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First Taste of Lake Chop on a Day of Connections

Position: Alongside Buffalo Erie Canal Harbor
Wx: WSW F 6, Mostly Sunny

Arriving in Buffalo, PRIDE OF BALTIMORE II is serving as a lynchpin for a number of connections. First off, in this 199th year since the War of 1812, we bring the East Coast story of the Baltimore Privateers, their successes haranguing British commerce and ultimately their role in inspiring the Star-Spangled Banner to a Great Lakes Port rich with its own 1812 history. Buffalo and its surrounds had the thunderings of Fort Erie firing from the Canadian shore, daring “cutting-out” expeditions in which American sailors snuck aboard and stole British ships in the dead of night along the Niagara River and all the skirmishes and tension you might imagine in a place so strategically located along navigable waters.

Beyond that, we come from our own Inner Harbor to a section of Buffalo envisioned by Buffalo to become its own waterfront attraction, and at a time when progress towards that goal is really starting to happen. Fittingly, our escort in to the Harbor included the newly re-christened SPIRIT OF BUFFALO, under the command of Captain Rich Hilliman – native of Buffalo and former Captain of Baltimore’s own LADY MARYLAND!

This day of connections started out after a good night’s rest along the West Street Wharf in Port Colbourne. Sailing off the wall and out into Lake Erie, the crew of PRIDE II got their first taste of Great Lakes Chop. While we were transiting the Welland, a Westerly breeze was churning up Lake Erie into a considerable sea state. Granted, it was only blowing 20 knots, and the sea state was “just” three to five feet, but in fresh water, ANY sea state is a considerable sea state. The water is less dense, so the ship floats lower. In PRIDE II’s case two inches lower. And in the Great Lakes, the running joke is that when they say 3-5, they mean that many seconds apart. As with most jokes, there is an edge of truth to it – this morning’s Eastern Lake Erie Buoy report was for a four foot sea, every five seconds.

That kind of spacing knocks a boat, even a 185 ton one, around a bit. So the crew, who thus far had only experienced Lake Ontario in near calm conditions or with favorable Easterlies, got to feel the bumpy, washboard road sensation of the Lakes. Fortunately, Buffalo is East of Port Colbourne, and so down wind. But we still had some maneuvering to do in the lake, lest we be early for our grand arrival.

As I wrote yesterday, the Lake Erie Interclub Race Fleet was in Abino, Ontario, just ten miles East of Port Colbourne. The Interclub is a series of races hosted between five yacht clubs in Eastern Lake Erie. At the end of June each year for over 50 years, boats from each club do five or six races – both across the Lake between the homeports of the clubs and “round the buoys” at several of the clubs. This gives opportunities for different styles and distances of races, as well as letting each of the clubs play host to the visiting boats.

As it turns out, they had one more “round-the-buoys” race today. So as we sailed out we saw a fleet of 40 modern yachts, plus one classic Alden ketch charging along to the North of us. Aboard one of the modern yachts was my Uncle, Tom Trost, and in command of the ketch was David Bierig, the sailmaker in Erie I once worked for. Giving a wide enough berth not to interfere with the racing, we brought PRIDE II up on the wind and did a sail-by to leeward of the finish line, just as the first round of boats were finishing. There was a connection to make there too.

Seventeen years ago, I sailed that race as a teenager. I was working as the mast man aboard a 46 foot International Offshore Rule Racer named ARIES – my job was to haul (or “jump”) the halyards for all the sail changes, and assist the bow man with all the set up and clean up in between. It was a step and fetch it job, no down time, all hustle with heavy gear and lots of maneuvering, charging around race courses with a constant and laser focused eye toward every tenth of knot gained, every yard of distance shaved off the distance. I didn’t have a clue at the time, but that series back in 1994 and everything else I did like it were laying a foundation, because it is the very same type of sailing we do aboard PRIDE OF BALTIMORE II.

That same summer, PRIDE II came to Erie for a Tallship’s event a few weeks after I had sailed the Interclub. She was among 14 other vessels, but she was my favorite, just as she was when she’d come to Erie in 1989 and 1993. (In case anyone was wondering, officially and for the record, she is, in fact, still my favorite.) All I knew of this “traditional sailing” back then came from reading Treasure Island or Jack London’s Cruise of the Dazzler. But PRIDE II’s sleek lines and lofty rig screamed speed to me. In ’93, I went to the festival on my birthday, and it was so crowded I only had time to see one boat before I had to go to work. I saw PRIDE II. In ’94 she was in port alongside the replica warships ROSE and NIAGARA, and as a tourist aboard her I asked one of the crew “So you’re faster than all the rest of these boats, right?” The reply, “We have to be, they’ve got more guns than we do,” was coated with humor, but delivered, naturally, with pride. The ship was fast, and this guy knew so for a fact, but was clever enough to be modest in admitting it.

I never dreamed then that I’d someday be in command of PRIDE II. But here I am. And there was the racing fleet I’d grown up in. So, with time to spare in the schedule, I had to make a showing. We sailed so close I could recognize some of the boats from the ’94 race, still going strong, though ARIES has long since been sold out of the fleet. We tacked away, and as we turned on our heel, I gave a call to the fleet on the radio, telling them they all looked great and wishing them fast racing and safe sailing. But maybe what I should have said was “Thanks for the training, guys. You taught me a thing or two about speed. And look where it helped get me. Now I’ve got to go and sail the hottest schooner in the fleet to Buffalo.”

All best,
Jamie Trost, Captain aboard PRIDE OF BALTIMORE II