Bacher's Harvey Gamage gives Annapolis a schooner to call its own

SAILING

November 15, 1992|By NANCY NOYES

If you were on the lower Severn River the past couple of weekends, you probably noticed a graceful two-masted fore-and-aft schooner at anchor.

Even lying at anchor, the Harvey Gamage is a genuine eye-catcher.

Although she left for Bermuda a week ago and will spend her winter working in the Caribbean before returning in the spring, Harvey Gamage and her new owner, Michael Bacher, call Annapolis home these days.

"I want the community to have a sense of ownership," Bacher said. "I want people to know that Annapolis is getting its schooner, like Baltimore has the Pride of Baltimore, even though the boat is under way most of the year."

Unlike the Pride, which is primarily a promotional goodwill vessel, Bacher said, Harvey Gamage is a worker, and a veteran of nearly 20 years in the Maine and Caribbean windjammer fleets as well as numerous important educational roles.

Designed by Rhodes after the swift packet schooners of the 1860s, the 122-foot Harvey Gamage was built in South Bristol, Maine, in 1973, and was christened in honor of the famous shipwright who built her.

Harvey Gamage is built of oak and fir, using the exacting traditions of wooden boat building, but also meets the highest standards of safety required by the Coast Guard. It is the only wooden schooner of its class certified for the international trade.

Below decks are six watertight bulkheads, a spacious saloon, galley and 15 staterooms, with berths for 30 passengers and nine crew.

Bacher, a 10-year Navy veteran and current Naval Reserve officer who also holds a Merchant Marine commission, says he "became enamored of the whole lifestyle and business" of the Maine windjammer trade during his time as an instructor at Maine Maritime Academy a few years ago.

Then, last February, while teaching at his alma mater, New York Maritime College at Fort Schuyler, he saw an ad in the brokerage pages of Yachting that changed his life.

"I saw this ad for the schooner Harvey Gamage," Bacher said. "I was excited by it right away, because I knew she had a national following, that she was very well-known for her educational cruises, her instructional seminars, a lot of nature work, and so on. My mind started racing so much that I couldn't sleep all night."

Contacting the schooner's owner/builder Eben Whitcomb of Dirigo Cruises in Clinton, Conn., and checking out the vessel, Bacher began to form a business plan to buy the Gamage.

"What I'm pursuing now is eight-tenths of the sailing population's dream," Bacher said. "And I'm making it work."

Traditionally, Gamage sails south to the Caribbean for the winter season, using St. Thomas as home port for weeklong windjammer cruises through the West Indies. In the summer, she works along the East Coast from the Chesapeake Bay to Maine.

As a member of the American Sail Training Association, she always has held a strong market niche in educational endeavors, including nature cruises, whale watching cruises, navigational workshops, extensive charters for Bar Harbor's College of the Atlantic, Elderhostel cruises, summer camps and other programs.

Next month, for example, Harvey Gamage will sail two "Sugar & Slaves: Voyages in History" educational cruises from St. Thomas to St. John, Jost Van Dyke, Tortola, Virgin Gorda and St. Croix, with a lecture series on the history of the area by a Caribbean historian.

Bacher intends to continue and expand on these and other working/educational cruise programs.

But, he said, "I want to let Annapolis know that they're getting their own personal windjammer."

Why Annapolis?

"I have moved around all my life," Bacher said, alluding to time spent in South America, Europe and other places, including many parts of the United States. "The longest I was ever in one place was five years on the Navy destroyer Spruance. But I'm 31 now, and the anchor's down. I'm not moving."

Bacher described the process that brought him to Annapolis, where he has kept a post office box for more than four years,

although he took up permanent residence here only this year.

"While I was working at the Maine Maritime Academy," he said, "I met Newport [R.I.], and for a while I thought that was where I wanted to live eventually. But two years later I was working here in Annapolis, and I found that Annapolis is very different from Newport, and I really felt at home here.

"Here, if you want to go sailing, you can pretty much show up on the dock and someone will take you out as crew. You don't have to own the right boat, or be from the right family, live in the right place, drive the right car, all that other stuff. You don't really even have to know how to sail -- just being eager to learn is enough. It really is the sailing capital of America."

Bacher is forming a limited partnership to own 50 percent of the Harvey Gamage, with the general partner, owning the other 50 percent, being a corporation over which he will preside.

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