A 'start-up' guy steps down As executive director of the Constellation Foundation, Lou Linden headed the old ship's refurbishment effort. Now, he's ready for new seas to conquer.

CATCHING UP WITH ... LOU LINDEN

July 19, 1998|By FRANK D. ROYLANCE | FRANK D. ROYLANCE,SUN STAFF

The biggest wooden sailing vessel Lou Linden needs to worry about these days is the Barry Duckworth, his long-idle 35-foot pleasure sloop. With any luck, Linden says, he will finish the little sloop's new icebox this summer, and get it back under sail in time for a cruise of the Chesapeake this fall.

For the first time in 3 1/2 years, Linden has a little leisure time to spend on such simple concerns. Last month, he resigned as executive director of the Constellation Foundation, where he was chief fund-raiser, cheerleader and mother hen for the 176-foot Constellation - the last Civil War warship afloat and centerpiece for Baltimore's Inner Harbor renaissance.

He ventured an explanation for his departure as he relaxed recently in the shady confines of the patio behind his fraying South Baltimore rowhouse.

"I think primarily I'm a start-up and turnaround type of guy," he says. "In discussions with my executive committee, we decided I had provided what they needed and it was time for us both to go on."

Under his watch, the big ship has been saved again from oblivion. It is scheduled to be refloated on its new hull Aug. 21. Completion of its upper decks, masts and rig over the coming year is expected to lead to Constellation's triumphant return to the Inner Harbor in June or July of next year.

"And to a certain extent, too, I'm tired," Linden, 51, confides. "I've been going since February 1995 virtually without vacation, never less than 50 hours a week. It had been nine months since I had seen my mother in Florida; my house is in shambles, and my boat has not been out of the slip since 1996. There comes a time when you say, 'Basta!' [Enough!]."

"He's a done a terrific job," says Gail Shawe, the foundation's chairwoman. "There's no question we would not be in the position we're in now if it were not for Lou. He came at a time when there was a question whether the ship would be taken out of water and saved. He's done a great job of leading us to where we are today."

The foundation's board has begun to contemplate the ship's management and mission after it is returned to the Inner Harbor next year. One option may be to turn it over to the nonprofit Living Classrooms Foundation, which provides hands-on education and employment training for at-risk young people.

The organization's "floating classrooms" now include the Lady Maryland, a full-size replica of an 1880s pungey schooner, and the Mildred Belle, an authentic oyster buy boat built in 1948.

Linden is a loquacious former labor organizer, Texas criminal-defense attorney and political campaigner. Despite his boyhood in Minnesota, he is partial to Texas hats and boots, and harbors a love of sailing and maritime history.

He has crewed on tall ships, commanded charter vessels and sailed the Atlantic and the Caribbean with his wife, Nancy, a professional artist, aboard the Barry Duckworth. Their sloop is named for a friend and ship's carpenter who died aboard the original Pride of Baltimore when it sank in May 1986.

Linden is confident the most critical part of saving the Constellation has been accomplished.

"It's real important for people to remember where we came from on this," he says. "Three and a half years ago this was a dead ship, with no future at all. My original contract was for [four months] or whenever the money ran out, whichever came last."

Navy inspectors in 1993 had toured the ship and found it to be in advanced state of decay, unsafe for tourists and likely to sink at the dock if the money -- estimated then at $25 million - were not found to save it.

Only an innovative rescue plan conceived by Pride builder Peter Boudreau brought the price tag back within the realm of possibility - $9 million. His design called for laminated hull planking strong enough to support the ship's sagging timbers. The new hull is now a wooden reality, and will get its first test at the Aug. 21 launch.

"Peter is doing a magnificent job, and he's doing more with less than anybody I've ever seen," Linden says. The ship is structurally sound, watertight and, when finished next year, will once again be accurate to its 1861 appearance.

"There has been no scrimping on the quality of materials or workmanship. Nothing has been done in a second-rate fashion for lack of money," he says. "She is going to be exquisite."

Linden praised the Maryland General Assembly for its support of the ship - $1.8 million so far of the $3 million Gov. Parris Glendening has promised to provide. Baltimore City has also pledged $3 million. The rest must come from private donations.

He also had kind words for Walter Sondheim, a longtime advocate for downtown revival; former mayor Tommy D'Alesandro III; and other business and community leaders whose service on the foundation's board helped assure the ship's rescue. He called them "wonderful folk who have done a very difficult thing."

That's not to say Linden is leaving his post without regrets.

"One of the things I always

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