SHANGHAI, China -- "Look! Look!" Samantha Heyman said excitedly as she grasped a fried crab cake between a pair of chopsticks while standing along the banks of the Huangpu River.
"It's a big thing," Heyman said of her newfound skill with Chinese utensils. "We've been practicing on the way here."
Heyman arrived in Shanghai last week after a three-month voyage across the Pacific Ocean, serving as a deckhand on the Pride of Baltimore II, a Baltimore Clipper topsail schooner that serves as the state's goodwill ambassador around the world.
Buffetted by the trade winds, Heyman and the crew of about a dozen sailed from Panama to Hawaii, catching mahi-mahi and seeing dolphins, whales and the occasional flying fish that jumped on board. Weeks later, in the East China Sea, the sailors guided the Pride through dense fog past hundreds of Chinese fishing boats.
A working replica of an 1812-era ship, the Pride is on a nearly yearlong tour to promote trade and business between Maryland and Asia, and solidify relations with key shipping companies that ply the Port of Baltimore. For many of the sailors, though, this is the voyage of a lifetime aboard a sleek, 97-foot schooner that will take most of them to places they've only read about: Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Tokyo and Yokohama, Japan.
Among the crew is Charles County teacher Leslie Ann Bridgett, who is sending dispatches and digital photographs User.Event 7 was not expected here! via satellite for use on a Web page where Maryland students can learn what it is like to sail a tall ship across the world's largest ocean.
Bridgett's dispatches, written on a laptop computer between watches on deck, are integrated with 15 lessons being made available on the Web page (www.Pride2.org). Her logs include the ship's longitude and latitude so students can follow the journey, and the lesson subjects range from the history of exploration in the Pacific to life beneath the sea.
"After covering over 4,700 miles of ocean, we sighted land at 15: 37 today, or 10: 37 P.M. your time, since you're five hours ahead," Bridgett wrote in her dispatch Feb. 2, titled "Land ho, Hawaii: whales, winds and Damion Sailors. As the sun goes down, we can make out the lights of cities at the base of the volcano."
In the entry, which runs several pages, she describes humpback whales breaching along the south side of Maui, explains their migration patterns -- summers off the coast of Alaska, winters in the Hawaiian islands -- and details the job of the Pride's boatswain who is aptly named Damion Sailors.
The State Department of Education chose Bridgett, 47, from among 21 applicants to spend her second semester as "Teacher Aboard" the Pride. The federal government is funding her tour with a Christa McAuliffe Fellowship, named for the teacher killed in the Challenger explosion in 1986.
Bridgett, who was born in Baltimore and began her sailing career at 6 in dinghies on the Magothy and Bush rivers, says one of the most enjoyable parts of the voyage has been riding across 15- to 20-foot swells from Panama to Hawaii.
"I wanted to experience the trade winds and the huge swells of the Pacific," said Bridgett, who teaches earth science to ninth-graders at Westlake High School in Waldorf. "The boat rides up and over waves like rolling hills and the water is a deep, royal blue."
It is impossible to know how many students are following Bridgett's adventures. Mark Jay Belton, executive director of Pride of Baltimore Inc., a nonprofit corporation that runs the ship, says the number of visits weekly to the Web page has risen from 6,000 to 11,000 since November.
Students from Maryland, Ohio and the Shanghai American School East have written letters, which crew members picked up in Hawaii. Joan Goodson, a Baltimorean who teaches at the Shanghai school, encouraged her students to assemble scrapbooks about their lives in China, which they sent to her former school, Rodgers Forge Elementary.
Baltimore's maritime ties to China stretch back to at least the early 19th century. The city's Canton section derived its name from a ship's captain who profited handsomely from the China trade and dubbed his home Canton after the famous Chinese port, now known as Guangzhou.
The Baltimore Clipper, a sleek craft designed to evade blockades, outrun enemies and sail at speeds of up to 15 knots, enjoyed its heyday around the same time. The romantic-looking vessels became indispensable after the British began seizing American cargo ships.
In 1812, President James Madison declared war and sanctioned private crafts to act as legal pirates and attack British merchant ships. Baltimore shipyards began building more and more clippers fitted with cannons.
In the war, privateers captured or sank about 1,700 British ships. Frustrated, the British sent a fleet into the Chesapeake Bay in 1814 to attack Baltimore and destroy the shipyards. The failure to take Fort McHenry led Francis Scott Key to pen "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Clippers were also used for smuggling. The Pride's captain, Jan Miles, suspects some might have been involved in the Opium War, in which Britain took control of Hong Kong from China. He wonders how Chinese might react when they spot the Pride against Hong Kong's glass-and-steel skyline later this month.
'A geometric nightmare'
For Miles, 47, the biggest challenge on this voyage so far was making it to Shanghai on time. After the ship left Hawaii in late February, the normally reliable trade winds all but died.
Using the engine, Miles steered the boat south toward the Mariana Islands and spent 10 days searching for air to fill the Pride's 11 sails.
"It became a geometric nightmare," Miles said of the journey from Hawaii to Guam, where the boat made an unscheduled stop to replenish its fuel tanks with just 100 gallons left. "There we are increasing the mileage, using up the fuel and not finding the wind. And then we lost a day crossing the international date line to boot."
When the ship arrived in the East China Sea near Shanghai, it ran into dense fog, and visibility dropped to less than 100 feet. Navigators spent two days glued to the radar and weaved past as many as 1,000 Chinese fishing boats.
"There was so much traffic, I couldn't even count them on the radar screen," said second mate Amy Strange, 43, of Milwaukee.
Motoring up the narrow Huangpu into Shanghai -- the waterway is too crowded to sail through -- gave the crew a taste of the chaos that is Chinese river traffic. Boats of all shapes and sizes headed in every direction, sometimes riding five abreast.
"It's like trying to drive a New York City avenue, past the delivery trucks, the taxis, the buses, the bicycle messenger boys and the pedestrians at rush hour," Miles said. "It was visually stunning. Everywhere you looked there was something happening."
The Pride leaves Shanghai today and sails for the Chinese coastal city of Xiamen. It will return to Baltimore at the end of November.
For Heyman, a 26-year-old Bostonian who earns $550 a month as a deckhand, the trip from Panama to Hawaii was priceless. The winds blew at 17 to 20 knots, the skies were clear and the boat stayed on starboard tack all the way.
"Fabulous! Awesome!" she said of the ride. And out in the middle of the Pacific it occasionally occurred to her: "Somebody is paying me to go sailing."
Pub Date: 4/06/98