Two tall ships are docked side by side at the Annapolis harbor, open for visitors at a weekend maritime festival tomorrow - the trim Sultana schooner and the 10-story towering Kalmar Nykel, which can be seen blocks away. Each is a nautical salute to the English or Dutch seafarers who sailed and built the masterful ocean-crossing ships of yesteryear. But their eye-catching style against the sky is also meant to awaken imaginations here and now about times past.
The 50-foot long Sultana, based in Chestertown and built in 2001, is a floating classroom, serving mostly Maryland public school pupils and teachers. Educational sessions take from three hours to five days, officials said, in a setting that recreates an 18th-century British naval vessel.
"The boat works nonstop," said the captain, Robert M. Brittain, reeling off destinations around the Chesapeake Bay as far away as Norfolk, Va.
"Most of our client base is fifth- and sixth-graders, and they smile even in rough weather," he said. "We teach them Colonial history and bay ecology."
Ashley Montagu, 24, the ship's education director and a Stanford University graduate, coordinates the curriculum, which complies with state requirements.
The Sultana recently hosted children from the Anacostia neighborhood in Washington who had never been on the open water or Potomac River before, he said.
Reaching back further in time, the Kalmar Nykel is a Delaware-based reproduction of the early 17th-century Dutch pinnace that crossed the Atlantic carrying people who settled in the Delaware Valley, festival organizers said.
David W. Hiott, the ship's captain since its launch in 1997, proudly gave dimensions of his re-created Dutch coastal trader: "Ninety-three feet long on deck, and it weighs 300 long tons, a nautical term,"
Hiott added that he could go on and on about the Kalmar Nykel's place in history to those who step aboard tomorrow from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. "My head is full of useless knowledge," he said. "But the ship is based on a 1625 design, and it's very authentic to the time period in its appearance, rigs and carvings."
As he paced the Sultana deck after arriving in Annapolis on Wednesday, Brittain said the square top sail schooner is an architectural echo of a specific British H.M.S. ship by the same name that once prowled the Chesapeake Bay.
From 1768 to 1772, years that set the stage for the American Revolution, the early schooner's captain and crew patrolled the Atlantic seaboard for Colonial merchant ships to board, searching for smuggled luxury goods to seize - prized items such as tea, for example. Many of the sailors, 25 at a time, were forced into service.
"She wasn't very popular on the bay as a revenue cutter that enforced the tea and tax laws," Brittain, born in England, said wryly. "She was the smallest British Navy vessel."
Historical authenticity of the present-day Sultana comes compliments of the exacting British Royal Navy record keepers, who saved 2,000 pages of original documents, including log books, a survey drawing, payrolls and a muster book of sailors belonging to the original schooner.
Drew McMullen, president of the nonprofit Sultana Projects Inc., said even the wooden ship's lanterns are handmade to stay true to the spirit of the first Sultana.
"From day one, the goal was to build a boat with educational value to public school students and teachers - it fits 32 students perfectly," McMullen said. "And we did want to build it [based on] a vessel that was on the Chesapeake and around the East Coast to tell the story of the Revolution."
Brittain, 49, is known on the ship as "Captain Bob" and has a bit of a London accent.
"The American Revolution was a brief skirmish in our school books," he said. "You don't learn about your losses." The four black swivel guns on the edge of the deck show how the British navy wielded its weight on the waves. "There's the meaning of a shot across the bow," the captain said with a grin.
Details down to the original diameter of the Sultana's masts, the shape of the hull and the magazine for storing weapons are also incorporated into the current ship. Chestertown community volunteers joined professional Eastern Shore boat builders in the three-year construction project, Brittain said.
Kathryn Greenbaum, a 17-year-old intern who attends St. Paul's School in New Hampshire, said that spending time on the boat and meeting the Anacostia schoolchildren were highlights.
The Annapolis Maritime Museum is sponsoring this weekend's Tall Ships festival. The Kalmar Nykel will be open for public visits from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. tomorrow and Sunday. The Sultana will be open for visitors from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. tomorrow only. Tickets to visit both ships are $10 per adult and $8 for children ages 3 to 11. Tickets may be purchased by the ships, stationed at the far end of City Dock. An open sail on the Sultana will take place from 10 a.m. to noon tomorrow. Admission is $30 for adults and $15 for children 11 and under. Reservations are required for the sail; to book places, call 410-778-5954.