The Pride of Baltimore could have been built bigger, heavier and strong as steel.

But an old-fashioned Baltimore clipper was built more for speed than for strength. And when this city decided to build a sailing ship for public relations purposes, the choice of the glamorous historic clipper was an easy one.

The city was famous in the early 1800s for the small, fast wooden schooners. And, shortly after its first launching in 1977, the Pride of Baltimore drew similar admiration.

Former crew members said she was fast, wet and difficult -- but fun -- to sail. With bowsprit and boom stretching fore and aft beyond her 90-foot hull, a mainmast towering 90 feet above the water, and almost 10,000 square feet of sail, she was a sight to behold.

"It can be dangerous," said Peter Boudreau, one of her former captains. "But there's no other boat like it."

Only her professional crew of 12 was allowed on voyages. But when she reached port, deckhands used her to advertise the charms of Baltimore, handing out brochures, playing host to corporate receptions and inviting more than 1 million visitors to cross her gangplank. She was christened Pride of Baltimore after the nickname given to the most famous Baltimore clipper, Chasseur, which captured 18 enemy ships during a British blockade in the War of 1812. Chasseur was nicknamed Pride of Baltimore after her triumphant return to the city in 1815.

The Pride was built in Baltimore's Inner Harbor in 1976 and 1977. Traditional boat building techniques were used. The wood was hewed by hand, and iron fittings were hammered into shape by a blacksmith working on the site. Only two major modifications were allowed: an 85-horsepower diesel engine, and watertight bulkheads required by the Coast Guard.

The City of Baltimore owns the Pride. But she was operated and managed by Pride of Baltimore Inc., a private, nonprofit organization. Some funding was provided by Baltimore and the state, but most came from donations from private corporations, rental fees from dockside receptions and souvenir sales. The ship normally cost about $350,000 annually to operate. An additional $100,000 was expected to be needed for travel and communications costs associated with her recent European tour. The ship was returning from the tour when she sank in the Atlantic Ocean Wednesday.

City officials justified the expenditures for the project out of a belief that it provided fine advertisement. It was rare that her photograph was not on the front page of the newspapers here, and on television news, when she sailed into port. Along with nautical gear, the ship carried stacks of brochures about Baltimore, and her crew was coached in telling visitors about the wonders of Maryland's port city.

When the ship visited London last summer, for instance, her schedule of dockside receptions was quickly booked by British companies with Maryland connections and by Maryland companies with offices in London.

Although Pride officials said it was impossible to measure the economic return the ship gave to Baltimore, they were convinced that the project was successful. During the ship's tour of 14 cities last year, Maryland tourism officials calculated that the state received $500,000 worth of media publicity for about $100,000 in operating expenses.

Massachusetts tourism officials said it was largely the Pride's success that inspired the construction of the replica schooner Spirit of Massachusetts, which was launched two years ago.

In the relatively small fraternity of professional sailing ship sailors, the Pride was considered a plum job, despite the lack of modern comforts. It offered regular pay -- $400 a month, plus room and board, for deckhands -- plus an interesting itinerary and no wealthy passengers to look after.

All crew members had sailing experience. Sailing the Pride "takes a certain amount of daring," Capt. Armin E. Elsaesser III said in an interview last summer. "She's not an easy boat to sail . . . . You want to keep it safe, but when coming into port, you have to grandstand and show the boat off . . . . That's what people want to see."