Funding shortfall could dock Pride of Baltimore II tall ship for the season

The Pride of Baltimore II, the tall ship that serves as a goodwill ambassador from Baltimore and Maryland to the world, won’t be able to sail this year unless organizers can raise more than $500,000, its executive director said.

“It’s alarming, to be honest,” said Rick Scott, who heads the nonprofit that owns and operates the Pride. “This is one of the most critical times our organization has experienced in recent decades. We may not be able to fulfill our mission.”

The Pride received $1.5 million from the state spread over the past three fiscal years, but does not have a “firm commitment” for fiscal 2019 and beyond, he said. The rest of the Pride’s annual operating budget of about $1.2 million comes from private donations, grants, appearance fees, souvenir sales and day sails.

Scott said the nonprofit Pride of Baltimore Inc. is in discussions with the city and state. He plans to speak before the City Council on Monday evening as part of an all-hands-on-deck campaign to seek private and public funding for this year’s sailing season, which generally runs from late March to the beginning of November.

“We’re putting our case forward,” Scott said.

He said he needs to raise $230,000 by March, plus another $300,000 by July, or the ship will not be able to sail this season.

Should it be idled, Scott said, the Pride would have to lay off some of its staff. It has a year-round captain, sails with a crew of 11 and keeps a full-time office staff of four.

The topsail schooner is modeled on the Baltimore clippers that were once built in the city and helped the young United States win the War of 1812.

The first Pride of Baltimore sank in a sudden squall in 1986, killing its captain and three crew members. Pride II will turn 30 this October.

Scott said the ship already has declined an invitation to the Tall Ships Challenge, a racing series and festival, to be held in the Gulf of Mexico in April to coincide with New Orleans’ tricentennial. The Pride finished first in three of the five races in the Tall Ships Challenge in the Great Lakes in 2016.

“We’re sad the Pride won’t be a part of it this year,” said Bert Rogers, executive director of Tall Ships America, the Newport, R.I.-based organization of more than 150 such vessels that organizes the challenge.

“The Pride is one of the stars in our galaxy,” he said. “She’s extremely well regarded not just nationally but internationally.”

Rogers said tall ships require “a big commitment” financially, a challenge for many of his group’s vessels.

“While we do great work, we’re not curing cancer,” he said. “It’s largely an industry that relies on discretionary money.”

Not sailing this summer would cost the ship the fees that it receives from participating in events. Scott said it would expect to make $140,000 to $160,000 from the Tall Ships Challenge.

While it needs operating funds, the Pride is otherwise in great shape, Scott said. The nonprofit is not in debt, and the ship itself is well maintained.

“That’s our pride in the the Pride,” he said.

The saga of the Pride of Baltimore, both I and II, is interwoven with the history of the city — and its seemingly perennial need to promote a more positive image of itself.

The original Pride was born in the 1970s-era Baltimore Renaissance, as the aging industrial city sought to reinvent itself, turning its waterfront into the touristy Inner Harbor. In the telling of then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer, his housing commissioner, Bob Embry, came up with the idea of building a ship right there to attract visitors.

It first set sail in May 1977, a seafaring ambassador of the city. But tragedy struck about 240 miles north of Puerto Rico in 1986, when a sudden squall with winds up to 80 knots rolled the Pride on its side. It sank, killing its captain and three crew members. Eight other crew members clung to a rubber raft for more than four days, until they were spotted by a Norwegian tanker and rescued.

For a ship literally named for a city’s hopeful sense of itself, the sinking seemed symbolic.

“The vessel’s sinking raised the insecurities that this city, once regarded as just an obstruction between Washington and New York, has worked so hard to vanquish,” The New York Times intoned.

The story of the Pride might have ended then, Scott said, but for “this public outpouring of support.” Donations started flowing in, and the Pride II was built and set sail in October 1988.

It has logged more than 250,000 miles, according to Pride officials, visiting more than 200 ports in 40 countries.

Capt. Jan Miles has been with Pride II from the start. He has had to hold off on “crewing up” for the summer until he knows how much, if any, of the season the Pride will sail.

“The Pride is a wonderful legacy for Baltimore and Maryland,” Miles said. “Unlike a monument that is built once, and periodically looked at, we have a living monument of our history and the history of our country and the renaissance of our city.”

jean.marbella@baltsun.com

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