This is a transcript of the June 5 edition of Working. These transcripts are lightly edited and may contain errors. For the definitive record, consult the podcast.
Jacob Brogan: You’re listening to Working, the podcast about what people do all day. I’m Jacob Brogan. This season on Working, we took a trip to Baltimore to chat with some of its residents about the various ways they make their livings there. We were hoping to learn a little about the ways that Baltimore shapes their work and about the ways that they’re shaping Baltimore by working. Our latest episode, the final installment in our Baltimore series, came about when we got an email that opened, “I have a cool job.” Responding to it eventually brought us to Baltimore’s docks. Can we come on here?
Brogan: That’s us, arriving at our destination, a multimasted, War of 1812–style schooner called the Pride of Baltimore II. We’d come to interview the author of that email, a guy named Jordan Smith, who serves as co-captain of the Pride. As it turned out, his job was, in fact, quite cool. We talked to him in a cabin below decks where he spoke to us about the ship’s history and his role in its present operation.
He also gave us a tour, talked about maintenance, and explained the Pride of Baltimore II’s relationship to the city, which shares its name. Then, in a Slate Plus extra, Captain Smith talked about racing the Pride of Baltimore II, getting into the combination of strategy and efficiency that ensures this huge, heavy-looking boat can absolutely tear through the water. It’s pretty cool.
If you’re a member, enjoy bonus segments and interview transcripts from Working, plus other podcast exclusives. Start your two-week free trial at slate.com/workingplus. Are you ready to get going? All right. What is your name and what do you do?
Jordan Smith: My name is Jordan Smith. I am one of the two captains of the Pride of Baltimore II, which is a War of 1812–era re-creation of what’s called a Baltimore Clipper.
Brogan: What is a Baltimore Clipper, exactly?
Smith: Baltimore Clippers were extremely fast vessels that grew up on the Chesapeake Bay. Their hull form and their rig were unique enough that they are recognizable anywhere in the world. During the War of 1812 they were used pretty much for anything where speed is at a premium, whether you are chasing something or running away from something. The Pride of Baltimore II, her name comes about because there was a famous captain named Thomas Boyle. That’s him. We keep a picture of him here because he’s why we have a ship, kind of indirectly speaking. He had a privateer, called The Chasseur, which is roughly about the size of this.
Brogan: Privateer, is it?
Smith: A privateer is a privately owned government-licensed warship, because we didn’t have much of a navy at the time. We had to turn to kind of mercenaries, essentially, just to get things done. Thomas Boyle, his most famous crews, he actually had a proclamation taken ashore to Lloyd’s of London, and had it nailed to the door that he was placing the entire British Isles under blockade with just The Chasseur. He raised all kinds of havoc and insurance went through the roof, and captured 30 ships or something like that. When he got back to Baltimore, the newspapers hailed The Chasseur as the Pride of Baltimore.
Move forward to 1977, as part of a revitalization effort of the Inner Harbor, the idea was to re-create one of these famous vessels, a Baltimore Clipper. Pride of Baltimore II, the first Pride of Baltimore was launched in 1977 but was lost at sea in 1986. There was an immediate and large outpouring of support to build a second vessel. We have a little sign in the aft cabin that says, “Remember the jar of pennies,” because some kids all got together and sent us a big jar of pennies to help build the ship. This vessel was launched in 1988.
Brogan: What do you do as its co-captain, what are your responsibilities? What’s your life like on board?
Smith: As the captain of the ship, one of the things is just keeping everything going. I feel like I spend more time in the Home Depot than is entirely proper. I have a little belief that the time I spend wandering around in Home Depot is not actually subtracted from my lifespan. There is that aspect of it, you are the manager, it’s a matter of allocating who does what and when and all that stuff?
The direct hands-on management of the crew is more done by the first mate. Captains are sort of an upper-tier supervisory role for that aspect of things. Then of course I sail the ship. That can vary from just doing a little poking around sailing in Baltimore, or last year we went to the Great Lakes. I sailed the ship as far as Duluth, which is the tail-end to Lake Superior. It was geographically satisfying because I just kept sailing till there was no more Great Lake, and then I got to turn it around and go home.
Brogan: Was that part of an exhibition, were you taking people on a tour?
Smith: Yes. There are a series of tall ship festivals. Last year it was on the Great Lakes. It’s one of the ways that we have to generate some revenue. It can involve taking people sailing, it sometimes can involve what’s called deck tours, where we are just alongside the dock, people come on and we have a display that we set up describing the history of the vessel and all that stuff. It’s part of our job.
