Note: unless otherwise noted, Mia Karlsson has taken all the photos.
We left Annapolis early and drove up to Sparrow's Point, to the Old Bay Marina where I'd been twice before to help Rodney do some work on his Tayana 37. The boat had been hauled out for over 3 years, Rodney doing the refit himself between sculpture projects. Two years ago I helped him step the mast, when the boat was on the hard. Earlier this summer, Mia and I joined him and his wife Narda (and their brown dog Brownie) on a sweltering day to help install his new synthetic lifelines. I taught him how to make a locking brummel splice, using two custom fids he'd made in his studio from old pieces of stainless rod stock. They were beautiful, and worked great.
Rodney and I met in 2010 when Arcturus was hauled out for the summer in Annapolis, Mia and I doing our own refit. He'd read some of my Spinsheet articles and got in touch with me through my editor there.
Rodney was looking for a boat on which to display his radar leveler during the boat show that year, and Arcturus was scheduled to be in the show with Colligo Marine, to display our synthetic standing rigging. The radar leveler was a clever invention of Rodney's, and a piece of artwork as only he could create it. Molly predicted we'd get along when she first introduced us via email. She was absolutely right. It's another story, but the short of it is that Rodney installed his leveler on the stern of Arcturus and joined us during the boat show that fall, beginning our friendship with him and Narda (and Brownie!).
Mia and I are back and forth to Sweden a lot lately, and had spent most of this past summer sailing. First on Kinship across the Atlantic with the ARC Europe rally, and then 8 weeks on our boat in Scotland, across the North Sea and into the Baltic. We only just returned immediately before this year's boat show in Annapolis (to help run the World Cruising Club's booth), and got back in touch with Rodney after the show (I needed a place to park for the Baltimore Marathon, which we just ran on Saturday, and Rodney's house is across the way from Camden Yards, where the start would be). As it happened, he was in Bacon's in Annapolis when I called, so came by my mom and dad's boat Sojourner for a beer and and a chat. He invited us to come sailing the next morning on his Tayana to watch the schooners sail out of the Patapsco river from Baltimore on the way to the start of the GCBSR off Annapolis. I said 'maybe,' which morphed into a 'probably', and before he left a 'definitely!' It'd be a chance to sail on a different boat – an experience I always enjoy – and a chance to get a glimpse of the race I so enjoyed as a crewmember aboard the Woodwind in 2006 and 2007. I have a special affinity for schooner sailors that was created during the four years I worked on the Woodwind.
Rodney Carroll's newly refit and re-finished Tayana 37
So we left Old Bay Marina on a blustery fall morning, my favorite kind of weather for Bay sailing (since that unbearable summer in Annapolis refitting Arcturus before our Atlantic crossing, Mia and I have made a pact to only be in town during the cooler spring and fall months. Mia's Swedish blood runs thick, and it's worn off on me in the six years we've been together). Rodney was excited to sail the boat hard, and we did, setting the yankee, staysail and full mainsail against a breeze gusting into the 20s and putting the rail down with each puff. Rodney explained to us that the Tayana was designed without excessive weather-helm when she heeled, which I was surprised to find was true. I steered the boat close-hauled with one finger on the way into the river.
The fleet sailing out of the Patapsco last Thursday
We timed our departure perfectly and crossed the Patapsco just as the first boats were coming out under the Key Bridge. Adventurer, the gorgeous Cherubini staysail schooner that is skippered by Art Birney, one of the owners at Port Annapolis marina (where I also used to work, and remain in close contact with) and crewed by my old friend Duncan Hood from my Woodwind days, blasted out of the river with her storm spinnaker flying from the foremast, lapping the fleet as they aimed south. The Woodwind, curiously, motored out of the river (apparently they were saving their sails for the race – they ended up winning their class, the overall and line honors, and took home the perpetual trophy to boot…not a bad year for them!).
Mia scurried around deck taking photos, and she got some good ones, particularly of the Pride of Baltimore II, with the iconic industrial backdrop of Baltimore behind her as she freight-trained her way into the Chesapeake with all sail flying. The Pride keeps a special place in my mind – in 2006, my first year crewing in the race on the Woodwind, I was on watch late at night with my friend Rook Singer. The moon was new, so it was dark and it was cold, in the 40s. Rook was entertaining us in the cockpit with his old poems and sea chanties.
Andy crewing on the race in 2006 (photo by Andy)
The Woodwind was miles ahead of the fleet that night – the race had started on a southery breeze, and with her modern rig and underbody, the Woodwind can sail much closer to the wind than the rest of the traditional fleet, so we'd gained a pretty big lead at first. But just after dark, we experienced what we'd later dub the 'extraordinary windshift', a blast from the west that accompanied a frontal passage. The boat laid right down, and by the time we got the sheets eased and the fisherman staysail down, it was blowing over 30 from the starboard quarter and the race became a downwind sleigh ride (the next year, Them Eastport Oyster Boys immortalized the night with their tune 'Chesapeake Sleigh Ride' depicting the events of that night).
Anyway, with the wind aft, the bigger boats started eating up the mileage and gaining on us. We'd been enjoying some incredible surfing runs south of the Potomac. I was on the helm when we got the speed record that night – 15.5 knots – just under the all-time Woodwind record of 16.9 Nonetheless, while Rook was singing his songs and reciting his poems, we noticed running lights not far off behind us. I peeked in the binoculars and just visible above the green and red bow lights was the enormous silhouette of the Pride, her distinctive square topsail shadowing the background sky. It felt like we'd gone back in time, this big Baltimore privateer charging down on us in the middle of the night. She had a head of steam on and passed us easily to windward only a few hundred yards off. The schooner Virginia wasn't far behind, and they dueled it out to the finish line, the Virginia just eking by at the last minute. Woodwind was third over the line that year, but we won on corrected time, and that night watch remains etched in my memory as one of the greatest of my short sailing career.
Woodwind racing down the Bay in 2006, before the windshift (photo by Andy)
I told this story and others to Rodney and Mia as we watched the schooner fleet parade out of the river and into the Bay. I saw loads of boats I recognized, and knew that a bunch of my friends were sailing on them, and I felt a tinge of regret for not being their with them. We followed the fleet out to Seven Foot Knoll, then returned on a dying breeze, tacking into the channel off Sparrows Point and eating Narda's homemade crab soup back at the dock (Rodney had been up until 11:30 the night before picking the meat from the 'cold crabs').
As I write (from BWI airport, after returning from two days in Pittsburgh to work on the Two Inspired Guys podcast with Ryan), most of the fleet is likely on their way back up the bay, or staging in Norfolk for the offshore run to the Caribbean, where a few will spend the winter. It's good to be a schooner sailor.