North and Out

31 August 2010
Pride of Baltimore II
Sailing Northbound on Lake Michigan
POS: 43 55. 4’N x 086 36.7’W
Abeam Ludington, MI
Wx: SSW Force 4-5, Overcast, Seas 2-4′

Pride of Baltimore II has left the big city behind and is headed back toward the wild country of Northern Michigan. After a hot weekend in Chicago during which over 18,000 people boarded the vessel, she is now bound for a town with a population of just over 15,000. That will be quite a switch for the crew!

Traverse City, our destination, is a tourist town though, so on Labor Day weekend, there is likely to be a heavy influx of tourists in town for the last hurrah of the summer. Having lived in the area for nearly two years myself, I understand the draw. Traverse City itself is nestled at the bottom of Grand Traverse Bay, a long a very pretty piece of water that would be represented as the nail of the little finger if you do your Michigan geography using your hands and maps – which all the Michiganders I’ve ever met do. The whole region around the Bay is known simply as “The Grand Traverse.” Its coastlines are cut with beautiful bays and coves, a few islands dot the bay, and just inside the shore there seems to be an inland lake at every turn. Aerial photography of the region is simply stunning.

The Northern half of the Bay is North of 45 degrees Latitude. When I worked in the area years ago aboard the Educational Schooner Inland Seas, we would joking claim ourselves “half way to the North Pole,” or “half way to the Equator,” twice a day during our education programs. Not surprisingly, summer is short in the Grand Traverse. But it is also well enjoyed, as all the seasons seem to be in Grand Traverse Bay. Visiting in September will give Pride II a glimpse of people going all out to get the most out of the warm days before autumn sets in to cool things down.

This also represents a winding down of Pride II’s summer tour. The ASTA events are over. The fleet is going its separate ways. There are relatively large festivals in Erie and Montreal, and then the mad rush to get out and back to Maryland again. It seems like just yesterday I was trying like crazy to catch Pride II on her way to Oswego while in command of Lynx, and in just over a week, I’m scheduled to rotate back to the other Baltimore Clipper and turn command of Pride II over to Captain Miles. Where did all the days go?

So now, with Pride II surging North on brisk Southerlies, topping 10 knots from time to time, the real trek out to sea begins. Our Lake Michigan “detour,” which started over three weeks back when we motored under the Mackinac Bridge coming from Duluth to Green Bay, is nearly done. We are slowly working our way home, though quickly today with the breeze we have. Just as any place that is seldom visited and much appreciated, however, the Lakes deserve a few more days of appreciation. I’m hoping, with this forecast, that we can get to the Grand Traverse ahead of schedule and do just that.

All best,
Jamie Trost and the fast-sailing crew of Pride II

Wind S F 2, Hot with a strong chance of crowds

Saturday 28 August 2010
Pride of Baltimore II
Alongside Soutwest Wall of Navy Pier
Chicago, IL

Chicago, and Navy Pier, specifically, have given us throngs of people – over 10,000 in three days with the gates yet to open this Saturday morning. Navy Pier has become a village of sailors, maritime music, Great Lakes conservation and everything else that can be associated with a gathering of sailing vessels. Since Navy Pier was designed as a tourist attraction, all the activity cannot help but resemble a carnival. Whether that is inspiring or troubling is all a point of perception.

For sailors aboard Pride of Baltimore II, past the half way mark of a longish season and in the last official American Sail Training Association Festival, three to four thousand people crossing the rail in a day has the potential of being a real drag. The questions get repetitive – do you actually sail the boat? are you on your summer vacation? what are those fuzzy things on the ropes? – as do the answers – yes, we sail as much as we can; no, we are all 12 of us professional sailors; they are called baggywrinkle, and help prevent chafe between the rigging and the sails.

But the sheer spectacle of an event this size, with 18 ships and more shore-side activities for both the visitors and the crew, ought to be inspiring. For that to happen, the sailor has to take a step back, to use a minute of precious off time to take in the scope of what is going on out side the rails of their own ship. Just as the foot soldier never gets to observe the grandeur of a marshal parade, the sailor rarely gets to see the scale of a Tall Ships Festival because they are up to their nose in the festival itself.

It is easy to stay buried in the crowds and questions until the watch turnover comes around, then flee the scene to someplace ashore where they don’t know you are sailor, won’t ask anything about what you or your ship does. But that is robbing yourself of the simple satisfaction gained by seeing your part in the event combined with all the others to make it whole. At some point soon, the Chicago Festival, and the entire 2010 Great Lakes Tour will be just memories and photographs, so taking a moment to see things live and in person is worthwhile. But then it is back to work – when you are part of an event like this, you can’t stop to admire it for very long, or it all falls apart.

