Solemn reunion for ship's crew

Anniversary: Pride of Baltimore survivors honor four who died.

May 15, 2001|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

Their engagement was unconventional. They were treading water in the windblown waves of the Atlantic Ocean after their ship, the Pride of Baltimore, capsized in a sudden and violent squall.

As they clung to a life raft, fearing for their lives May 14, 1986, sailor Leslie McNish paddled around to first mate John "Sugar" Flanagan, and declared: "Sugar, if we ever live through this, you and I, we're going to get married."

Fifteen years later, the two returned to Baltimore from their home in Port Townsend, Wash., to lay flowers on a memorial to four fellow crew members who died sailing the ship that was a symbol of Baltimore's renaissance.

Although the ceremony at Rash Field beside the Inner Harbor was solemn - with prayers, singing and cannon salutes from the Constellation - Flanagan and McNish brought evidence that life goes on: two daughters born after their marriage.

After the crowd of 30 mourners finished listening to gospel readings at a granite memorial to the ship, Darby Flanagan, 6, and Alyce Flanagan, 10, chased each other and laughed.

Their father grabbed one of Darby's ankles and one of her wrists and swung her through the air like a plane.

"They've heard about this [the sinking of the Pride of Baltimore] their whole lives," said Flanagan, who sailed to Baltimore from the West Coast on his 65-foot schooner Alcyone, a charter ship and sail training vessel, which is on its way to Ireland.

"This ceremony ties up a lot of loose ends from what we've told them about the Pride. We don't hide from them the fact that we were aboard when it went down," Flanagan said.

The Pride of Baltimore, a wooden-hulled replica of the swift, tall-masted clipper ships that built the city's reputation as a trading center in the early 1800s, was constructed in 1977 beside the Inner Harbor as part of the revitalization of the city's waterfront.

After sailing more than 150,000 miles and visiting 122 ports, the Pride capsized and sank on May 14, 1986, when it was hit by a powerful burst of wind about 350 miles north of Puerto Rico.

Captain Armin E. Elsaesser III and crew members Vincent Lazzaro, Barry Duckworth and Nina Schack died. Eight other crew members, including Flanagan and McNish, drifted in a broken life raft for five days before signaling a passing Norwegian freighter with a flashlight and being rescued.

In 1988, the nonprofit Pride of Baltimore Inc. built a replacement ship, the Pride of Baltimore II.

"There was an overwhelming cry to build a new Pride, because many people felt it was important to carry on the Pride's good work," said Dale Hilliard, executive director of Pride of Baltimore Inc. "The Pride was a goodwill ambassador for our city and state."

The Pride II could not make it to yesterday's ceremony because of another fatal boating accident. The tugboat Bay Titan sank in the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal on Friday, killing a crew member and blocking all traffic on the shortcut between Baltimore and Wilmington, Del.

The Pride II was scheduled to be docked near the memorial ceremony yesterday, but because of the blocked canal, it had to leave Baltimore two days early to sail to an event today in Philadelphia.

In place of the Pride II, the Constellation fired its cannon to honor those who died.

Family members of the dead and survivors clustered around pink granite markers at the base of a 90-foot-tall replica clipper mast that juts up out of Rash Field. The Rev. Tom Malia read a New Testament passage about Jesus walking on the water and bringing new life to his followers.

Afterward, mourners hung a wreath of red and yellow carnations and daisies on the mast.

Another Pride survivor, Scott Jeffrey, placed a single white rose at the base of the stones that list the names of the lost sailors.

The monument, although only 12 years old, is already showing its age, with one of the tablets sliding down so that the words "Pride of Baltimore ... Lost at Sea" are slightly askew.

"I came so that I can remember what happened - who I sailed with and who they were," said Jeffrey, 41, a geography professor at Catonsville Community College. "You don't stop a tradition just because something bad happens."

Jeffrey, like his former shipmate Flanagan, continues to enjoy sailing.

Flanagan said he even takes his daughters on his cross-ocean sailing voyages. Recently they went on a 30,000-mile cruise of the South Pacific that included the Galapagos, Easter Island and Tahiti.

"But we certainly teach them the importance of safety when we sail," he said.

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