The 14-member crew of the Clipper City sailed out of the Inner Harbor at midnight recently en route to Havre de Grace, where the schooner picked up a group of Harford County senior citizens and took them on a tour of the upper Chesapeake Bay.
The majestic topsail ship arrived at the Frank J. Hutchins Memorial Park on the Susquehanna River, where about 140 seniors were waiting at the pier to embark on a three-hour cruise along the quiet shoreline.
The Harford County Office on Aging chartered the 158-foot vessel last month for its third annual Senior Sail -- a popular social and recreational event for adults ages 60 and older.
"A lot of seniors don't get a chance to go out on boats," said Linda Althouse, who works for the county Office on Aging. "Some of them might have had a boat at one time. And a lot of them have lived in the area all of their lives but have never been out on the bay," she said.
A federal grant enabled the Office on Aging to sell tickets to sail on the tall ship -- a replica of a Great Lakes lumber schooner built in 1854 -- at a discount rate of $5, including lunch, said Joan Taylor, program developer for the agency.
"We could have filled two boats," Ms. Taylor said.
The passengers -- many of them members of senior citizen organizations and some nursing home residents -- filled the open deck of the spacious vessel. Bundled warmly in jackets against the morning chill, they watched the crew cast off and begin motoring out toward the bay.
"I think it's wonderful," said 62-year-old Evelyn Vaughann, who lives at the Brevin Nursing Home in Havre de Grace. "I like just looking out at the water. I've been looking forward to it."
The winds were calm and the water flat as the ship's engines hummed steadily, helping the taut sails to power the vessel south toward Locust Point.
From time to time the sun peeked through the gray skies as the guests gazed across the water at the marinas, condominiums, parks and historic sites along the waterfront in Havre de Grace. Occasionally boaters in small pleasure craft would pass by and wave at the schooner.
"This is a beautiful boat," said Adolph Krizek, 80, who is a member of the Highland Senior Center. "She's beautiful like a picture when you see her under sail."
Mr. Krizek at one time owned a powerboat and also taught boating courses for 25 years. He came on the cruise with his wife, Alice, who is 76, and 10 of their friends from the senior center.
"I came last year and I enjoyed it very much," Mrs. Krizek said. "I just call it a happy hour because it's lots of fun. I enjoy the friendliness of the people."
The Krizeks were joined by James and Ruth Cernik, both 74. "I have never been on a sailboat before," Mrs. Cernik said. "I'm looking forward to the experience and the sociability of all the nice people aboard."
Passengers enthusiastically joined in singing spirituals and folk tunes with the Rev. James Blackburn, the former interim rector at St. George's Episcopal Church in Perryman.
"I love to sing," Father Blackburn said. "It's a fun time for me. There's a good spirit among the people here. "And I think being on the water is a very peaceful experience. You're away from things that are troublesome and worrisome."
For Bea Nichols and Ruth Havenga, longtime friends from Havre de Grace who are both in their 70s, the excursion was an opportunity to reminisce about their boating trips on these very same waters when their children were growing up.
"This brings back memories," said Mrs. Nichols, as the women pointed out their favorite places to fish, crab and swim.