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Sail Tall Ships

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Liz Kelly
Special to the Washington Post
Sunday, April 18, 2004; 8:57 AM

The Academy Award-winning movie "Master & Commander," based on the novels of Patrick O'Brian (and featured in this week's Media Mix; see Page M7), gave a so-realistic-you're-swaying account of life at sea during the Napoleonic era. If it also inspired you to get out on the water, old-school style, you're in luck: With the Potomac River, Chesapeake Bay and easy access to the Eastern Shore, Washingtonians are awash in options for catching a ride on a traditional tall ship.

Several ships offer day and overnight sails for beginners, and a few offer longer stays for the experienced. Charm City's Pride of Baltimore II, a reproduction of a War of 1812-era clipper privateer, and Annapolis's Schooner Sultana, a reproduction of a 1768 ship, allow landlubbers to sign on for a day or a few nights. You won't be sent to the brig if you decide to relax and take in the scenery, but you'll have chances to get as involved as you like, from raising a sail to helping steer.

For those who already know sailing fundamentals -- and are looking for a more immersing experience -- Drew McMullen, president of the Schooner Sultana Project, suggests volunteering on a crew. The Sultana and the Kalmar Nyckel, a replica of a 1637 Dutch warship that sails out of Wilmington, Del., accept applications each season. Both programs train new hands on land, then bring them aboard for five to 10 days during the summer. Volunteers learn firsthand what it was like to live in crew's quarters, sail the vessel, navigate using 18th-century tools and work as part of a team. Who knows? Get bitten by the bug and you may opt to head north to rendezvous with the Barque Picton Castle, out of Nova Scotia, for its year-long, round-the-world voyage.

What to Expect: You'll learn as much about history and ecology as you do about sailing. Trips can involve a lot of physical exertion, but the camaraderie of putting the ship through its paces and the beauty of the billowing sails are well worth it.

What to Bring: Comfortable layers of clothes, a warm jacket, rain gear and rubber-soled shoes. If you plan to stay overnight, add pajamas and a toothbrush.

Cost: Day sails are $25 to $50. Overnights go from $150 a night to $850 for a six-day cruise.

WHERE TO GET YOUR SEA LEGS

The Kalmar Nyckel. 302-429-7447. www.kalnyc.org. This ship runs a robust volunteer program, perfect for beginners to learn from an experienced crew. Everyone's accepted as long as they pass the drug test. Call the volunteer hotline at 302-472-5180.

The Picton Castle. 902-634-9984. www.picton-castle.com. This 300-ton square-rigger circles the globe year-round and accepts "paying trainees" of all skill levels. Two weeks, $1,000; one year, $34,000. Be warned, this is no luxury vacation: You'll be completely immersed as a fully functioning crew member.

The Pride of Baltimore II. 888-557-7433. www.pride2.org/newpridesite. You can pick up the ship at several points along the East Coast all summer. Day sails cost $45, but expect to pay $155 to $850 for overnight trips.

The Schooner Sultana. 410-778-5954. www.schoonersultana.com. Check the ship's Web site for ports of call; most trips leave from the ship's home in Chestertown, Md. Two-hour sails for $25 kick off today. Day sails (ranging from five to nine hours) are $50 for adults, $30 for children younger than 16. Overnight sailors can expect to pay $150 per night, and there's a strong volunteer program (the next date for applications is in October).


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