The crew of Pride II get this. They are professionals, underway, at the dock and with the public. Situated in the Southernmost corner of the festival, we are usually one of the first boats the public boards. The Schooners Unicorn and Denis Sullivan share this location with us and usually get the first visitors. From there the rest of the festival is gathered at the end of the pier – all the big square-riggers and nearly everything else afloat. With this arrangement, the crowds typically come see Pride II and her neighbors on the Southwest wall, then trek out to see the rest of the festival on the North side of the pier. Returning, they have to pass by our location again. And as a compliment of compliments, more than a dozen have waited in line to see Pride II again, and made a point of telling the crew how professional they think the ship is.

For a crew that strives for professionalism, there may be no higher compliment than the simple acknowledgement of a job well done.

Jamie Trost and the top-notch crew of Pride II

Pride II takes Chicago by Land and By Sea

Thursday 26 August, 2010
Pride of Baltimore II
Alongside the Southwest Wall, Navy Pier
Chicago, IL

Pride of Baltimore II and her crew have made a fine entrance to Chicago’s Navy Pier. During Tuesday’s Parade of Sail into Chicago Harbor she was prominently sailing under a 30’ x 42’ 15-stripe, 15-star American Flag. This “most splendid and magnificent ensign” was given her by Baltimore’s own Fort McHenry, and once actually flew over the fort. In similar show, during the land-based Parade of Sailors down Navy Pier on Wednesday morning, Port Watch marched under a large Maryland Flag (lent to us by our ship’s liaison Serrie) lashed to one of the spars from Chausser’s sailing rig. 

These events were appropriate spectacle to serve as preludes for the awards ceremony at the end of the land parade. American Sail Training Organization Executive Director Bert Rodgers presented us with second place for Race Four in the Tallships challenge Series, A Fleet Award for our service as communications vessel during races One, Two and Four, as well as calculating the race results based on the Time Correction Factors of each vessel.

 And finally (drum roll, please?) Pride II was awarded First Place Overall in the Tallship’s Challenge Series! Thanks to a great deal of grunting and sweating on the part of the crew, a few sleepless nights and one powerful Baltimore Schooner, we came out on top with one first, two seconds and a DNF (Did not Finish – in the Lake Superior Race due to scheduling conflicts). The Scrano-built, cold-molded Friends Good Will, another War of 1812 replica, sailed splendidly in Race Four and beat us on corrected time. Congratulations to Friends Good Will for their first ever race resulting in a first.

It takes more than one person to race any of the complex traditional vessels involved in the series – aboard Pride II, the ratio of sail area per crew member is roughly 800 square feet per person – it takes more than one vessel to make a race. And multiple crews all working to maximize the performance of their individual vessels in all variety of wind conditions is inspiring, a true capture of the Latin roots for our word “competition” – striving together. The race may be each vessel against the others, but the quest for better understanding of how to sail our own boats, of how to read the weather and react to the changes it brings or set up for the ones it promises, that is universal through the fleet.

All the tinkering and head-scratching of a racing environment engenders better efficiency, which translates to better, faster sailing, and resultantly, less motoring. So in one sense, the racing teaches us as mariners how we can reduce our carbon footprint by sailing faster and therefore, more. And since the Series itself was “The Race to Save the Great Lakes,” there is hope that our racing will draw attention to these massive and important Freshwater Seas. If everyone can tinker with their efficiency and reduce their carbon footprint, perhaps the next Great Lakes Tallships Challenge Series in 2013 will take place on cleaner, but familiar waters.

For our part, Pride II will keep up the tinkering, the training and the honing of skills that allowed us to claim First Place. And in the meantime, we extend congratulations to Europa (Second Place), Roald Amundsen (Third Place) and all the vessels that sailed any or all of the 580 nautical miles of races.

 All best,
Jamie Trost and the Proudly Victorious crew of Pride of Baltimore II

A Reaching Strategy

18 August 2010
Alongside in Port Washington, Wisconsin
Wind SW F1

Pride of Baltimore II is in early to Port Washington, Wisconsin, a quiet little harbor town just North of Milwaukee, after completing Race 4 of the Great Lakes Tallships Challenge. Between the finish line and here, the crew were also able to complete their Great Lakes Swim Call Challenge when the breeze died. They have now swum in all five Great Lakes.

All this was possible due to a fast finish in the race – 118 nautical miles in 18 hours and 15 minutes for an average speed of 6.5 knots. Not rocket speed for Pride II, but better than the drifting conditions of Races 1 or 2. By comparison, Race 2 was roughly the same length, 121 nautical miles, and took us over 30 hours to finish.

This race featured the largest fleet yet, and there was one start for both classes. The War of 1812 was well represented by the Brig Niagara, Pride II, Lynx and the Tops’l Sloop Friends Good Will, out of South Haven, Michigan. There are only five 1812 replicas sailing in the United States, so to have four at one starting line was spectacular.

