City-owned ship to offer cruises, charters in National Harbor

Wooden ship owned by nonprofit had been used for educational programs

April 28, 2010|By Julie Scharper, The Baltimore Sun

A century-old skipjack owned by the city and operated by the nonprofit Living Classrooms Foundation will run cruises and private charters in National Harbor this summer under a deal approved Wednesday by Baltimore's spending board.

The Minnie V, one of the state's few remaining skipjacks — sailing vessels built to dredge for oysters in the Chesapeake Bay — will be operated by Potomac River Boating for the summer.

The vessel, which dates to 1906, was renovated and has been maintained and run by the nonprofit group for educational programs and tours since 1996 under a deal with the city, said Living Classrooms CEO and President James Piper Bond.

Living Classrooms reduced the ship's capacity from 26 to 19 passengers last year, based on guidelines provided by the Coast Guard, Bond said. When capacity was reduced, it was no longer profitable to run tours for school groups, and the Inner Harbor is saturated with tour boats, he said.

Wooden ships must be used or they will "disintegrate and deteriorate," Bond said, adding that it costs the foundation about $100,000 a year to maintain the Minnie V. The foundation is considering bringing the vessel back to Baltimore next year to run tours from Fort McHenry.

Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake, a member of the spending board, referred questions about the deal to Deputy Mayor Andrew B. Frank, who in turn referred them to the Baltimore Development Corp., the city's quasi-public development arm.

Kimberly Clark, executive director of the BDC, said the deal would ensure that the ship is well-maintained for the summer and would be renegotiated next year with an eye to returning the Minnie V to Baltimore.

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