`Fare' sailing to aid museum

Community: The Liberte offers front-row seats for the start of the Great Chesapeake Schooner Race and donates the proceeds to the Annapolis Maritime Museum.

October 19, 2003|By Kathy Bergren Smith | Kathy Bergren Smith,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It was a fund-raising event with a typically Annapolis flavor.

Under a crystal-blue sky in view of the Bay Bridge, passengers aboard the 74-foot schooner Liberte crowded the rail to watch the Pride of Baltimore and a fleet of more than 30 other schooners set sail Thursday for the 14th Great Chesapeake Schooner Race, from Annapolis to Norfolk, Va.

All entry fees for the race are donated to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to promote awareness of maritime heritage and encourage conservation.

For those aboard the Liberte, the donation securing them front-row seats will go toward repair of the Annapolis Maritime Museum, damaged by flooding from Tropical Storm Isabel.

"I feel that by donating the schooner today I can help connect people to an earlier time in our community's history, and that's what the museum does," said Liberte Capt. Chris Tietje, who sold tickets to museum supporters, history buffs and a large contingent from the self-styled "Maritime Republic of Eastport."

The race was founded by Lane Briggs, skipper of the Norfolk Rebel, a 59-foot "tugantine," a schooner that doubles as a tugboat. In 1990, Briggs challenged the Pride of Baltimore to a race down the bay in the tradition of the cargo vessels that used to race their produce to market for the best price.

Supporters of the storm-ravaged maritime museum saw this year's event as a good opportunity for their own fund-raising effort.

"This is a wonderful day for everyone, and the museum is benefiting," said museum director Jefferson Holland, as the three-masted Liberte sailed close enough to the starting boats to give those aboard ample opportunity to take photos of the southbound fleet. He expected the cruise would bring in about $1,000 for the museum project.

Isabel's floodwaters caused an estimated $1.5 million in damage to the young museum's headquarters in the McNasby Oyster Co. building in Eastport.

Holland said the museum is surveying the damage and considering the next step. An application to the Federal Emergency Management Administration has been submitted on behalf of the museum by the City of Annapolis, which owns the building.

A capital campaign designed to raise $1.5 million to convert the packing house into a museum complex had just gotten under way when disaster struck.

"Now we are looking at the possible options," Holland said. "Do we raze the building and start from scratch? Or can we repair the current building so that it is safe from the next hurricane?"

In the meantime, Holland says that the exhibits have been relocated to temporary off-site locations and the group is looking for a winter home somewhere downtown.

The museum flooding brought support from Annapolis at large and Eastport in particular. Alderman Josh Cohen, a Ward 8 Democrat, said that the strength of the museum is in its commitment to the community, and now the community is reciprocating.

"In the wake of Isabel, the Annapolis Maritime Museum has become the focal point for people to rally around," Cohen said.

Immediately after the storm, Holland said people started showing up to help rescue artifacts and clean up.

"I never made one phone call, they just came," he said. The checks also came - and donations such as Liberte's.

On Thursday, the fleet of traditional sailing ships transformed the seascape below the Bay Bridge into a moment of living history.

The race started at the mouth of the Severn River, using two Navy Yard patrol boats as a floating starting line. The winds were steady from the southwest at 20 knots, kicking up a three- to four-foot sea just below the Bay Bridge.

The Annapolis schooner Woodwind took advantage of its ability to sail closer to the wind and had a fast start. The two- and three-masted schooner rigs cannot point into wind as well as modern sailboats and began taking long zig-zag tacks toward the finish at the Thimble Shoals Lighthouse in Hampton Roads. Bringing up the rear was Lane Briggs' Norfolk Rebel.

Aboard the Liberte, passengers snapped photos of the vessels in the race and ate sandwiches donated by The Galley, an Eastport deli.

"It's really an amazing sight to see these boats filling the bay," said Joe Meany, retired historian for the state of New York. He watched the start through binoculars and marveled at the vessels that had come from as far south as Florida and as far north as Nova Scotia for the race.

Later, as the Liberte returned to Spa Creek amid the sleek boats in town for the U.S. sailboat and powerboat show, Holland watched the Naval Academy's quarters barge, which has been converted to temporary classrooms.

"We could use one of those very nicely," he said. Meanwhile, Maritime Republic of Eastport organizers surveyed the scene of the coming Tug of War, which will be the next big fund-raiser for the museum.

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