Enter Take Someone Sailing Day, a project of the Annapolis Waterfront & Sailing Center. The center is a consortium of local sailing groups, municipalities and Anne Arundel County schools coalescing to fill educational gaps that the National Sailing Hall of Fame will leave behind in its move to Newport, R.I. The hall’s board of directors voted late last year to relocate.
“People just see it go by but not as something accessible or attainable,” said Mary Ewenson, publisher of SpinSheet magazine. “But really, anyone can do it.”
Eight sailboats, including historic sandbagger reproductions Bull and Bear, hauled newbie crew members around the Annapolis Harbor and along the mouth of Spa Creek for two hours.
Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley (D), Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman (D) and state Sen. Sarah Elfreth (D) participated.
But the ride was no time for lounging and taking in the fair weather.
“We’re going to put you guys to work,” said skipper Sean Walker, a 22-year-old who has been sailing the Bear since he was in middle school.
Aboard, first-time sailor Nathan Douglas grabbed one of the lines that controls the jib, a small, triangular sail extending toward the bow. He smiled at his shipmates, mostly friends from Anne Arundel Community College. “I’m saving your life right now,” he quipped.
Douglas, a student at Bridgewater College in Virginia, had never been sailing before. His friend Fredy Salmoran, also aboard, had persuaded the group to come out after hearing about the opportunity from Annapolis community services specialist Adriana Lee. Soon, Douglas got the hang of it.
“I was a little nervous at first,” he said.
The Bear and its sister boat, the Bull, are both reproductions of an 1860s-era sandbagger sloop, a boat developed after watermen started racing shoal-draft sloops using sandbags instead of their catch of the day as ballast.
The pair launched in 1995 and 1996 after billionaire businessman Peter Kellogg commissioned them from the Workshop on the Water at Philadelphia’s Independence Seaport Museum, but he has lent them to the National Sailing Hall of Fame for years.
The Bear has only capsized once, on July 5, 2017, shortly before the city fireworks display. The crew Saturday kept her upright — mostly.
The sandbaggers are shallow, 28 feet long with a 10-foot bowsprit. When the wind blows, the force of the vast mainsail pushes the boat down, dipping the rail into the river and sloshing water aboard.
“It’s supposed to look like this,” said Joanne Christofel, one of the experienced crew members, to the suddenly soggy novices after a particularly dramatic dip.
The guests came away from the day with fresh nautical knowledge. Walker showed his new crew how to steer with the tiller, hoist the sails, trim the jib (adjusting it to help modulate speed) and tack the boat (bringing the bow around through the wind). He warned everyone how to stay out of the way of the tiller and the boom, a pole extending from the mast that controls the shape and angle of the sail.
The boom probably got its name from an old Dutch word for tree. But Walker also informed his crew the name bears an uncanny resemblance to the noise it makes when it hits you mid-tack.
As Julisa Murcia stood toward the front of the cabin, holding a jib line and looking out toward the bow, the boom swung.
“La cabeza!” her friends yelled. She ducked and turned around laughing. “Boom!”