ABOARD THE PRIDE OF BALTIMORE II -- "Let's shoot all four of them!" called Capt. Jan Miles, to the ship's eager gunner, John Paul Hope, who scurried into place.
"Fire in the hole!" yelled Hope, igniting four 19th-century replica cannons, as the crew and passengers of the 97-foot schooner covered their ears. "Bang! Bang!" rang the two starboard guns fired toward the World Trade Center. "Bang! Bang!" replied the port-side cannons exploding toward Federal Hill.
The blasts -- piercing the cool Inner Harbor air at 12: 30 p.m. yesterday -- noisily announced the homecoming of the city's floating public relations machine, the Pride of Baltimore II. And they marked the end of the longest and most ambitious voyage '' taken by the replica 1812-era ship and its sun-drenched crew: a 355-day, 26,000-mile odyssey to the Far East that included stops in 14 Asian ports, from Shanghai to Pusan, South Korea, and Nagoya, Japan.
"This was grand, grand, grand," said the tall, bearded Miles, 48, his tongue curling out of his mouth in a gesture of boyish delight.
Miles had hoped for an easy morning of sailing up the harbor, with the crew left to ponder mysteries of Chinese culture and the red brassiere that turned up in the wash in Panama. (No crew member has claimed it.) But a strong wind from the west, reaching 30 knots, would not cooperate. The Pride spent three tough hours tacking furiously.
Led into the harbor by the Mayor Thomas D'Alessandro Jr. Fireboat No. 1, the Pride II was escorted by three police boats, a dozen pleasure craft and two tugs, one of them chartered by the family and friends of Catonsville's Christina Dyer. They shouted, "Welcome Home Chrissie" loud enough to make the young deckhand, trying to set the jib, look up, lose her footing and blush.
At the dock, the 185-ton schooner, with an 11-person crew -- having been joined at Curtis Bay by 23 passengers including family and former crew -- was greeted by ringing church bells, Chinese dragon dancers, a children's choir from Carroll County and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.
"This is too much too emotional," said Hope, the gunner, looking up from his cannons to watch the crowds that swelled in the
amphitheater and lined the harbor five deep. "I never could have imagined this when we started."
Pride II set sail from the harbor at 4 p.m. on Dec. 6, for a voyage designed to recall the 1815 trip of Chasseur, the Baltimore ship dubbed "Pride of Baltimore" that went to China, and returned with tea, porcelain and bolts of silk. The Pride II's lifeboat is named Chasseur (French for hunter) in its honor.
Pride II arrived in Hawaii in February, escorted by dolphins and humpback whales, and reached Shanghai -- after dodging South China Sea fishing boats -- in April.
The state-owned ship's estimated $1 million trip, financed with city, state and private funds, was focused on building new business for the port, but the Asian currency crisis weighed heavily on those efforts. Port officials were unable yesterday to point to any specific new business or deal tied to the voyage.
"It builds good will and helps us sell Baltimore," said Samuel J. Azzarello Jr., general manager for sales in the Maryland Port Administration. "People remember the Pride, and that makes it easier to do business."
The boat returned stateside on Aug. 31 in Seattle, survived the foresail-ripping Tropical Storm Madeline in October, and passed through the Panama Canal earlier this month before motoring much of the way home. During the trip, the Pride II celebrated its 10th birthday. It is older now than the original Pride, which sank in a heavy storm 200 miles north of Puerto Rico on May 14, 1986. Four crew members died.
"It is always good to see the Pride come home safely and successfully," said Eamonn McGeady, a marine construction firm owner who has been a Pride board member since 1979. His nephew survived the sinking of the first Pride. "The Asia trip is the best we've ever had."
Even the low-paid deckhands, with starting salaries at $400 a month, agreed.
Truth be told, Pride II returned to Baltimore Wednesday and docked quietly Thursday behind the Hess oil tank farm in Curtis Bay. While a few sailors spent time with their families Thursday, everyone stayed on board to clean and then eat Thanksgiving dinner.
As she prepared to leave the ship yesterday, deckhand Stephanie Reynolds, 28, a Baltimore native, confessed to affection for the crowded bunk rooms, despite the stench of salt water and sweat. Most of the close-knit crew will stay on for winter maintenance, and sailors said they will spend the next few days, between trips to local watering holes, looking for a Charm City house to rent together.
Leading the crew off the boat yesterday was the cook, Tina Koch. Her husband, Josh, joined the boat at Curtis Bay, only the second time he's seen his wife in seven months. The couple married in September 1997. With her aboard the Pride and him at home in Ocean City, they spent their first anniversary apart.
"It was terrible being apart," Josh Koch said. "And I don't know what she'll think of home. I'm a terrible housekeeper, and it looks and smells like a fraternity house."
Warned, Tina Koch kissed her husband, and smiled at her friends, who carried a hand-painted "Welcome Home Tina" banner. Then, her friend George Walton, who had been a passenger during the trip, broke up the Inner Harbor crowd with a yell: "Tina, what's for lunch?"
"Nothing," she shouted back. "Today's my day off."
Pub Date: 11/28/98