I was a sophomore in high school when Baltimore’s sailing ambassador, the clipper Pride of Baltimore, sank. A microburst hit her about 250 miles north of Puerto Rico while she was returning from Europe.
The next year, Scott Jeffries, one of the survivors, served as our substitute social studies teacher for a few weeks. Though he didn’t seek any attention regarding the sinking, I did speak with him briefly after class one day to learn what it was like sailing around the world on such a beautiful ship.
After high school I landed at Fawcett Boat Supplies in downtown Annapolis, Maryland. I remember smoking cigarettes (yes, I’ve long since given them up) on the loading dock while watching the Pride’s successor, Pride of Baltimore II, gracefully sail into the harbor, blasting cannons to announce her arrival as her topmast burgees and flags fluttered in the wind. I spent lunch hours crawling all over her, taking in the smells of pitch and tung oil.
Almost 20 years later, I now find myself driving along an industrial area in the Canton section of Baltimore, dodging container trucks and potholes that could swallow a tank. I’m looking for an address when I see Pride II’s sharply raked but shortened masts. She is tied up adjacent to an abandoned wharf and covered in a framework of building lumber and white shrink wrap, her topmasts stowed.
The sight makes me frown. Forced into temporary layup by financial woes, Pride II during the late fall was stripped to the basics and put into wet storage.
The original Pride, a replica of the swift and seaworthy Baltimore clippers used by privateers during the War of 1812, was launched in 1977 as a way to promote Baltimore and its rejuvenated Inner Harbor. Pride would spend nine years sailing 150,000 miles around the globe promoting the city and the state of Maryland before she sank, killing her captain and three crewmembers.
An outpouring of public support pushed Pride of Baltimore Inc. — the nonprofit that runs Pride II today — to go forward with plans for a new ship. Pride of Baltimore II was designed by Annapolitan and Naval Academy graduate Thomas Gillmer (the naval architect who also drew Pride’s lines) and is 10 feet longer on deck than the original. Shipwright Peter Boudreau headed up the construction effort, and on Oct. 23, 1988, Pride II launched at Brown’s Wharf in the Fells Point neighborhood. Miles says Pride II has, in her nearly 30 years, sailed more than 250,000 nautical miles and visited more than 200 ports in 40 countries throughout the Americas, Europe and Asia.
“We’re doing heat remediation,” Miles says as we squeeze through a small door in Pride II’s cover, which keeps the sun from beating up not just her brightwork, but also her oakum-and-pitch-caulked decks. A stiff 30-knot north breeze blows though her from end to end as we sit down to talk.
“She’s better off in the water than on land,” Miles says. “If she was on land, she’d start deteriorating and drying out almost immediately.”
He points out a thermometer and notepad on deck, where volunteers record temperatures. Her topmasts and yards have been stored on land under cover. Below deck, Pride II’s bilges and lockers have been left open to ensure a constant flow of air and to reduce condensation.
What put Pride II in this pickle is a complicated question, Miles says. “Tall ships are struggling, in general,” he says. “The schooner Virginia was put up for sale in 2014 after her program proved unsustainable without state funding. The schooner America ended up in Spain at one point, and the Spirit of South Carolina was sold to a pair of private individuals who donated her to the nonprofit that runs her. Long story short, it’s very difficult to sustain these vessels without funding support from the government. It costs us about $1.2 million a year to keep Pride II sailing.”
Pride II received about $1.5 million from the state of Maryland during the past three fiscal years, he says — and the ship was getting quite a return on that investment. “We calculated that at one point Pride II was worth as much as $13 million in media coverage for Baltimore and the state of Maryland,” he says.
A possible lack of funding forced Pride of Baltimore Inc. to lay off all but essential staff, including Miles. “There’s a bill in the Maryland legislature for funding Pride II at $500,000 a year that easily passed the Senate,” he says. “We hope it will go through the House easily. The governor has said he would sign it.”
Still, $500,000 a year would leave Pride II well short of what is needed to rig her back up and get her sailing again. “I’m in a holding pattern right now,” Miles says. “If they pass the funding, we could have her rigged back up in about a month, but it would take probably eight weeks to have her fully ready to deploy. If the funding passes, we wouldn’t see the money until July at the earliest. So for now, we wait.”
In the meantime, the crew is keeping Pride II shipshape, and Miles is thinking about what will happen if the funding fails to come through. “I’m not sure what we’ll do,” he says. “The ship has been such a source of pride for Baltimore and Maryland, and we’ve taken her around the world to share the area’s history, culture and people. I can’t imagine having to sell her or fully mothball her. We’ll cross that road when we get there.”
We hop off Pride II, and I can’t help but feel sad. I know she’s just a wooden ship. I know she’s expensive to maintain. But we can’t put a price on the memories she’s created in people’s hearts and minds. “Is our pride for sale?” Miles asks as we say goodbye.
I sure hope it isn’t.
The state of Maryland at press time passed the funding resolution to support Pride II at $500,000 per year, but much more help is needed. You can donate to the cause at pride2.org, or volunteer to help with the ship’s maintenance and upkeep by emailing Miles at firstname.lastname@example.org. All skill levels are welcome.
This article originally appeared in the June 2018 issue.