12 September 2013
Pride of Baltimore II is past Montreal and well on her way back to sea with Captain Miles in command and five new crew members. Four days after Pride II departed her last Great Lakes Festival here in Erie, PA, I’m still in town catching up on social, familial, and media obligations. After every rotation aboard, it typically takes an off-going Captain a few days to catch their breath and get their shore bearings. After my last week on Pride II this hitch, it may be weeks before I fully decompress.
Starting with the success and camaraderie of our last Ontario Port in Windsor, Pride II made an overnight departure to participate in the extremely well attended and exciting re-enactment of the Battle of Lake Erie on Monday, cast off the next evening to go screaming down the Lake for a Wednesday arrival in Erie, then fell into the majestic lineup for the Tall Ships Erie Parade of Sail on Thursday, and finally secured alongside the Erie Maritime Museum to enthrall 9,000 visitors over the weekend. By any measure, this is a weighty itinerary. For a native of Erie who grew up mesmerized by the legacy of Perry’s Victory this passage was more charged with meaning than any of the others I’ve made in my three decades of sailing this southern-most, shallowest Great Lake.
Much has been written about the battle re-enactment, but I think I’m the first to report that when Pride II hoisted the 42 x 30 foot Fort McHenry Ensign, every spectator within sight raised a heart warming cheer. And while Pride II played a strong supporting role as the US Brig Caledonian in the re-enactment, I was lucky enough to have my wife and my parents on deck. Having joined the ship with other family friends as guest crew in Windsor, my folks also made the sub 19-hour passage from Put-In-Bay to Erie, and when the Presque Isle peninsula that defines Erie Harbor hove into sight Wednesday morning, my father was at the helm.
Arriving a day early to Erie, we anchored in Presque Isle Bay, ferried my parents and their friends ashore for some rest, and settled in for one last breezy evening as a crew before the festival’s hectic schedule and departures for Chief Mate Jill Hughes, Apprentice Watch Officer Meredith McKinnon, Engineer Seth Page, and Deckhand Andrew Elmaleh. But Wednesday night is also race night in Erie, and soon the churning bay was alive with two-dozen yachts, all charging along in 25 knots of breeze. A thousand times a summer I’m asked, “How did you get started doing this?” so I called the crew up to deck, and told them the answer was right there in the hard sailing bunch beyond the rail. My uncle’s boat, the very boat I’d learned to race on, passed close aboard, and I got the crew chanting her name as she passed, “KE-YA, KE-YA, KE-YA!”
Thursday’s Parade of Sail capped the week. Weighing anchor in the morning, we secured along side Erie’s Dobbins Landing and loaded our charter passengers – every one of them family or friends close enough to be blood. With a perfect northerly and warm sunshine, we sailed the west toward the head of the bay, tacked back east and continued out the channel to the Parade’s muster point. On our return trip, the channel piers teemed with excited onlookers. It’s magic enough to sail into an excited port aboard a Tall Ship, more so to have the fortune of being Captain of one. But to command such an excellent ship as Pride II into my home waters, with my whole family aboard, compares only on a stratospheric scale – my family, our homeport, my favorite ship, unreal!
Alongside, the festival began in earnest with 2041 students from Erie swarming the ship Friday morning, and enthusiasm flowed through the weekend. Early afternoon on Saturday, one particularly keen young man in the line to board started asking informed questions about the ship – what made her a schooner, were the masts raked for a special reason? I talked to him for a while, happy to entertain his intense focus on sailing. As I started to leave, he asked if I would autograph the Tall Ships Erie program he proudly carried. Of course I did, and before I did I asked first for his name, then his age. Camden, he said, and 13. It stopped me cold.
When the “new” Brig Niagara was launched in Erie 25 years ago this week, I was 13. My father volunteered to coordinate the media for the launching and I got to be there as the ship touched Presque Isle Bay for the first time. Six months later, Pride II visited Erie for the first time, and my mother took me down to the same dock for a visit. (I didn’t get a chance to meet him that day, but Captain Miles was in command, and the same age I am now.) Undoubtedly, these two magnificent ships freshened the breezes of my already near obsession for sailing, set me outbound on my career as a sailor, and ultimately shaped the entire course of my life.
“Sure, Camden. I’ll sign your program,” I said. “And let me tell you a story – you’ll be a Captain someday.”
Captain Jamie Trost