in Cambridge last year. “What a delightful surprise for only the second year out of the gate.”

In two days of the rendezvous, Edgington says, the Mystic Whaler sold out its 65 berths on four $20, one-hour sails on the Choptank. “The docking went very smoothly,” Edgington says. “Probably the biggest logistical difficulty is the Saturday night dinner for all hands. That went off flawlessly. Every aspect of the event gave the appearance of something that had been going on many, many years.”

The Martha White, a half-scale Nova Scotia Bluenose schooner, has provided music for the first two years and will return this year with her bluegrass band. The band plays on deck, moored with the other, smaller schooners at the city park on the waterfront. There will be bands playing ashore, as well.

The schooner Mystic, another Connecticut vessel, will be hosting an afternoon cocktail hour at the Sailwinds Park, across Cambridge Creek from the city park. Shuttle rides will be provided.

In addition to the Mystic Whaler, schooner rides will be offered, weather permitting, on two other vessels — the Pride of Baltimore II and the Virginia, according to Worthington.

The smaller schooners once again will be rafted in the shallower waters near the city park, as they have been the last two years. Initially, the rafting was a marketing ploy, Worthington says.

“We get them all crammed in there. It’s an old politician’s rule,” Worthington explains. “If you want to look popular, get a small room and push a lot of people in there.”

Cambridge residents, “as far as we know, are delighted with it,” says Worthington, who Donlin describes as “just a ball of fire. He can do 15 things at once.”

Worthington says the three-masted charter schooner Arabella has been attracted to Cambridge by the rendezvous. As a result, he says, “they’ve put Cambridge on their permanent cruising schedule, not just the rendezvous.”

The Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the American Schooner Association, of which Worthington is commodore, in August petitioned Maryland’s governor to proclaim October as Maryland Schooner Month, recognizing the Pride of Baltimore II’s 20th anniversary celebration, the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race, the Cambridge Schooner Rendezvous and the schooner Sultana “Downrigging Weekend,” all in October. www.schoonerrendezvous.com

This article originally appeared in the November 2008 issue.