All aboard the skipjack Minnie V

Tours offer a `live experience' with history

Outside: Sports, Activities, Events

August 05, 2004|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,SUN STAFF

If you want to get on the water this weekend, one option is a sunset sail/history lesson aboard the Minnie V - a 98-year-old skipjack.

Francis Scott Key will be aboard (well, a man dressed in period costume). He'll tell the tale of writing "The Star-Spangled Banner" as the boat sails past Fort McHenry - where the flag that inspired the lyrics originally flew. The Maryland Historical Society sponsors the trip.

"We do these tours because people want to have a live experience rather than just a static experience" with history, said Maryland Historical Society director Dennis Fiori. "Rather than sitting in a chair and hearing a lecture, you get to hear a dialogue. It is a way to engage the public that is entertaining, and gives them a firsthand feel."

Passengers board the 69-foot wooden vessel at the Fells Point Maritime Museum. "The skipjack is part of the mystique of Maryland," said Fiori. These boats were commonly used for oyster dredging on the Chesapeake Bay in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

They were not, however, in use when Key wrote "The Star-Spangled Banner" immediately after the Battle of Baltimore in 1814. "It gives you the feel or the flavor for the time, but there was no attempt to match the boat to the topic," said Fiori.

Once passengers are aboard the boat, Alan Gephardt - dressed as Key in beige stirrup pants, a vest, a green coat with tails and a top hat - gives a first-person account of the writing of the national anthem.

"I try to affect a certain formality, and I try to use phrasing or sentence patterns that reflect an early manner speech," said Gephardt, who spends the more profitable part of his day dressed in civilian clothes as the director of Carroll Museums Inc.

There is time for passengers to ask questions. They often want to know "what did I do before writing "The Star- Spangled Banner"? What did I do after? Do I own slaves? What do I think about slavery?" said Gephardt.

The cruise lasts about two hours, and it starts out under power with a small craft pushing the Minnie V. If there's good weather and little congestion in the harbor, the captain cuts the engine and the boat passes by Fort McHenry under sail.

Tickets are $35 for members of the Maryland Historical Society and $40 for nonmembers. "This is an educational program that we aim to break even on," said Fiori. (Wine and cheese are served on the tour.)

The boat is one of roughly 30 working skipjacks on the bay, according to the Living Classrooms Foundation, which owns and maintains it. The boat is used for a variety of purposes throughout the year.

The boat leaves the dock beside the Fells Point Maritime Museum on Saturday at 6 p.m. The museum is at 1724 Thames St. Space is limited, and reservation are required. Call 410-685-3750, Ext. 321.

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