We are partially funded by the state, and we are sort of Maryland’s tall ship. We go and tell the story of the War of 1812 and “The Star-Spangled Banner” and all that stuff, because the Baltimore Clippers are a kind of indirect reason why we have “The Star-Spangled Banner.” That’s why the British came up the Chesapeake to bombard Baltimore was to get at the shipyards that were building these things because they were causing so much trouble.
Brogan: It’s a big part of the nation’s history, but also the states.
Smith: Yes, exactly.
Brogan: What’s your history with regards to this boat, how did you end up the co-captain of a tall ship?
Smith: Practice, man.
Brogan: Have you always been a sailor, though?
Smith: Yes, I grew up in a sailing family. I was taking on boats from the age of six months onwards. Earlier in life I was kind of a semiprofessional racing sailor. I worked in a sail office that made sails for boats and did a lot of racing. As I got into my upper 30s, the boats kept getting lighter and faster and I kept getting older and creakier. Kind of became time to shift to something else. That’s when I started taking on jobs commanding traditional ships. As it turns out, the ship, because the Baltimore Clippers are pretty high performance, as tall ships go, they are high-powered and fast. We raced this vessel a lot.
That was part of what appealed to Ian Miles, who is the senior captain. He’s been around since this vessel was built and before. He’s been here a very long time. Part of what appealed to him about my résumé was that combination of performance sailing and traditional sail, so here I am.
Brogan: I assume that racing a boat like this one, from your perspective as captain, is a lot different than racing a smaller sailing boat.
Smith: It certainly is. It’s actually a lot of fun. It is quite a bit different and it is an immensely complicated thing to do even on a simple boat. It’s probably the most complicated sport there is. When you add the size and the complexity of this vessel into the mix it becomes a very interesting challenge.
Brogan: How large is this?
Smith: From tip to tip she’s 157 feet.
Brogan: That’s quite large.
Brogan: When you are not involved in one of these intense races, what are your day-to-day responsibilities on board the cabin, or in? Right now it looks like there are some bunks, people sleep on board.
Smith: Those are the guest cabins. The crew, most of them live up in what’s called the forecastle, sort of a bowdlerization of forecastle, an old-fashioned term. It’s kind of a bunkroom kind of thing out there. The officers’ cabins are after the engine room. These are guest cabins, and what they are for is, when we are on a passage, or race, moving the ship from one place to the other in whatever way we are doing it, we have a guest crew program where people can sign up and come along. When we say “guest crew” we mean guest crew, we don’t mean sitting on deck with a drink with an umbrella in it. We try to make that clear, the idea ...
Brogan: Are they paying for the responsibility, though?
Brogan: The opportunity, I suppose?
Brogan: The opportunity to have the responsibility?
Smith: I forget exactly what the rate is, but it’s somewhere around $120, or $130 a day. We have six slots that we could give over to that at any given time.
Brogan: How often do you have people on board?
Smith: It’s when we are traveling. This year we are going from here to Charleston, South Carolina, and then we are doing a race from Charleston to Bermuda, and another race from Bermuda to Boston and then the ship is coming back to Baltimore. For all those legs we’ll have those guest slots filled. To your question about day-to-day stuff, it’s quite a bit different, when we are tied to the dock and working on the ship, it seems to me that my job is to go to Home Depot. We have an office with a staff of around five or six, executive director, a couple of project managers, media person, and so on.
There is a certain amount of meeting with them and doing the long-range planning sort of stuff. The races, the events, day sails, charters, what ports we are going to visit, so on and so forth. When the ship is traveling, of course, then basically I’m making all the navigation and safety decisions and choosing what sail plan is to be set and monitoring the weather and all that stuff. It’s just a whole different set of responsibilities.
Brogan: Do you ever literally stand at a wheel of a ship? Is there a wheel on this ship?
Smith: There is. More often—during the start of a race, in particular—I will steer the ship. It varies other times, just when it’s an all-hands situation and everybody has got to do something or grab it, just so there is an extra pair of hands. More often than not, one of the crew is steering. My counterpart always makes a joke, like someone said, “You don’t even have an autopilot on that thing.” He says, “What? I have 10 of them.”
Brogan: The crew, that is?
Brogan: This is a very tall ship, do people—as in my childish imagination of what it is like to crew a tall ship, actually—do you have to climb the masts and do stuff up there while you are on the way?
Smith: Yeah. If you noticed the yards, which are the crosspieces, the upper one of those has the topsail furled to it, and it is pretty much exactly like your childish imaginations. I have to climb up there ...
Brogan: I’m giddy with [unintelligible].
Smith: I go out on the yard to furl the sail and all that stuff.
Brogan: Do you ever do that stuff?
