Parade of sail sets off from Norfolk en route to Baltimore

As the schooner Pride of Baltimore II headed up the bay from Norfolk Tuesday, the 1,300-square-foot American flag rippling from its main gaff suddenly snagged and ripped.

Fortunately, Pride has a sewing machine onboard.

"We have a lot of flags," said Elizabeth Foretek, 26, the ship's bosun.

Once the nylon flag was taken down, Foretek and deckhand Kris Jones, 22, set to work repairing it, sitting on the floor of the ship's main common area below deck.

They had to mend the flag quickly. Pride is set to escort the USS Fort McHenry under the Key Bridge on Wednesday morning to launch Sailabration, a weeklong festival that is part of Maryland's War of 1812 bicentennial commemoration.

Shortly before 9 a.m. Tuesday, Pride and a handful of other vessels set off from Norfolk's Town Point Park for a 24-hour sail to Baltimore, Pride's home port.

The sewing project was one more chore among many aboard the 157-foot schooner.

Capt. Jan Miles and his 11-member crew had been working without a break since early morning. The first order of business was mopping rainwater from the ship's varnished wood surfaces.

"Taking care of this ship is a nonstop process," said deckhand Rohan Rao, 24, who used a squeegee to remove rainwater, which could damage the finish of the replica vessel.

Then came the heavy-duty work that, in 1812, would have been performed by scores of men: hauling lines to raise sails, tying knots, climbing the shrouds.

"Here we come! Baltimore!" the crew members shouted as they readied the fore topsail.

With that, Pride was underway, part of a parade of sail up the Chesapeake that included tall ships from around the world.

Before the ships left Norfolk, visitors milled around the dock, admiring the historic vessels.

"It was awesome. You only see that kind of stuff in movies," said Janice Loughrey of Pittsburgh, after watching the Colombian naval ship Gloria cast off into Norfolk's Elizabeth River.

Gloria is the crown jewel of the parade of ships set to glide under the Key Bridge around 11 a.m. Wednesday.

High above Gloria's deck, dozens of sailors in bright shirts stood at attention, balanced on the yards — stays at right angles to the mast that support the sails — as music accompanied them out to sea.

Loughrey, who traveled to Norfolk to see the ships with her husband, Roger, said the experience was "definitely" worth the trip. "It's breathtaking," she said.

Nicholas Sowko and his wife, Barbara, came from Glassport, Pa., to see the tall ships.

Barbara Sowko said she's encouraging her sister, who lives in York, Pa., to attend Sailabration in Baltimore. "I hope they do make it, because this is really nice," she said.

After leaving Norfolk, the tall ships passed by Fort Monroe in Hampton, Va., and continued northward up the bay. During the day, the bigger ships were traveling at an average speed of six knots — just under 7 miles per hour — and were scheduled to reach the mouth of the Potomac River by sunset.

Pride, a replica of a Baltimore Clipper — a type of schooner built in the late 18th and early 19th centuries and known for speed — cruised at up to 10 knots during the day. During the War of 1812, the original clippers outran slower British vessels.

Pride and Lynx, a 122-foot schooner based in Newport Beach, Calif., will be the only such vessels on display during the Tall Ships festival.

"[Pride is] the most renowned and famous and popular tall ship, both nationally and internationally," Rao said. "Everybody knows her. Like my last captain said, 'She's the cream of the crop.'"

Officials are counting on the clipper's speed to keep Pride at the head of the pack coming up the bay. The vessel is scheduled to arrive in Baltimore early Wednesday morning to pick up guests at Fort McHenry — before the rest of the tall-ship flotilla arrives.

After the guests come aboard, the schooner will head back out into the bay. Then, once again, Pride will sail under the Key Bridge, joining the other tall ships and a collection of "gray hulls," modern military ships from around the world, for their entrance into the Inner Harbor.

By 4 p.m. Tuesday, Pride was making headway at about 71/2 knots. Aside from the ripped flag and a short squall before noon, the voyage proceeded uneventfully.

While crew members weren't on deck for their four-hour shifts, they were looking ahead to Baltimore and Duda's Tavern, their favorite Fell's Point bar.

They also were tightly packing flour and smokeless gunpowder for ceremonial salutes by the ship's guns on Wednesday. Keeping their quarters shipshape, they also polished the copper panels behind the galley stove, washed dishes and swept.

Foretek, the bosun, scrambled to find sail tape to strengthen her repairs to the flag. She hoped the weather would cooperate when the vessel made its way into Baltimore Wednesday morning.

If the breeze is light, she said, the flag should hold together for the Inner Harbor parade.

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