The Pride 5 years later: Remembering the positive Two surviving crew members still pursue the seafaring life

May 13, 1991|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Evening Sun Staff

WHILE THE CITY will be marking the fifth anniversary of the sinking of the Pride of Baltimore tomorrow, two of its surviving crew members will be 3,000 miles away on another schooner remembering the Pride in happier times.

John "Sugar" Flanagan and Leslie McNish, who were married less than four months after the clipper sank in the Atlantic Ocean, today live in Port Townsend, Wash., on their own charter boat. They would prefer to concentrate on the Pride's brighter moments.

"I try to remember the positive," says Flanagan, 32, who served as the clipper's first mate and was one of eight crew members who survived when a freak squall sank the ship 240 miles north of Puerto Rico May 14, 1986. Four people died in the accident.

"Too many people still concentrate on the sinking of the Pride. But that was just a brief two minutes compared to four years I spent on her," says Flanagan, who reminisced in a phone call late last week. "Of course the next 4 1/2 days [on a cramped life raft after the sinking] was not much fun," he concedes. "But we had a great trans-Atlantic passage before that."

Flanagan and McNish, who was the Pride's bosun on the ill-fated journey, made headlines in Baltimore when they announced their engagement not long after the tragedy and word spread that Leslie had proposed to Sugar while the crew was struggling in the water trying to inflate their life raft.

"Sugar, if we ever live through this, you and I, we're going to get married," she said. Flanagan agreed.

"We were definitely headed toward a life together," he recalls today. "Marriage was more important to Leslie than to me, but I said OK. And it was a good party," he says of the wedding that followed.

Indeed, theirs had been a shipboard romance. From the time they first met on the Pride in October 1982, they lived and sailed together -- from California to Australia to the Mediterranean. In December 1985 they joined the Pride in Malaga, Spain, as it was ending a yearlong European tour, and prepared for what was to become the ship's final trans-Atlantic voyage.

When the Pride sank, Flanagan and McNish were two of eight who managed to climb aboard the 5 1/2 -by-5 1/2 -foot life raft. They lived on minimal food and water -- a quarter of a biscuit and 2 ounces of water each -- for 4 1/2 days before a Norwegian freighter saw their SOS signal from a flashlight and rescued them.

The Pride's captain, Armin E. Elsaesser III, and three other crew members -- Vincent Lazaro, Nina Schack, and Barry Duckworth -- were lost at sea.

In the days that followed, Baltimore mourned the loss of lives and of the 19th century replica ship that had sailed more than 150,000 miles over nine years promoting the city. Plans were discussed to build another Pride of Baltimore.

As for McNish and Flanagan, they were were married in August at McNish's parents' home in Somis, Calif. It was an informal ceremony in which the groom appeared barefoot and the family dog joined the wedding party on its march down the aisle.

After the wedding, the couple put in five months on the Californian, a 145-foot topsail schooner. They came back to Baltimore for three months in 1987 to help build the new Pride II (which was christened in 1988 and is currently on a 19-month European tour of nearly 40 cities), then drove cross-country for another five-month tour of duty on the Californian, again with Flanagan at the helm.

"We had been looking to buy a schooner for a number of years," says Flanagan, a native of Niantic, Conn. When they learned that the Alcyone, a 65-foot topmast schooner built in 1956, was available, they bought it. In November 1987, as much as a couple of sailors could do, they "settled down" in Port Townsend, a Victorian seaport on Washington's Olympic Peninsula.

For the last four years the couple have been living on the Alcyone and running summertime charters to the San Juan Islands, which lie about halfway between Vancouver Island and the Washington mainland, near the mouth of Puget Sound. Their fourth season opens today.

And this year, there will be an extra crew member aboard. Alyce Irie, the couple's 4-month-old daughter, will be sailing with them. Alyce's middle name is taken from the Pride's longboat, on which her parents had their first date. Accommodating an infant on board will be a new experience, not altogether easy, says Flanagan; but he's looking forward to it.

"It's a good challenge," he says. "She's got her own little bunk up forward in our cabin," and he's built a tiny seat for her at the helm where he can keep an eye on her.

The six-day cruises, which accommodate five guest passengers, are geared to people who are interested in sailing as well as those who just enjoy the outdoors and the exploration that the state parks and calm inland waters can provide, says Flanagan.

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