A Nimble Dance in the Shadow of a Storied HeroineJuly 3, 2012
3 July 2012
Pride of Baltimore II
Pos: Alongside Rowes Wharf, Boston Harbor
Wx: NE F 1, WARM
Today marks Pride of Baltimore II’s fourth day as part of the OpSail Festivities in Boston, home of the world’s most storied square-rigger, USS Constitution. That’s right I said it, Constitution. Fans of HMS Victory, before you take up arms, hear me out. Constitution is more STORIED, because her fame doesn’t arise from a singular engagement or fleet action, but from a string of victories, all of them fought on her own, one of them against two English warships and exactly none of them as part of a line of battle. She embodies American individualism and captures the romantic allure of singularity and isolation on the open sea. Also, unlike Victory’s fame and its inextricable link to Admiral Horatio Nelson’s bold actions and heroic death at Trafalgar, Constitution’s legacy transcends her Captains, even though everyone who was anyone in the early American Navy was in command of her at some stage.
Still not convinced, Victory-ites? Well, while he didn’t sail aboard her during the War of 1812, we’d like to point out that perhaps her most dashing commander was a native of Maryland, Captain Stephen Decatur of Sinepuxent. And Nelson himself declared Decatur’s boarding of the USS Philadelphia “The most bold and daring act of the age.”
And in the presence of this Naval Legend and heroine of 1812, what better thing to do than show off the qualities of Pride II in concert with her sister Privateer Lynx in a series of “Battle Sails.” These mock-engagements, long a staple among the Traditional Sailing ships of the West Coast, have become relatively frequent between Lynx and Pride II in the last two years. The format is simple – board a ship full of passengers each, sail out to designated area, and spend the next hour or so desperately trying to out maneuver each other while blasting away blank rounds from your replica guns, all in the name of fun and living history.
All joking aside, it is an excellent opportunity for people to experience a piece of maritime heritage, to be in the thick of things, feeling and hearing the concussive and near deafening reports of the armaments, waiting through the long anticipation as shots are lined up for the precise moment, tasting the black powder smoke as it lingers between the ships. And for the crews, a chance to exercise their ships figuratively and literally – feinting and dodging these terrifically nimble schooners around each other through nearly countless tacks and wares. Aboard Pride II, a chance to use the guns, which often times are just simply in the way while we sail the living snot out of the ship. The fact that traffic and security concerns have required the whole engagement to take place in a 350 yard by 250 yard box mean that maneuvers are quick and constant.
Of course, there is the burning question each time – “Who won?” Everybody. Nobody. Both Ships. Choosing a winner for a battle sail would be like choosing a winner for a game of Frisbee. Or picking one swimmer out of a synchronized swimming team. Or a single acrobat at Cirque du Soleil. You’re getting my point; it’s a dance, a show, an exhibition. The passengers win for witnessing it, the crews win for getting to put their ships through their paces, Boston wins because half the harbor can see the action. And, if I may wax a bit patriotic on this Independence Eve, America wins, for having such as rich history of strong, proud ships such as Chasseur, Lynx, Pride II and Constitution and such daring and courageous Captains as Stephen Decatur, Issac Hull, Charles Stewart, and of course, Thomas Boyle, who celebrated his 237th birthday just five days ago.
Captain Jamie Trost and the dueling crew of Pride of Baltimore II