BALTIMORE Waterfront Festival

A tidal wave of events for the maritime-minded

April 18, 2002|By Kevin Eck | Kevin Eck,Special to the Sun

Have you ever had the desire to hoist a sail or get an up-close-and-personal look at a 60-foot yacht? Are you seeking a tasty new recipe for crab cakes or some other seafood? Would you and the family like to enjoy some mostly free entertainment around the Inner Harbor?

If you answered affirmatively to any of the above, your ship has come in. The fifth annual Baltimore Waterfront Festival, which celebrates life on the water -- and delivers all of the above -- got under way yesterday and continues every day through next Thursday.

The centerpiece of the festival is the Volvo Ocean Race Round the World (formerly known as the Whitbread), a nine-month-long sailing competition taking place on 32,000 miles of open ocean. The yachts and their crews arrived yesterday at the Inner Harbor, one of the North American stopover ports, along with Annapolis and Miami. (Baltimore also played host to the race in 1998, the year the festival was launched.)

With a wide variety of activities, displays, performers and food vendors, there's plenty to see and do at the festival, whether you're a nautical person or a landlubber. One of the goals of the festival, in fact, is to expose the uninitiated to Baltimore's maritime traditions and to make the sailing world more inclusive.

To that end, the Work and Play on the Bay section of the festival, featuring interactive exhibits and programming, is a highlight of the event. Among the participants is the Universal Sailing Club, which encourages the African-American community to become more active in sailing.

Sailing for all

The Universal Sailing Club, which has been in existence for a year, is believed to be the only African-American sailing club on the East Coast.

"We're not much different than any other sailing club, which means that we get together and sail to various destinations," says Marcus Asante, the commodore and one of the founders of the club. "What's interesting about us is that we sail to specific destinations of historical black importance, and that's not hard to do on the Chesapeake."

For example, the club, which has 30 members, has sailed to the Eastern Shore's Wye Island, the birthplace of abolitionist and statesman Frederick Douglass, and Anne Arundel County's Highland Beach, a historically black resort that was built by one of Douglass' sons during the early period of legal segregation.

The club also participates in the annual Black Boaters Summit, which takes place in the British Virgin Islands in September and is an event the club will be promoting at the festival.

The summit features a week full of sailing, sightseeing and nightly parties. "It's a big vacation-type thing, but it also exposes people to the sailing lifestyle who aren't familiar with it," Asante says. "A lot of these folks have fears of the water because they've never sailed and they don't know anyone who has sailed. But once they get out there and do it, they see that there's not much to be afraid of and it's a lot of fun. It exposes them to things in their adult life that other people were exposed to as young people."

Asante, 35, grew up on the Susquehanna River and has been around water his entire life. He bought his first sailboat five years ago and now is on a mission to promote diversity in the sailing community.

"I definitely want to bring more people into the game and really encourage boat ownership among African-Americans," Asante says. "A lot of people have been exposed to sailing through me, and then they get a boat and join the club. Then they have a circle of friends and a support system around them, which helps with all aspects of boat ownership. So many of our members are new to sailing, and this is exactly what they need to get a foothold in the industry. I didn't have that support system when I first got my boat."

In addition to the Universal Sailing Club's presence at the festival, there also will be an exhibit titled Blacks on the Chesapeake, which outlines the contributions of African-Americans to life on the bay through artifacts, documents, living historians and more.

For disabled sailors

Another participant at Work and Play on the Bay is CRAB (Chesapeake Region Accessible Boating), a nonprofit group that advocates sailing for those with disabilities.

"Our motto is that we try to share the joy of sailing with everyone," says Don Backe, who founded CRAB in 1991 and has been the president of the organization since its inception.

CRAB, which is based at Sandy Point State Park in Annapolis, has four 20-foot Freedom Independence sailboats that have been tailored to the needs of disabled sailors. The boats have pivoting seats with a chest belt and lap belt that keep people firmly strapped in. Using the seats, those bound to wheelchairs can handle the boats with nearly the same dexterity as an able-bodied person.

CRAB also has devices on its floating docks that aid sailors in getting on and off the boats safely.

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