Not-so-tall ships also prove a draw

Unusual vessels dock in Canton for OpSail 2000

June 26, 2000|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

Not all the tall ships were tall.

While the larger vessels from foreign ports caught most of the public's eye at OpSail 2000 at Baltimore's harbor during the weekend, some of the smaller vessels from Maryland ports that are part of the maritime festival drew their own curious onlookers.

Two such attractions, docked in Canton, were the Maryland Dove, a replica of an early 17th-century three-masted, pinnacle ship, and the Witchcraft, a rebuilt 1903 sailing yacht. Both were docked at Pier N off Boston Street, at the Baltimore Marine Center.

About 2,000 visitors yesterday and Saturday boarded the Dove, a 76-foot, 40-ton vessel whose home port is historic St. Mary's City, Maryland's first capital, founded in 1634.

The Maryland Dove is a replica of the smaller of two ships that carried the first settlers to Maryland. The other, the Ark, was 10 times larger, second-mate Erik Lewis told visitors yesterday. He explained how a ship's tonnage was determined by how many barrels - 6 feet high and 4 feet in diameter - could be hauled on board. Each barrel was considered a ton, he said.

"The Ark could carry 400 barrels, the Dove only 40," he said.

Ships such as the Maryland Dove were used for coastal trading and were not built to be ocean-going, said Captain Will Gates.

"Ships like it hauled fish from Nova Scotia, rum and molasses from Barbados and, of course, tobacco," Lewis said.

The Maryland Dove is crewed by volunteers, who help maintain its wooden structure and earn a sailing lesson about once a month, Lewis said. It sails to different ports three or four times a year, such as this week's excursion to OpSail 2000.

"We arrived Thursday and will leave port [today]," said mate Mark Delaverghe, dutifully attending the gangway to assist visitors without sea legs.

Two slips away, Paul Itzel of Pasadena, owner and builder of the Witchcraft, lounged aboard his 60-foot yawl that comfortably sleeps eight.

Mates Luke and Andy Hermann, 12-year-old twins, were away for an educational seminar, leaving Itzel and longtime friend Robert Merriken to entertain visitors and share a bit of history.

The name Witchcraft has nothing to do with sorcery, said Itzel, who bought the derelict, badly leaking vessel in 1970 and devoted the next 30 years to rebuilding the 97-year-old craft. He docks it in Rock Creek in northern Anne Arundel County.

"An old English seaman told me that `witch' refers to speed, and old British ships built for speed were named with `witch' as part of their name," Itzel said.

A self-described hippie who put together more than 500 models as a boy, Itzel graduated to cars in his teens and began hanging around boatyards after that. He was crewing aboard L'abenir, Merriken's 41-foot yacht in November 1977, when the boat was caught in a storm and reported missing at sea.

"We had six on board, sailing to Bermuda, when a tropical storm came up," Merriken said. "We had no choice but to try to sail around the storm. That trip takes six to 12 days, but one of the crew was a novice and had told her mother we'd be in Bermuda in six days. When we didn't arrive in six days, the girl's mother reported us missing."

Merriken and Itzel still laugh at the memory of a Canadian warship finding the "missing" crew alive and well on the 12th or 13th day.

The air and sea search by the U.S. Coast Guard covered 44,000 square miles. Itzel produced a 23-year-old newspaper clipping to document being "lost" at sea.

"We never did get a retraction," said Merriken, drawing a huge laugh from his visitors.

Consider this the retraction.

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