Due to some irritating difficulties with a flag stuck in a Fore Tops’l reef tackle block, Pride II had a poor start – but so did the rest of the fleet. We all seemed to cross in one big pack roughly four minutes after the gun. Even Denis Sullivan and Lynx, whose captains have been pretty sharp on the line this whole series, were late.

After the start, the drag race started. With the wind just half a point forward of the beam, all the boats quickly established a pecking order based on waterline length. Pride II was at the leeward end of the line, where I though we’d have clearer air. Niagara, under relatively conservative canvas, was off to leeward and slightly ahead. She started making moves to press Pride II to weather, using their rights as the leeward vessel. This would have meant closing with the shoreline and getting into the dirty air of the rest of the fleet to weather. Making better speed under more sail, we ducked beneath her and sailed through her lee.

The race between Niagara and Pride II is always an interesting one. On corrected time, it is nearly a boat for boat race, with Pride II needing to be ahead by a scant 18 seconds per every hour raced. And while both vessels are sleek, attractive War of 1812 replicas, they are about as different can be. Niagara is a shoal drafted Brig with tremendous sail area – 2,000 square feet more than Pride II. Her namesake was designed for the shallow waters of Lake Erie, and to be sailed with a large military crew than could disassemble the rig to reduce windage and weight aloft in heavy weather. Pride II is deeper, with less sail and sail area concentrated in few sails.

The conditions often dictate how the race between the two boats is won. If the wind is on the beam or further behind and less than 15-20 knots, Niagara usually wins the day. In stronger or more weatherly conditions, Pride II often prevails. At the start, 10-15 knots on about the beam, it was still Niagara’s race. Just after we passed her, she shook out reefs and set royals, quickly coming up and then slowly overtaking us. As the breeze built and faded through the afternoon, we would rage up on her in the puffs, then drop back in the lulls.

A reaching race, while fun to sail, is often fairly boring in terms of tactics. All the boats point toward the finish, carry as much sail as they dare and usually finish predictably in order of waterline length. Variations in the breeze can determine the winners and losers – if it fills in late in the race, the smaller boats benefit, but they lose out if it fades after the larger boats finish. Consistency in weather, however, is not something the Great Lakes are known for, and the forecast for this race included a backing breeze. At some point, the wind was going to come ahead, but when exactly couldn’t be known. The sooner it happened, the better for Pride II, as she is among the best in the fleet for upwind sailing. The strategy was in how to set up for the shift.

In anticipation of the wind shift, I knew pointing higher than the rhumbline – that straight distance to the finish – was the best strategy, even though it meant more miles sailed. If we were upwind of the rhumbline, it would mean not having to tack, or at least not tack as much, when the wind came ahead. How far above was the issue. Closing with the Wisconsin shoreline too much meant a potential for less wind in the lee of the land, so I set us on a course with the wind just forward of the beam, so we could still carry the stuns’l to try for a bit more speed.

With the stuns’l just on the verge of collapsing and the deck edge occasionally getting wet, we had some of the most exciting sailing of the season aboard Pride II, topping out at 9.7 knots in 20 knots of true breeze. The rest of the fleet started to fade behind us, all but the modern racing yacht Fazizi – who would need to finish in half the time as Pride II in order to beat us on corrected time – and Niagara.

Except for one instance in which we made Captain Wesley Heerrssen a bit jumpy by suddenly falling off to keep the stuns’l full, we slowly drifted west and to weather of Niagara. While this was my strategy, I began to wonder if Niagara, sailing roughly the rhumbline yet actually able to point higher, was on to something I wasn’t. A check of the most current weather forecast gave me even greater concern. While the overall picture was for the breeze to keep backing and eventually come due south, there was suddenly an evening forecast of easterly winds. How were we to set up for that? A shift to the east could put us flat aback or get us turned in totally the wrong direction. As we approached Sheboygan Point, Wisconsin, the proudest headland before the shore curved in the west, there was much to mull over.

I decided ten miles off Sheboygan Point was the closest we should get. This marked roughly the halfway point of the race. By the time she drew abeam of it Pride II was more to weather than anyone else in the fleet. But Niagara was still ahead and still on the rhumbline. The wind was already beginning to back, and so I elected to alter course with it to keep holding onto the stuns’l and start slowly closing with the finish line, aiming just for the West end of it.

With this strategy, we were also slowly converging with Niagara, who was slowing down due to the wind shift. But our instruments indicated hours to go before we would intercept them, if at all. I had the sensation of being torn by two totally separate races – one against Niagara (boat for boat) and one against the rest of the B, C & D fleet, none of whom had reached the decision making point at Sheboygan.

Nightfall saw the wind go southwest and fade. We hardened up and took in the stuns’l. The wind was anything but steady, and our course was alternately laying the finish line or well to weather of it, but we would be on the wind for the rest of the race. After ten hours of racing the powerful square-rig of Niagara off the wind, conditions now favored Pride II.

