JUST AFTER 8 a.m. yesterday, an older gentleman standing under an umbrella hailed the Pride of Baltimore II as it inched away from the Annapolis City Dock.
"Where you headed?"
"Back to Baltimore," answered a crew member -- but without adding the word he certainly could have: "finally."
For the next several hours, traveling up the Chesapeake Bay seemed as unfamiliar as many of the 40 ports of call the Pride visited during the past 21 months on its 30,000-nautical-mile voyage.
Heavy fog wrapped the ship as it motored slowly out the Severn River. The radio antenna array on Greenbury Point was a ghostly forest of shadows to port, as crew members Doug Leasure and Alyson Layne peered forward, standing bow watch.
A mile or so short of the Bay Bridge, a large container ship loomed up out of the fog. Although it was at anchor and safely spotted on radar, it seemed astonishingly close, as Layne ran back aft calling, "Oh my God, that's not a cloud."
A warm homecoming was just a few hours ahead in Baltimore's Inner Harbor.
Annapolis-to-Baltimore was the Pride's final leg of a voyage that since April 1990 has taken the city's goodwill ambassador as far as the Russian city of St. Petersburg/Leningrad on the Fourth of July this year, and to 39 other European and Scandinavian ports of call. Antwerp, Belgium; Oslo, Normay; Helsinki, Finland; Southhampton, England; and Cadiz, Spain, were among the cities on the second leg of the trip this year.
St. Mary's City was the ship's first Maryland landfall on Thursday, then Annapolis on Friday and Saturday before yesterday's homecoming to Baltimore.
Several hundred people -- lined the Inner Harbor sea wall in spite of weather reminiscent of northern Europe. Among them were scores of students from Lutherville's Ridgely Middle School who had followed the Pride's progress as a school project, and some of whom tried to perform "the wave" as a greeting.
"This is great weather -- for ducks. Quack! Quack!" said Capt. Jan Miles as he popped his head from the aft hatchway in the morning. He spent much of the trip at the navigation station below, watching the radar and charting the ship's progress through the channel markers as visibility dropped at times to barely 50 yards.
The fog lifted at mid-day as the 157-foot Baltimore Clipper schooner neared the Francis Scott Key Bridge, but a steady drizzle set in. Still, close to two dozen vessels, from tugboats to private motor launches, turned out to escort the ship home from the Key Bridge area. Off Fort McHenry, the ship exchanged cannon salutes with a National Guard battery ashore, then continued to fire some 30 salvos all the way into the Inner Harbor area.
Each blast propelled nothing but newspaper wadding, but the reports echoed and rang loudly. Crew members and spectators on boats and ashore whooped with each shot.
"This ship is really carrying a cargo that's spiritual," said John Wilson, a deck hand for the Pride's trans-Atlantic voyage from Cadiz, Spain. He is the owner and editor of Woodenboat magazine, a national publication for fanciers of more traditional boats, and is preparing a lengthy article about the Pride's goodwill mission.
He said that to his knowledge, no other ship among a fleet of traditional sailing vessels operated by governments or foundations around the world quite captures the fancy of those who encounter the Pride.
"Everybody knows about the Pride, and to know her mission at this level [as honorary crew] is a privilege," said Wilson.
Deck hand Steve Russell particularly recalled a woman in Stockholm, Sweden, who came aboard and stood a long time beside the ship's wheel.
"When I talked to her, she showed me a picture of her husband at the helm of the first Pride when it visited Stockholm. He had since died, and she said she just had to see the new ship, then she just cried and cried," said Russell.
The first Pride of Baltimore visited Europe in 1985-86, before sinking with four hands off Bermuda in May 1986, on the return leg of that trip.
As the Pride II hove closer to shore yesterday, crew hands began to spot family members.
"This is so neat! It's Baltimore," exclaimed Layne, 27, who joined the ship in March at Malaga, Spain, after "just generally being persistent" in pursuing a crew berth.
Russell, who previously sailed aboard the pungy schooner Lady Maryland, was also spotting family members and friends ashore. He was one of a number of crew members who spoke strongly of the Pride's unprecedented Independence Day visit to Russia.
"We only knew what the American education system taught us. And then you find these warm, enthusiastic people," said Russell. He had the chore one day of getting the ship's laundry done in St. Petersburg, and needed the help of a Russian man whose language he did not understand but whose friendship he cemented with the gift of a Coca-Cola.