Constellation: Even-keeled G. Peter Boudreau, who oversaw building of the Lady Maryland and Pride II, knows this restoration will be complicated. But he's ready.

AT THE HELM

November 16, 1996|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,SUN STAFF

On deck once more is G. Peter Boudreau, skipper of the resurrection.

Look for him tomorrow morning aboard the U.S.S. Constellation, a leaking, rotting, sagging, 142-year-old hulk of timbers that happens to be considered one of the country's most important historic naval vessels. He's the husky, mustachioed blond guy, the one who usually seems so calm and collected. He'll be in charge when a tugboat pulls the ship through the Inner Harbor ever so slowly, slower than a Sunday stroll through Harborplace.

They're actually going to move the thing, the once-proud ship reduced to a mastless hull trussed like a trauma victim. Were it only that the Constellation is a shambles, that she's been defaced by wrongheaded historic revision, Boudreau would have his work cut out for him. But redemption in this case goes beyond the physical.

"In the maritime community, almost across the board, the ship has had a terrible reputation," says Boudreau. "Maintenance, technical and historical standards "

His soft voice trails off. It's a long story.

"Since I've been involved, it's taken a long time to cut loose that baggage," says Boudreau, who designed and will supervise the $9 million Constellation restoration at Fort McHenry shipyard. "We're going to be consistent in everything we do to try to cut loose that baggage."

Tomorrow about 10: 30 a.m., the Constellation crew will cast off lines and ease away from Harborplace toward Fort McHenry, marking a turning point in the resurrection of the 1854 sloop-of-war. Louis F. Linden, executive director of the Constellation Foundation Inc., the steward of the ship, has been working toward that moment since he moved up from Texas to take the job nearly two years ago. He says one of the reasons he took the position was Boudreau.

Linden describes Boudreau as "the owner of an enviable reputation as a seaman and a shipwright. You very shortly get the feeling he's trustworthy. If he says 'X' will occur, barring any horrendous situation, it will happen."

Trust would be the key concept in that sentence. Boudreau -- former captain of the Pride of Baltimore who supervised construction of the Lady Maryland and the Pride II -- is stepping into murky water and knows it.

The "baggage" Boudreau mentioned developed over decades, as the Constellation's previous stewards in Baltimore presented the ship as something she was not: a 1797 frigate of the same name built in Fells Point. After the ship was moved from Boston to Baltimore in 1955, historical evidence consistently showed that the frigate had been destroyed in 1853 and replaced in 1854 by a new ship of the same name, built in Norfolk, Va. Evidence notwithstanding, the caretakers in Baltimore stuck to their version, even renovating the ship's main deck to look more like the frigate.

As the true story gained acceptance, the ship itself continued to deteriorate. The former stewards were replaced by the new Constellation Foundation Inc. Three years ago, the foundation hired Boudreau, a 42-year-old Annapolis resident, a father of two who knows boats, who knows Baltimore, who had already overseen a maritime resurrection of a different sort -- construction of the Pride of Baltimore II.

Building a memorial

He was at the makeshift office of the Lady Maryland one morning in late May 1986 when he was called in to meet with members of the Lady Maryland board. They had terrible news. The Pride of Baltimore, the replica 1810 clipper ship he helped build and served as captain of for eight years, had sunk in a violent storm in the Atlantic Ocean north of Puerto Rico. Four members of the 12-member crew were lost at sea.

Boudreau knew all the crew members, but was particularly close to two of the victims, Nina Schack, who sailed with Boudreau when he skippered the ship, and Capt. Armin Elsaesser III.

"It was a very difficult thing for me because they were friends," says Boudreau. "For a long period I still didn't completely believe that the ship had sunk. And it goes against everything that I knew. I just had this reluctance. I thought, 'Maybe it's just over on its side ' "

A year later, he was in charge of construction of the Pride of Baltimore II, supervising a crew that included survivors of the Pride. He was gratified that they agreed to take part. Building that boat, he says, "was the ultimate way to provide a memorial for the people who were lost on the first Pride. This could happen to anyone. I realize I'm lucky, with all the deep ocean sailing I've done."

He's known the joy and the danger of boats since he was a boy in St. Lucia in the West Indies, where his father ran a sailboat cruising business. Once in the mid-1960s, one of his father's boats sank off Bermuda. His father wasn't the skipper that trip, but four people whom Boudreau knew died in the accident.

The potential danger never deterred him. He and his two brothers and two sisters grew up on his father's boats.

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