crew of the Pride of Baltimore II prepares for
docking in Duluth, Minn., among a contingent in the
Tall Ships Festival on July 25, 2013. Members of the
public can join the ship's crew.
— Moonlight glinted off the rolling waves of Lake
Superior and cast its soft glow on the mahogany rails and
coiled ropes on deck. The wooden hull rumbled and creaked
as it broke through water, a soundtrack punctuated by the
occasional snap of a sail. It was 2:30 in the morning, and
I was at the helm steering the majestic tall ship the
Pride of Baltimore II through dark waters. The task filled
me with wonder — and just a touch of fear.
slapped at my face, feeling like a gale. Muscles in my
arms ached from keeping a firm grip on the handles of the
5-foot-wide wheel. The ship, a faithful reproduction of a
19th-century Baltimore clipper topsail schooner, listed to
port. The sense of duty weighed on me as I considered not
only its size (100 feet long) and the height of its sails
(107 feet) but also the 17 other people on board.
Fortunately, I was not alone at my task.
hand was second mate Will McLean, who was the officer on
watch and a member of the paid crew — as opposed to the
handful of us who’d paid for the privilege of helping
sail this slice of American naval history. He stepped out
of the rear cabin, where the ship’s charts are kept, and
told me to change course. I repeated his instructions —
"changing course to 2-7-0" — and began turning
the wheel. To my surprise, the ship dipped farther to
port. I gave McLean a concerned look; he just smiled and
told me to keep turning.
was no gale, and no danger to the ship. I was exhilarated.
would have thought that a landlubber like me, whose only
real experience with sailing ships was through books and a
vivid imagination, would find himself standing watch,
raising sails, climbing the mast and coiling the lines of
a tall ship?
sailing trip my wife and I took last July across Lake
Superior — from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, to Duluth
during its Tall Ships Festival — began last January when
I discovered a buried e-mail from an old contact at the
Pride of Baltimore II. The subject line said, "Come
aboard." Until then, I hadn’t known it was possible
to join the crew.
the ship’s website, ,
my wife and I filled out application forms for guest crew
and were later interviewed via phone by the captain, who
assured us that this would be no cruise, but a working
vacation. As guest crew members who would pay $500 apiece
for the five-day trip, we would not be required to perform
tasks that made us uncomfortable, such as climbing the
rigging, but we would stand watch, help keep the galley
clean, raise sails and perform other tasks necessary for
the smooth running of a traditional wooden sailing vessel.
deal sounded good to us — and we passed muster with the
captain — so last July, my wife and I drove to Duluth
and hopped a bus for a 10-hour ride to Sault Ste. Marie.
We spent one night in a hotel before heading to the port,
where we checked out two other tall ships at the dock (as
guest crew, we had VIP armbands that gave us access) and
then boarded the Pride II.
carried our duffel bags, sleeping bags and a small
backpack below to stow in our tiny cabin, one of only
three reserved for guests, just off the galley. By the
time we got back on deck, we were already underway.
Weather reports indicated a storm was headed our way, and
the captain wanted to leave before it hit.
under sail was a strange sensation, somewhere between a
ride at Disneyland and sailing on a ship straight out of
the history books. The stainless steel cranks and cleats
used on modern sailboats were nowhere to be found.
Instead, wherever I looked I saw the fittings of a bygone
era: wooden pulleys, wooden belaying pins wrapped in thick
rope, wood on the deck, the cabins, the rails, the masts.
Although there are modern updates to the ship from the
1812 original — navigation, electricity and two diesel
engines help keep her safe — an authentic sense of
few hours later, we and the other four guest crew members
got an introduction to the ship and our duties from
McLean. Sitting around the gleaming table in the galley
— which is rimmed on all four sides so dishes won’t
slide off when the ship lists — we listened as he
detailed safety procedures, daily routines and our
assigned tasks. Meals were served at 7:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m.
and 6:30 p.m. Everyone would take a turn to stand watch.
My wife and I learned that we had the 12-to-4 slot, which
meant that we’d be on duty from midnight to 4 a.m., and
from noon to 4 p.m.
watch was fast approaching, since it was almost 10 p.m.,
so we gave up on exploring the ship to get a few hours of
rest before taking our turn on deck. Amid the excitement
of being newly aboard, falling asleep that night was about
the most difficult thing we had to do the entire trip.
11:30 p.m., a knock on our door woke us up. We grabbed a
cup of coffee (always on hand) and headed to the deck to
join the others on watch — an officer and a couple of
paid crew members. The officer gave out assignments, from
taking the helm, to checking the bilges for water coming
aboard, to deciding when we would heave the lines to raise
each shift, we had eight hours before duty called again.
We filled that with sleeping, eating (the meals were
delicious) and passing the time. Sometimes when I wandered
into the galley, the cook would be quietly playing her lap
harp. Other times, my wife and I would wander the ship,
taking photographs, witnessing the curvature of the Earth
on the horizon or watching the occasional ship pass by.
was a joy just to catch a moment in the sun as others kept
the ship asail. Capt. Jan Miles might be on deck calling
for a certain sail to be adjusted, and at first, I wouldn’t
have a clue what he was talking about. But after just a
short time aboard, knowledge of this complex sailing
vessel began to sink in. Because the staff crew truly did
most of the work, there were many moments when I could
simply enjoy the push and pull of wind and water as the
ship cut across the vast lake.
clear sailing and steady winds, we eased between the
Apostle Islands ahead of schedule. So we dropped anchor
there to pass time before we would sail into Duluth with
seven other tall ships, one of the highlights of the city’s
Tall Ships Festival.
crew members took the opportunity to shine the ship,
floating an inflatable dinghy around the outside, cleaning
windows and wiping down the wood. But they also found time
to dive into Lake Superior, swimming with abandon. I took
a dip myself, but one dive into the frigid water made me
scurry up the rope ladder to a towel.
floating in calm waters amid the beautiful scenery of the
Apostles was memorable, nothing could compare to the
thrill of parading with other tall ships into Duluth’s
of people watched the ships arrive. A crew member sparked
a cannon and it let off a smoky blast. As I looked out at
the crowds and the other ships behind us, I felt full of
pride as a crew member of the Pride of Baltimore II.
I was also a little sad, not quite ready to return to dry
ON A TALL SHIP
Pride of Baltimore II has three guest-crew cabins that
sleep two, just off the galley. Guest crew members share a
bathroom with a small shower. The cabins are private and
comfortable but compact. Two bunks come with mattresses
and linens. My wife and I used a small cabinet as a
bedside table. The information packet we received at home
suggested we bring sleeping bags in case we wanted to
sleep on deck; we found them useful as extra covering at
food — prepared by the cook — was delicious and ample,
and diners made sure that there would be enough food
remaining for the crew members currently on watch.
Pride II is taking the summer off as the Tall Ships
Festival moves to the West Coast. Tall ships, including
the Pride II, will be on the East Coast in 2015 and will
return to the Great Lakes and Duluth in 2016. For
information on guest crewing, go to