Pride of Baltimore II is dismasted - Soundings Online

Pride of Baltimore II is dismasted

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The reproduction Baltimore clipper schooner was on France’s Bay of Biscay when the rig came down

The reproduction Baltimore clipper schooner was on France’s Bay of Biscay when the rig came down

It will be December before the Baltimore clipper Pride of Baltimore II returns to sea, following the Labor Day collapse of her two masts and all of her rigging in high winds off western France, according to the ship’s operator.

The accident, which happened with 18 crewmembers and guests aboard during a tall ship race from England to Spain, caused no injuries but left Pride of Baltimore II Inc. facing up to $500,000 in repair bills and the loss of about $125,000 in appearance fees, the organization says.

 The Pride, a 96-foot (LOD) reproduction of a Baltimore clipper schooner, was being surveyed in St. Nazaire, France, to determine what was left of the ship’s two 100-foot masts splintered and lying on mounds of fallen canvas on deck. Her two captains — Jan Miles, who was on board, and John Beebe-Center, his alternate who was on shore duty in Baltimore — believe the cause was the failure of a small piece of metal that serves as a vital connection in the rigging that supports the masts. What is known, Beebe-Center says, is that the bowsprit gave way, leaving nothing to support the foremast.

 

That wooden spar snapped off at deck level 50 seconds after the bowsprit went, falling against the rigging for the mainmast, he says. The mainmast then broke about 25 feet above the deck, its upper portion crashing down near the skipper but missing him and the 11 other crewmembers and six guests, Beebe-Center says. “[It took] a total of about five minutes, by which time the squall had come and gone,” he says.

 

 

The Pride of Baltimore II in St. Nazaire, France

The accident — called “the catastrophic derigging and demasting of the ship” by Linda E. Christenson, the organization’s executive director — is the second major calamity to strike the venture, whose mission is to serve as a worldwide goodwill ambassador for Maryland and the City of Baltimore. The original Pride was built as a replica of the Baltimore clippers of the early 1800s to celebrate the nation’s bicentennial. It went down in a storm about 280 nautical miles north of northwest Puerto Rico — in the Sargasso Sea — in 1986, with the loss of its captain and three crewmembers.

George Coggeshall, a 19th-century skipper of two clipper schooners, writes in his “Voyages to Various Parts of the World Between 1802 and 1841”: “These schooners are built for fast sailing but require skillful management and constant watchfulness; otherwise they are very dangerous. A captain only accustomed to sail a ship is not always competent to manage one of these sharp and delicately built schooners. … It requires a great deal of practical experience to handle them properly in all climates, and in all kinds of wind and water.”

The keel of Pride of Baltimore II was laid May 3, 1987, on the edge of the city’s Inner Harbor and in full public view. What took shape was a ship that was about 50 percent larger by volume than the original. (Dimensions were about 15 percent bigger.) Unlike the old Pride, the new ship had watertight bulkheads, standing headroom, three passenger cabins for up to six guests, 50 percent more ballast, and two diesel engines rather than one, increasing her range under power from 600 to 1,200 miles.

Pride of Baltimore II was launched in 1988, and since has logged 200,000 sea miles and visited 200 ports in Europe, Asia and North, Central and South America, according to the organization. She was engaged in a summer-long tour of Europe, participating in tall ship events, Beebe-Center says. Earlier, she had won her class in a race between Waterford, Ireland, and Cherbourge, France, but dropped out of another race between England and Norway due to a lack of wind, he says.

On Labor Day, Pride II was sailing France’s Bay of Biscay in “squally” conditions. She was leading the race from Torquay, England, to Santander, Spain, Beebe-Center says. “These races are not taken that seriously,” he says. “We knew that fairly soon the waterline [of a Russian tall ship] would overtake us. She was sailing in about 25- to 28-knot winds before the squall,” during which wind speeds increased, he says. “She was being sailed appropriately by a guy who has been sailing the boat 17 years — aggressively but completely competently and within parameters we’re used to operating her in.”

Upon arriving in Spain, Pride of Baltimore II was scheduled to appear in three tall ship events before moving on to the Mediterranean for stops in France and Italy. Instead — with spars, rigging and sails cluttering her deck — she was steered east for France.

Beebe-Center speculates that the bobstay iron, which connects the rigging that holds down the bowsprit, failed. That piece of original hardware had been inspected last winter when the bowsprit was removed, and no problems were noticed, he says. The bobstay is a chain or cable that rises from the forward end of the keel or the stem and attaches at the iron to the bowsprit, holding it down against the strain of the boat’s forestay. The loss of that support caused the entire rigging to fall.

“The entire Pride Inc. organization is especially grateful that there were no injuries as a result of this incident,” a message on the group’s Web site states (www.marylandspride.org). Beebe-Center credits that to the crew’s experience.

To sign on with the Pride, prospective crewmembers must have worked on at least three other tall ships, he explains. “The only explanation is the sailors on Pride of Baltimore are the very best sailors we can find in the United States,” he says. “They knew which way to break, so to speak, in terms of getting out of the way.”

Beebe-Center says that there was minimal damage to the ship beyond the lost rigging. The spars smashed the transom above the deck and a fo’c’sle hatch cover, and broke five ribs on Chasseur, the ship’s 18-foot pulling boat.

“Our goal is to forge ahead, make repairs, and sail her back [to Chesapeake Bay] around the holidays,” he says. By that time, according to the organization, Pride of Baltimore II will have new spars. The ship will be hauled next spring in Norfolk, Va., for further repairs.

Meanwhile, Pride Inc. has been assured that the state of Maryland will help finance repairs. The organization also has begun private fund-

raising to cover the $100,000 insurance deductible and other costs, Beebe-Center says.

Donations can be made to the Raise the Rig Capital Campaign, World Trade Center, 401 E. Pratt St., Suite 222, Baltimore, MD 21202. Pride of Baltimore Inc. can be reached at (410) 539-1151.