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Guest crew get to experience life of 19th century sailor aboard Pride of Baltimore

Six guests joined the professional crew setting sails, hauling lines and lugging cannons across the deck as the schooner Pride of Baltimore II made its return to the Inner Harbor on Saturday, marking the end of their week-long stint tasting the life of a 19th century sailor.

Jim Bergeron, a retired insurance agent, said he's been sailing in the Chesapeake Bay for 40 years but heading out on the large Pride was a different kind of experience.

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"Tacking my 30 foot sailboat is no big deal," he said. The same maneuver aboard the Pride involves careful coordination among the crew to adjust an array of sails.

Since 1988 the Pride of Baltimore II has served as an ambassador for the city and Maryland, sailing around the United States and further afield to promote tourism, business and the Chesapeake Bay. The ship is built to resemble the fast Baltimore clippers of the early 19th century that took a role in harassing British commercial ships during in the War of 1812.

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Its arrival back in Baltimore Saturday was the culmination of a 2,700 mile voyage down to Bermuda, via Charleston, and a race from there up to Boston. It was there the six guest crew joined.

The 109-foot ship, with its distinctive raked masts, takes a crew of a dozen to sail. On Saturday they worked under captain Jan Miles, who gripped a wide-bottomed mug of coffee and called out jargon-laden orders that sent the crew scurrying to their tasks. Miles said his relationship with the other sailors is like that between a conductor and an orchestra.

"Everyone knows what they're doing, it's just a matter of someone calling out the timing," he said.

The guest crew take spots in the ship's 4-hours on, 4-hours off schedule and said their role was to help the professionals when they could and stay out of the way when they couldn't.

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Lisa McGrath, a lawyer from Lutherville, said her only previous experience of sailing was a three hour trip two decades ago, but after learning about the Pride online she decided to sign up for the trip.

"When they call out an order I just watch to see where everyone else goes," she said.

Terry Duffy, a retired garbageman from San Jose, Calif., said he first encountered the Pride in 2014. He grew more interested, until there he was standing on deck as they left Boston a week ago.

"The work is insanely hard," Duffy said. "You can't believe they do this day in, day out."

The Pride set off from Vane Brothers in South Baltimore Saturday morning — there was a slight delay when it had to go back for two late-arriving passengers — backing away from the dock under engine power before the crew began unfurling the sails.

Bergeron helped other crew members as they yanked on one of the Pride's lines to set the stay sail, before stepping back while they pulled with deep lunging movements toward the deck to shift it the final few inches into position.

Next, the fore sail unfurled with a quick whoosh of rope.

The ship began to pick up speed and headed out to the Key Bridge, where it turned around under the watch of a gaggle of cormorants and began the welcome-home journey through the harbor.

The Baltimore Fire Department sent out a ship to send up a spray from its water cannons, photographers snapped pictures from the deck of a tugboat and small drone buzzed overhead.

At Fort McHenry, the Pride began firing its cannons, each blast enveloping the deck in thick white smoke and sending alarmed children on the shore running.

Sailing into Baltimore isn't without difficulties, Miles said — buildings on the city skyline can interfere with the wind. But conditions were good on Saturday and the ship glided past Canton and into the Inner Harbor, where the crew executed a tight turn and blasted away with the cannons some more before approaching a pier in Fells Point.

With friends and family waiting, the guest sailors had one last job to do: Hauling the gangway into position that they would walk across to return to life on dry land.

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