An educational East Coast tour

Ship makes stop to teach about first settlers


White sails unfurled, a wooden replica of a 17th-century ship glided past rusted factories, soot-stained smokestacks and rotting piers in the Inner Harbor yesterday - an emissary of distant times drifting by the ruins of the recent past.

The Godspeed, a re-creation of one of the ships that brought the first settlers to Jamestown, Va., in 1607, sailed over the placid, earth-colored waters of the Inner Harbor yesterday and docked near the Baltimore Visitor Center.

The ship is stopping here as part of a six-port tour celebrating the 400th anniversary of Jamestown, the first permanent English outpost in the Americas.

"When visitors come on board, they're able to sense the experience of sailing to America in a wooden ship four centuries ago," said captain Eric Speth, who piloted the Godspeed down the Potomac River from Alexandria, Va. - its first stop - and up the Chesapeake Bay to Baltimore.

From today through Monday, visitors will be able to board the Godspeed, gaze up at the lattice of rigging and peer down into the cramped cargo area similar to the one in which 52 men and boys huddled on their 18-week voyage across the Atlantic.

Two other ships, the Susan Constant and the Discovery, joined the Godspeed on its journey, bringing 145 people - including Capt. John Smith - to Jamestown, 13 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock.

Although no actual building plans for the original Godspeed remain, Jamestown historians and Maine shipbuilders based their vessel on standard 17th-century designs, handcrafted it from iron and wood and hoisted traditional flags from the masts. Construction on the 88-foot ship - the length of two school buses and a car - took about 18 months.

After docking yesterday, the crew removed modern safety and navigation devices to strip the $2.65 million ship to its historical bones. Every detail of the vessel visible to visitors - from the oaken binnacle and belfry to the tiller, a predecessor to the ship's wheel - is historically accurate, Speth said. The modern galley, berths and showers used by the crew during their three-month voyage are hidden from view. Although the ship is equipped with twin 115-horsepower diesel engines, it was primarily propelled by wind caught in its six sails on the trip from its Maine birthplace to Jamestown.

"With just a little bit of wind we can get up to 8 knots," said crewmember Todd Egnor. "That's pretty rare for a 17th-century ship."

Sailing the Godspeed is not much different from a modern ship, he added. "It just requires more teamwork."

The outfits worn by crewmembers as they scrambled up the rigging and pulled down the sails were replicas of traditional sailor's garb. The 10- man and two-woman crew wore loosely girded linen pants, billowing shirts tied at the collar and brightly colored caps shaped like upside-down cupcakes.

Speth and Egnor displayed the tools strapped to their waists with leather sashes - a short stout ship knife and a marline spike, a versatile tool that looks like a cross between a large nail and a knitting needle. Both are still used today, Egnor said.

After a ceremony at 11 a.m. today, costumed interpreters will explain the workings of the ship to visitors and staff a village of educational booths and performance stages strung from the visitor's center to Rash Field. A capsule parked in front of the Maryland Science Center will simulate the lurching motion, sights and sounds of an ocean voyage, said Linda Stanier, director of promotions for America's 400th Anniversary, as the year-and-a-half-long Jamestown celebration has been named.

At booths sponsored by the Colonial Williamsburg historical site, children can dress up in period clothes and make chocolates, said Ken Ashby, executive producer of the festival. A NASA-sponsored exhibit urges children to take the settlers' adventuresome spirit to outer space. Astronaut Roger Crouch will speak this afternoon, and Saturday a NASA scientist will discuss how the bay looks from outer space and how it has changed in the past 400 years.

At one exhibit, a dark wooden structure replicates the ship's hold, containing tiny berths and sailing trunks the size of diaper bags in which sailors and passengers had to cram all of their belongings. On the walls hang the spools of rope, pegboards and bulbous hour glasses used as navigation tools in the early 1600s.

"Imagine being stuck in a space like this with 50 people for four months," Ashby said, explaining that the tiny structure is larger than the original hold because the ceiling had to be raised to meet fire code.

In the next booth, displays highlight the mixing of three cultures at Jamestown: Native American, English and African. Relations between the groups were anything but harmonious.

According to the National Park Service, the Powhatan tribe periodically massacred the settlers, who retaliated by killing natives. Africans were brought over as indentured servants and later enslaved. But the event focuses not on the conflicts but on the contributions the three ethnic groups made to American history.

Several performances and exhibits will highlight the experiences of Native Americans and early African settlers.

Although only the crew was allowed onboard the Godspeed yesterday, schoolchildren filing past on end-of-the-year field trips gawked at the ship, and visitors ringed the roped-off pier where it is docked.

"To think they came across the ocean in that!" said Anne Nicholas of Louisville, Ky., who was visiting the harbor yesterday with her daughter and grandson. "I'm not so sure that I would go in the middle of the ocean in that, but just for sailing around in it would be wonderful."

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