Maximizing the performance of any vessel while close hauled in shifty wind takes a careful hand and a keen understanding of what the boat is communicating through angle of heel, speed and general feel. Doing this aboard a large traditional rig is even more difficult, and when darkness enters the equation, only those who have a real knack for it can succeed. Pride II is more responsive than most vessels her size, and in the flat sea conditions we were experiencing, she handles like the world’s heaviest J-22. She is also fortunate to have a number of crew who spent their youth racing small boats. Second Mate Emily Harwood is one of them, and she spent most of her 8-12 watch that evening working Pride II for all she was worth, slowly inching up on and weathering Niagara as the wind came further ahead.

With the vessel in Harwood’s hands, I took a short rest, first sleeping on deck between the transom knees, then actually making it to my bunk for a spell. After 45 minutes, Harwood woke me with this news – Niagara had tacked. We were now out in front, and still laying the finish, but barely. Now I started to wonder if I hadn’t given away too much of our ground to weather in trying to cover Niagara. In the dark it was difficult to pick out who was who on the radar screen and so knowing about the competion astern was nearly impossible. The race was now to get to the finish before the wind backed anymore.

As the watches rotated and C watch came on at 0000, Deckhand Jeff Crosby, another former small boat racer took the helm. I assigned Bosun Mark Scibinico to start plotting the various targets we had on the radar so we could assess our speed and heading against theirs. I took the rest of the watch and looked after trim – a little ease in the jib tops’l sheet here, a few inches in on the fore sheet, a sweat on the topyard brace – anything to keep her point and moving fast. At 0200, the breeze freshened to 15 knots again. Pride II dug in her heel and took off. Six knots, seven knots, 30 degrees apparent wind angle. She was doing the things that only Pride II can do and Niagara’s running lights disappeared. The wind was still shifty and laying the finish was no certain. Now we had it, now we didn’t.

In the end, we didn’t. A quick tack at 0400, six minutes on Port tack and then back to Starboard again. We finished at 0414, two hours behind the modern racer Faziz, but first in the 1812 fleet.

As for the rest of the fleet, particularly Europa? Well, the final results are forthcoming for the race and the series when the fleet gets to Chicago.

All best,
Jamie Trost and the crew of Pride of Baltimore II

Reflecting on Green Bay

Approaching the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal

Pride of Baltimore IIhas left Green Bay. Issues with our fresh water pump kept us alongside until near sunset yesterday and the festival grounds were all broken down by the time we left, but we are underway and sailing for the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal, and then the start of Race Four in the Great Lakes Tallships Challenge Series.

Leaving last and seeing only empty space where the festival had been was a bit bittersweet. After such a flury of activity, seeing the place empty felt a bit hollow, like the circus being gone. But then I realized that all the people were there just to see the ships we sometimes take for granted. And the idea of inspiring that sort of response is inspiring itself.

And Green Bay certainly responded. A total of 8360 walked across our decks during the three-day event, and the reception from the town itself was excellent. Green Bay is an inviting place, with lots for the crew to do ashore, and the festival organizers even arranged for a few free tickets to the Packers Saturday Night Pre-season game versus the Cleveland Browns. During the game, Captain Robin Walbridge of Bounty asked me, “How many people you think this stadium holds?”

 “About 70,000,” I said. (I was wrong, Lambeau Field can seat 72,928.)

“What do you think to population of Green Bay is?” Captain Walbridge asked.

 “About 70,000,” I said, marveling at the idea that the entire town could go see a game together. (I was also wrong, Green Bay’s Population is 101,025.)

 But it isn’t just for football that Green Bay turns out. An estimated 50,000 people came to see the 12 ships that made the event last weekend. And in the same fashion that Packer-Mania seems to involve the whole state, the Tallship event started 46 nautical miles away from the dock. All the attending vessels paraded through the town of Sturgeon Bay at 0800 on the day of arrival, then raced down a flat calm Green Bay under power to reach their moorings in the Fox River.

Weather made for some challenges as the wind filled in Southerly on Friday, then Westerly on Sunday. But throughout the festival, the lines kept filing aboard. Sunday marked our busiest day this summer with 3130 visitors.

And now the fleet is gone. Pride II’s sunset sailing out the Fox and into Green Bay was the last departure. It will be a week of before the fleet gets together again in Chicago – in the meantime we are breaking up into smaller squadrons and visiting ports off the beaten path. Pride II will join a four other vessels in Port Washington, WI.

 But first, there is Race Four of the Tallships Challenge Series, and the Series itself to try and win. Pride II trails Europa by one point entering race four. Wish us luck.

All best,
 Jamie Trost and the race course bound crew of Pride of Baltimore II