It’s official: I am old. I say this not because I’ve passed some alarming age milestone. No, those come once a year and I’ve grown numb to their effect. Rather, I say it because during a brief spring cruise recently on the Pride of Baltimore II, I found myself getting tired just
watching the ship’s crew set and strike the ship’s sails. And when I say a brief cruise, I mean brief—just a mile or so straight east out of Spa Creek, and then back again, less than two hours. Which is to say the crew spent pretty much the entire time either setting or striking the sails. Raise the foresail, raise the main, raise the staysail and jib, drop the topsail . . .
strike the topsail, strike the staysail and jib, strike the mainsail, strike the foresail. It was exhausting. For me. The crew of eight or nine ridiculously fit twentysomethings, on the other hand, never broke a sweat. I never saw anyone even breathing heavily.
I may have that set-strike drill somewhat out of order. There was a lot of yelling and repeating of orders, so I was confused. And, all right, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit on the timing. There was actually about 45 minutes of nice quiet sailing time between setting and striking, allowing Pride Captain Jan Miles to talk to the 25 or so guests aboard about the role of privateer ships during the War of 1812. That, in fact, was the point of the outing; it was part of a series of “on-water lectures” aboard the
Pride in April and May, organized by the National Sailing Hall of Fame.
It’s hard to imagine a more qualified speaker than Captain Miles on the subject of 1812 privateer ships, given his decades at the wheel of the Pride (and the ill-fated one before it). The
Pride was modeled after one of the most famous of those privateers, the Baltimore-built
Chasseur—nicknamed the “Pride of Baltimore” because of her great success during the war capturing “enemy” ships.
And for me the timing of the lecture couldn’t have been better, since I was already hard at work on our historical feature in this issue, a 200th-anniversary review of the year 1813, a very turbulent and dangerous one here on the Bay [see “The British Are Here,” page 34]. Having already pored over many a book on the subject, I found it easy to imagine what danger must have smelled like that year on the Bay. It was a bad time for the privateers too, trapped as they were, along with every other ship, by a British blockade at Hampton Roads; out in the open sea, the speedy schooners could hold their own, but all that speed and maneuverability wasn’t as much of an advantage in the tight quarters of the Bay. Indeed quite a few privateers were captured by the British that summer—four in one day alone on the Rappahannock River. The Brits couldn’t take their big warships everywhere, but they had other ways—several smaller boats, for instance, each armed with a carronade and filled with Royal Marines.
Speaking of which . . . is that a boat full of Royal Marines I see approaching to port? Quick, we need more sail! Somebody! Anybody! More sail!
I’d do it, but I’m old.
Tim Sayles, Editor