"It begins it 1977 with this first experiment, this novel idea, this bold idea—a symbol for a city. It’s the very fabric of our identity,” said Rick Scott, executive director of Pride of Baltimore Inc. last year, as he sat along the water's edge at Fort McHenry, watching the replica schooner Pride of Baltimore II head under the Key Bridge on her maiden voyage of the season. At the time, I was reporting a story on the 30th anniversary of the sinking of the Pride of Baltimore, the city's first replica schooner, which was lost in a freak storm in May 1986, about 250 miles off the coast of Puerto Rico. It is a particularly tragic and dramatic chapter in the history of the city. Three crew members—Barry Duckworth, Vincent Lazzarro, and Nina Schack—and the ship's captain, Armin Elssaeser, died, and the remaining crew drifted in a life raft for days until they were rescued by a Norwegian oil tanker. But Scott was right. However heartbreaking that event was, it was but part of a larger story that started in 1977 and continues to unfurl, capturing the imaginations of people all over the world.
Building a historically accurate replica 1812 schooner and sailing it around the world as floating ambassador for your city is the kind of civic endeavor that no politician in their right mind would ever propose these days—let alone get approved. But the 1970s were a different time, and as the city hemorrhaged residents and its once-proud waterfront corroded, civic leaders hatched plans to reinvigorate what we now know as the Inner Harbor. The new ship would be part of that. It would be modeled after the fast and nimble Chesapeake topsail schooners that helped Baltimore beat back the British during the War of 1812. The most famous of those schooners was named Chasseur, but its battle-tested prowess earned it the nickname the "Pride of Baltimore." And so a name was born.
The first Pride was constructed right along the Inner Harbor, near where West Shore Park is today. It was commissioned May 1, 1977, in a ceremony attended by thousands, and it sailed 150,000 nautical miles before its untimely sinking. After the tragedy of the sinking, however, civic leaders were cowed. Baltimore had gambled and won big, only to lose even bigger. It seemed the experiment was over.
But Baltimore, scrappy and sentimental as ever, wasn't ready to give up. Many of the condolence letters that poured in for the Pride and her lost crew also urged the city to build another boat. Unsolicited donations arrived. Schoolchildren began collecting pennies for the project. There was momentum that could not be denied. And so, in 1987 construction began on Pride of Baltimore II, a bigger, faster, and (most importantly) safer version of an 1812 topsail schooner. It launched April 30, 1988 in an Inner Harbor ceremony attended by thousands. Since then Pride II has sailed almost 200,000 miles and visited over 200 ports in 40 countries, carrying more than a little of Baltimore's indomitable grit and grace with her wherever she goes.
Now, the organization starts it 40th season today, March 25, with free deck tours, first at Fort McHenry from 12:30-2:30 p.m. and then in Fells Point from 4-7 p.m. In honor of Pride's complicated, emotional, and ultimately inspiring history, we urge you to visit the boat. But in the meantime, enjoy this slideshow of Pride's tumultuous tenure as Baltimore's sailing symbol.