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Keeping Pride close to home

"Left!"

"Middle!"

"Another five right!"

Capt. Jan Miles shouts to the crew of the 100-foot ship Monday during a voyage from Baltimore to Annapolis. The conductor of a seaborne symphony, he says if everyone knows their part, the trip goes smoothly.

The Pasadena resident certainly knows his part by now. He has been a skipper aboard the Pride of Baltimore II for a quarter century and isn't leaving any time soon.

"This vessel is by far the most complex, challenging and rewarding for my interests," he said.

Built in Baltimore in 1987, the boat is a goodwill ambassador. Miles has sailed it to almost every corner of the world.

But this summer, Pride II will be cruising the Chesapeake Bay as Maryland marks the War of 1812 bicentennial – culminating in the anniversary of the bombardment of Fort McHenry and the Battle of North Point in September. The events inspired Francis Scott Key to write the National Anthem.

"We're staying at home this year to reawaken the citizens' knowledge that we have this ambassador," said Miles, 63. "It's their boat, their story, their renaissance, their history."

Leaning against the rail with a silver mug up to his lips, Miles talks about Maryland's role in the War of 1812 and the history of the tall ship.

If the crew didn't already know Maryland history when they came aboard, they do by the end of the six-months they work and live on the boat under Miles and the second captain, Jamie Trost.

"We were a third world nation and after the War of 1812, we were a member of the first world club," Miles said. "We went from being a bunch of citizens of different states to Americans. There's a country worth having a relationship with."

Pride II is the closest ship afloat to the Baltimore clippers that sailed during the war as privateers. A schooner design born on the Chesapeake, Miles said its success soon had the world copying the blueprint.

Miles has crossed the Atlantic Ocean five times on Pride II, sailed the Saint Lawrence Seaway more than a dozen times, completed three 25-day Pacific voyages of 5,000 miles, and served as master or mate for about 15 vessels. He was recognized in 2013 with the Lifetime Achievement Award by Tall Ships America.

"Sailing is very skill-based," he said. "I had the advantage of accumulating a lot of inherent knowledge.. When I got my license I was already highly experienced, I just needed certification."

Spending most of his career aboard the Pride II has made Miles an authority on the topsail schooner. His crew knows that.

Jason Diller, one of a dozen crew members, said the ship is difficult to sail, calling a berth aboard as "graduate school" for sailors.

"It requires leadership that can handle it," Diller said. "(Miles) is definitely very good at what he does. He knows this boat inside and out, like the back of his hand."

Miles was born in Germany, and lived in Baghdad, Rome, Malta and South Africa as his father's career with the Foreign Service took the family around the world. If there was water nearby, Miles sailed it from the time he was able to walk.

When he was 14, his dad retired to Annapolis, where Miles attended high school.

"Dad had always been a recreational sailor," Miles said. "Some families went camping, some did sports, mine went sailing."

When it came time to look for a job, he naturally gravitated to boats.

His proudest accomplishment is not a single award or moment, but making a significant contribution to the reputation of traditional sailing.

Most of the crew knew about the ship before scoring a prized berth. Miles considers it the most recognized American sailing vessel in the world, so he's loather to step away, even for retirement.

He envisons a part-time schedule at some point, but there aren't any plans to ever leave the water.

"If I'm going to be doing something, it's going to be sailing. It's what I know, it's what I like. But I could see myself having more personal time."

He and his wife, Leslie Bridgett, a Howard County resource teacher, bought a 32-foot boat, Wizard, they sail on the Magothy River. He'd like to set out on much longer trips.

"I want to see the country," he said. "I've gone away, I've gone around it, but I haven't really seen it."

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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