Students onboard with Pride of Baltimore II serving as floating classroom

"When we say 'turtle,' you say 'power,'" Jamie Trost called out to a group of eighth-graders.

And when the students from St. Jane Frances School in Pasadena hollered "power," they pulled hard on the ropes, hoisting the sails of the Pride of Baltimore II.

It was the first part of a lesson, teaching the teens you can't give strong, coordinated tugs without a good grunt, and also how privateers during the War of 1812 got their sleek ships moving on the Chesapeake Bay.

Watching the huge sails unfurl high overhead left the students nearly speechless.

Thus began the Pride II's maiden voyage as a floating classroom. The 21/2 -hour trip from Annapolis on Wednesday marked the first time the 25-year-old schooner has conducted a curriculum-based, school-day program while underway.

At least 1,200 Maryland middle-schoolers are expected to sail out of Annapolis on the Pride II this year for a program that dips into the world of privateers and how their ships played a role in the war, navigation on the bay and the diverse opinions Americans had about going to war — again — with the British.

The program grew out of the Pride's recent change of ownership from the state to the nonprofit Pride of Baltimore Inc. As state funds shriveled, the nonprofit has begun using the 157-foot adapted replica of a Baltimore schooner to generate funds while teaching Marylanders about the war perhaps best known for generating Francis Scott Key's poem that became "The Star Spangled Banner."

"The Pride is a unique educational platform," said Rick Scott, executive director of Pride of Baltimore Inc.

Last year the group obtained a $45,000 grant from Star Spangled 200 Inc., a nonprofit supporting the Maryland War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission. The grant funded almost half the cost of developing and operating the onboard curriculum. Only a few slots for the spring are unfilled, though more are open for the fall.

Scott said his organization is working on a strategy for the long-term future of the Pride II, and is looking at this among other possible programs. The nonprofit runs on an annual budget of just under $1 million, he said.

The Pride II has performed educational roles before, but those were generally dockside. On Wednesday, the St. Jane Frances students got to see and feel the experience.

"This boat, it was the F-22 of its day," Pride II engineer Seth Page told the students. He said the Baltimore-made schooners were sleek and light, giving them an edge over the better-armed but clunkier British warships. That made it easier for a privateer to defeat and capture British ships in the Bay, he said.

To see how, students "sailed" model ships in sand, observing how much sand the Baltimore and British ships displaced.

"A sleeker boat is faster. Why?" crew member Chad Lossing asked.

"It cuts through," observed eighth-grader Mac Colomb, noting the bigger boat displaced far more sand.

Rounding out the day was a visit to the Naval Academy, where students toured an exhibit of War of 1812 artifacts, art and ship models. Tour fees were covered by the National Sailing Hall of Fame, located near the Pride II's home dock and just around the corner from the academy.

Lee Tawney, executive director of the Sailing Hall of Fame, wants his organization to be a spring and fall base for the Pride's school tours. He also wants a partnership with the Pride II. Last year the Hall of Fame held summer lectures aboard the ship, and he knows East Coast yacht clubs are interested in hosting the ship for summer visits.

"Long-term, we want to provide a place in Annapolis to do joint programming," he said.

Jim Kane, a social studies teacher at St. Jane Frances, a Catholic school, spoke of the Pride's allure, and said his school jumped at the chance to give its three dozen eighth-graders a sailing experience.

He watched students talk with a Pride crew member about why Native Americans sided with the British and why tobacco farmers in the South didn't want to go to war. He laughed as students described privateers as "pirates with a license," and as a few boys — but none of the girls — said they would happily be privateers, sharing the schooner with about 65 people.

"This all hits home for them," he said.

"It's a lot more hands-on, but you still get to learn stuff," said student Beth Walker, speculating that 1812-era deckhands probably were more muscular than she and her classmates.

Students in a GPS world even got a chance to test-drive the Pride, navigating only by compass and horizon.

"Look at the compass. What's it at?" Capt. Jan C. Miles asked Jacob Ambrozewicz, one of two students with a hand on the wheel.

"Hmm, 322," Jacob replied.

"And you want to be at…?" Miles asked, coaxing the answer: 320 degrees. "Go a little to the left," Miles said.

Jacob turned the wheel, watching the compass' heading move.

"I really like this," Jacob said as he piloted the Pride. "For once, I'm actually the boss."

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