Roving ambassador of Baltimore

Pride: The city's elegant goodwill messenger represents Maryland commerce in ports around the world

June 21, 2000|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Sun Staff

Of all the tall ships gracing Baltimore Harbor during OpSail 2000, there will be none with deeper, more tender roots than Pride of Baltimore II, Maryland's goodwill ambassador to the world.

Modeled after an 1812 Baltimore clipper, the 173-foot topsail schooner has represented the city, the state, their people and their commerce in 44 countries since the vessel was launched in 1988.

The Pride has sailed more than 180,000 miles and played host to more than a half-million visitors.

In the past four years alone, the Pride has toured Europe, East Asia, and the East Coast and Great Lakes regions twice each.

And on the 29th, the Pride will lead the Parade of Sail out of the harbor and begin another working cruise -- a tall ship race across the Atlantic and a five-month tour of eight European nations.

Wherever she sails, Pride II carries the memory of the original Pride of Baltimore. The first Pride was lost in 1986, after logging 150,000 miles and nine years in Maryland's service. The ship was knocked down and sunk by a fierce Atlantic squall 240 miles north of Puerto Rico.

Capt. Armin E. Elsaesser III and three crew members died in the accident. They were lost on the last leg of their journey home from the Pride's first European tour. Eight others were rescued by a passing tanker after 4 1/2 days in a leaky raft.

The sinking was deeply felt by Baltimoreans, who had embraced the sleek schooner and its youthful crews since its launch from the Inner Harbor in 1977. They were seen as optimistic symbols of Baltimore's downtown renaissance during the 1970s and '80s. Baltimoreans insisted that the Pride be replaced.

But lessons had been learned. Pride II was built to Coast Guard specifications for passenger vessels, at the expense of some historic authenticity.

She is bigger than the old Pride, with 50 percent more ballast for stability. Safety also dictated that the vessel have twice as much freeboard between the waterline and the deck as the first Pride.

Naval architect Thomas C. Gillmer prescribed watertight compartments, powerful twin diesel engines, and modern satellite communications and navigation gear.

The Pride II now welcomes paying passengers ($150 a night) between ports of call -- provided they're physically fit and willing to work. Sailing receptions (from $3,000) and dockside receptions (from $1,500) are available for corporate or private events.

Pride Inc. has also launched a new educational mission linking Maryland's schoolchildren to others around the world. But the ship's first mission is still to represent the city and state and their business interests in ports around the world.

Dale Hilliard, the Pride's executive director, calls it "the paradox" of the Pride. "When it's doing its mission, people in Maryland don't see it," he said.

And that absence, Pride officials concede, has cost the ship some of its visibility and financial support in Maryland. And that has left it at a crossroads. While its budget has remained steady at about $1 million annually, Hilliard said, the Pride has been drawing heavily on income from an endowment to keep up with expenses. That income now provides 21 percent of the Pride's revenues.

Thanks to a strong stock market in recent years, the endowment has produced the needed income without cutting into the principle, which remains at about $2 million. But now that the market has fallen slack, the Pride's board wants to reduce reliance on investment income by half.

And that means government and corporate donors will be asked for more money. In exchange, the Pride's planners are eager to offer a better, more individualized promotional "platform."

They are already scheduling more "bay time" for the ship, so it can be used and enjoyed by more of those who support her. But the ship's primary mission will be as a high-visibility economic ambassador beyond Maryland's shores.

"We want to strengthen the Pride in representing corporations and state government, and delivering their message to other companies and firms, internationally and nationally," Hilliard said.

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