A handcrafted 90-foot sailing ship, financed and built by the people of Baltimore, rigged from a spar running perpendicular to the keel at the top of the foremast.
The green-hulled 126-ton schooner, a cruised down the Chesapeake Bay to the early 19th century, brought cheers from a crowd of several thousand as it motored out of the scenic inner-harbor complex on which this aging industrial city has gambled its hopes for an upbeat future.
The "Pride of Baltimore" is clearly part of that gamble - a $475,000 monument to the city's maritime part that city leaders hope will serve notice that Baltimore is on the move again. "It isn't easy to vote (money) for this . . . to weight hings like this against the other needs in a great city." Mayor William Donald Schaefer told the crowd at the commissioning ceremonies before the ship weighed anchor. "But had to make a decision: Were we a city with a dream or just a city?"
Shaped with hand tools from such wood as lignum vitae, bullet tree, and pine, the Pride of Baltimore is a basic topsail schooner, with two trapezoidal mainsals rigged on booms parallel to the keel and a square-rigged topsail rigged from a spar runnin perpendiculuar to the keel at the top to the foremast.
Her 9,523-square-foot sail area, however, lives her the extraordinary speed characteristic of Baltimore clippers, which rewrote the record books during their brief heyday on the seas from about 1776 to 1840.
Barely more than 100 feet in length, the clippers were principally costal ships, designed more for light cargo and maximum speed than for heavy, oceangoing freight. They reached their greatest fame as blockade runners and privateers during the War of 1812.
The captain of one Baltimore clipper during the Revolution Thomas Bovle appears to have put the entire British coast under seige almost single-handedly during that war, capturing and sending home at least 80 British merchant ships and outrunning British warships whenever they appeared.
Not all of the history of the Baltimore clippers is glorious, however, and it was with some dismay that civic leaders learned that many Baltimore clippers sailed as slavers during their economically marginal final days.
Even more dismayed, however, was Dr. Emerson Julian, a black member of Baltimore's CIty Council. On learning of the slave connection several months ago, Julian labeled the city's project "an affront to every black citizens in Baltimore.
"Supposed we built a replica of the boxcars that took the Jewish people in the ovens in Dachau and Muschwitz and called it the Pride of Munich?" Julian asked "What would supporters of this project think of that?"
Gavle Shav, of the Baltimore Promotion Council said the city was mindful of Julian's criticism, but "after all, not all Baltimore clippers were slaver, and not all slavers were Baltimore clippers. It's not like we were going to chain people on the decks and try to do it over again."
Julian's critism, however, appeared to have stirred few if any currents of support in Baltimore's black community. Today's crowd was noticeably interracial and everyone applauded the graceful vessel as she as she stood down the bay and out toward sea.
The Pride of Baltimore is expected to be more than just a symbol. Edgar Boyd, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Baltimore, who describes himself as a hard-lined businessman with little taste for frills, said he and the other businessman of Baltimore expected the Pride of Baltimore to repay more in publeic relations, tourism and harbor-oriented economic development benefits than it cost ot build. To show their support Chamber members have agreed to underwrite more than half the cost of the ship's estimated $200,000 annual operating budget.
The Pride of Baltimore is scheduled to reach Permuda May 11. after a short stay there it will move on to visit Halifax, Nova Scotia; Boston; MYstic Seaport, Conn; New York and Norfolk before returning to Baltimore June 23 as host ship for the Baltimore Maritime Heritage Festival.