Plying the Chesapeake Bay in memory of Capt. Briggs, the ultimate salty dog

ON THE WATER

October 19, 2005|By ANNIE LINSKEY

The participants in this year's Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race were asked to dump a few swigs of rum overboard as they crossed the start line.

It was a toast of sorts to Capt. Lane Briggs, the salty dog who started the race 15 years ago and died of complications from lung cancer at Leigh Memorial Hospital in Norfolk, Va., on Sept. 19 at age 73.

This year's race "went amazingly well," said Mike Bagley, the skipper of Imagine!, the winning vessel. The annual race is for schooners only, and starts with a parade of sail from Baltimore to the start line in Annapolis. The race goes from Annapolis to Norfolk. It began Thursday, and the boats finished Friday.

"The wind was great; the schooners flew down the bay," Bagley said. "We flew wing and wing most of the way.

"If you believe in such things, there was almost the sense that [Briggs] was there this weekend."

Briggs, a Norfolk native, started the race out of a love for schooners and their history on the Chesapeake Bay, said Nan Nawrocki, who oversees the Baltimore portions of the race.

Also, Briggs hoped the race would bring schooners - which are usually scattered around the globe - together on an annual basis.

"The major tall ship events happen every five years or so; it is not easy to get the tall ships together," said Richard E. Hurley, a Baltimore friend of Briggs'.

The race was not supposed to be competitive. It was "a family reunion for schooners," Bagley said.

Briggs' friends described him as the ultimate salty dog.

"He had the weathered face of a true seaman, somebody who'd spent a lot of time on the water," Nawrocki said.

And many of his antics have become legend on the Chesapeake.

He subverted the often-contentious protest process in sailboat racing by requiring that all protests for his schooner race be filed on $100 bills at midnight on New Year's Eve.

"It takes the edge off. It keeps people from getting too wrapped up in the competitiveness of it," Bagley said.

Before the schooner race, there would always be a dinghy contest. The rower, however, would be blindfolded, and another person would be aboard to yell out directions.

Briggs was also well-known for his self-designed hybrid tugboat - called a "Tugantine." Essentially a tugboat with sails, it was conceived and built during the energy crisis of the late 1970s and early 1980s to save fuel.

Friends say there was always cold beer available on the boat, which was used to tow tall ships and other boats in distress. Once, Briggs even gave famed seaman Jacques Cousteau a tow, Hurley said.

Briggs was born in Mars Hill, N.C., in 1932. He attended high school but left to join the Coast Guard, where he patrolled the Great Lakes for about six years, said his son, David Briggs of Norfolk.

After leaving the Coast Guard, Briggs moved to Norfolk and started the Rebel Marine Service, a salvage and towing company. Eight years later, he founded Rebel Marina in Willoughby Spit in Norfolk.

Briggs was formerly married to Rose Marie Keppers. In addition to his son, Briggs is survived by three other sons, Jesse Briggs of Bivalve, N.J., Terry Briggs of Norfolk, and Steven Briggs of Honolulu; and six grandchildren.

annie.linskey@baltsun.com

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