ABOARD THE PRIDE — Peering into the early morning fog, Doug Leasure keeps a sharp eye out for buoys and boats as the Pride of Baltimore II glides slowly up the channel from Annapolis.
Gently shrugging aside a chat, the deckhand from Westminster turns again to his duty on the bow, knowing his responsibility in getting Maryland's floating ambassador safely home.
Despite the advanced radar and satellite systems being monitored down below, the captain still depends on his crew to verify what his instruments tell him.
"There's something big about a quarter-mile up on the port side," first mate Dan Parrot yells down the 96-foot deck to Leasure and Alyson Layne on the bow. "Keep 'em peeled."
Dimly in the mist, the crew makes out a hulking tanker from Stockholm that had dropped anchor for the night.
"It's a vessel, sir," Parrot reports to Capt. Jan Miles, who scanned instruments below.
"We can move a lot more quickly with all this equipment," Miles says. "But the greatest tool we have is ourselves. We have to interpret what the instruments are telling us."
Leasure, at age 19 the youngest sailoron the ship, boarded the Pride II on Aug. 10 in Cardiff, Wales. Likethe other crew members, he signed on for one leg of the 20-month voyage that visited 40 port cities in 14 countries and spanned more than30,000 nautical miles.
"We don't even keep a captain on for more than six months," says Quita Harvey, a spokeswoman for the Pride. "Any more than that they'd go crazy."
But Leasure says he enjoyed thefeeling of isolation he experienced on the trans-Atlantic crossing home.
"It was like being marooned on a floating island," he says. "It's like being Robinson Crusoe, getting away from everything for a while."
A 1989 Westminster High graduate, Leasure started sailing two years ago at the suggestion of his sister's boyfriend.
"He usedto work around boats and thought maybe I'd like it," Leasure says. "So, I called this place up in Connecticut and they had an entry-level, no-experience-necessary job open that very weekend.
"I started then, and I just got hooked."
After sailing on a couple of other ships in New England, working on the Pride was a dream come true for the Maryland native.
"It's that hometown boy thing," he says. "I sawher being built, and she is unique in what she does. Everyone in theshipping industry knows about her."
Leasure says he was surprised, though, that few Marylanders appeared to be aware of the Pride and its mission to teach the world about the state and attract foreign business.
In fact, people in foreign ports seem to know more about the ship and her predecessor, which sank in a freak storm May 16, 1986, killing the captain and three crew members, than residents here at home, he says.
Some Maryland residents ask, "What is this boat?" and "Where have you been?" Leasure says.
"I feel like replying, 'Where have you been?' " he says with a laugh. "I'm amazed at the numberof Marylanders who know so little about her."
The two-masted topsail schooner, a replica of the speedy Baltimore clippers Marylanders constructed and sailed in the 1800s, was built in 1988 with $1.5 million donated primarily by citizens and private companies.
Those industries use the ship -- owned by the people of Maryland -- for cocktail parties, receptions and dinners while they are in foreign ports.
The boat also is open to the public, with crew members on hand to talk about the ship and their role.
"That's a suit-and-tie affair for us," Leasure says, describing the blue blazer, khaki pants or skirt, striped shirt and tie the sailors wear. "The questions are mainly about the boat, what she does and who owns her."
Pride II looks as authentic as the original, but modern safety features have been incorporated below decks, Parrot says. The first mate is one of the few crew members to have sailed both ships.
"The other ship was nice, but you felt like you were sailing in 1812," he jokes.
Paychecks onthe Pride are rather small, Leasure says. But rewards are more than monetary.
"We're not in it for the pay," he says. "If anyone ever was, they'd be crazy."
Leasure says he's enjoyed the hands-on experience of learning to sail the boat and the people he's met on board.
"The crew is real close, and most of them know each other from other ships," he says. "The people are always really great, and there'shardly ever a bad seed. If there ever is, they're always weeded out."
Clambering up and down the rigging, Leasure hurries to set the sails as Pride II slides under the Key Bridge for the grand entrance into Baltimore Harbor.
"There's always something to climb on here,"he says. "It's like one huge jungle gym."
Although the ship has been under engine power since Annapolis, the crew unfurls the sails for the entrance. Pride passes Fort McHenry with cannons blazing and receives a return salute from shore.
Bosun Jonathan Friedberg and engineer Sean Christie rush about setting the charges, while other crewmembers follow with lighted cigarettes to fire the guns.
Finally,the guns are quiet and the crew raises a large U.S. flag. The Pride has taken the harbor.
For Leasure, winter means time off to try skiing in Colorado, then on to the West Coast for a job sailing the schooner California.
"You just keep up with everything that's going on," Leasure says about landing his new job. "It's a great way to travel and see places."