Smith: I dislike going aloft. I worked as a rigger for many years, not liking heights and working at the top of sailboat masts all the time is not smart. I’ve been up, it’s just, it’s not required of my job, and so, if there is something to inspect up there that we have some question about how we are going to fix or something like that—
Brogan: You’ll go check it out.
Smith: I’ll do it, but I won’t love it.
Brogan: What are other things that might interrupt the pleasures of a voyage, seasickness ever a problem on board?
Smith: For some.
Brogan: Not for you?
Smith: Not for me personally. I’ve only come close to being seasick once, and that was on a race on a modern boat called the Ones Line 48. We were doing a race from Annapolis to Bermuda. We were crossing the Gulf Stream, and probably a 35-knot north wind. What happens there is you have the Gulf Stream, which is an ocean current, going north, and you have the wind blowing from the north, and they are against one another. The waves get extremely steep very quick.
Brogan: The boat is slamming up and down?
Smith: Yeah, just leaping up and down. This was the kind of thing where everyone is wearing a safety harness and is clipped on, and every once in a while, happened two or three times, the waves would break on the boat and wash everyone off the rail to the end of their tether, like twang, twang, twang. When I was steering the boat I was fine because you have something to concentrate on, but if you are just sitting there, getting the washing machine, I got a little queasy. I didn’t get sick but I got a little queasy.
Brogan: Do your guest crew ever get…?
Smith: Yeah, it happens.
Brogan: When you are under sail, how do you dress? Do you wear a cap and suit, or do you just ... Can you tell us a little bit about how you are dressed today?
Smith: We are sponsored by Under Armour, that’s what these nice jackets are.
Brogan: A Baltimore-based company.
Smith: Yeah. They have given us these jackets … that’s a different layer, but T-shirt. The whole crew has them. Most of them you’ll see, they are in their working clothes now. If you look around you’ll see that their working clothes are spectacularly dirty, because they are always working with paint, tar, and ... in the course of a regular working day they don’t wear the nice duds, but when we are taking passengers on board, or when we are working with the state government, like the governor was on board the other day, we kind of get shined up a little bit. I thank God I do not have to wear—there are captains who have to wear that silly Captain Stubing outfit with the ...
Brogan: With a dumb hat.
Smith: Yeah, and epaulets, and everything. That would have been a deal-breaker for me.
Brogan: Just too silly?
Brogan: Do you get to shave or do you grow a beard while you are out?
Smith: I’m just lazy about shaving. I had a beard last year, I had to shave it off recently because I am upgrading the level of my captain’s license, and one of the things I needed was an advanced firefighting class. In the advanced firefighting class you go to the Baltimore Fire Academy. They set the building on fire and you have the oxygen bottle, the whole thing. You can’t have a beard, you have to be clean-shaven, like an OSHA kind of thing I suppose.
Brogan: Do you imagine it’ll grow back, though?
Smith: If I keep being lazy about shaving, then that’s what this will turn into.
Brogan: When you are out for a while, how is the food on board—you’ve got a nice kitchen here?
Smith: Yeah. It’s called a galley on a ship.
Brogan: Galley, pardon me.
Smith: When you are out for an extended period, toward the end of the period, picking can get a little slim sometimes, but most of the time Phil is very on the ball about the provisioning side of things. That’s part of the planning that we do is working with him to tell him how long we are going to be away so that he could plan accordingly and just laying in enough provisions for everything. These guys work very hard, and Phil is really great with field-hand food. Like sticking to your ribs kind of stuff.
Brogan: A lot of calories.
Brogan: Do you find that you get exhausted when you are out or are you as captain more able to conserve your energy?
Smith: What tends to happen, because I don’t stand to watch, but I’m on call all the time is, in the high-traffic situations ...
Brogan: You mean if there are boats?
Smith: Other ships around, yeah, like on the Great Lakes this happened several times. You get woken up a lot. When you have an extended period where you can’t really get a decent REM cycle in, you can get a little raggedy, for sure. Other times on ocean passages and stuff, it could be a pretty peaceful existence.
Brogan: You are listening to Captain Jordan Smith of the Pride of Baltimore II. In a minute he gives us a tour of the ship.
* * *
Brogan: Would you be willing to take us on a little tour of the ship?
Smith: Sure, absolutely.
Brogan: Let’s check it out.
Smith: This what’s called the forecastle. This is where the majority of the crew sleeps as you can see. It’s kind of a bunkroom sort of arrangement. Everyone’s got a little privacy curtain but ...
Brogan: It looks pretty cramped, though.
Smith: Living space on these things, unless you are the captain, is you don’t get much solitary space, that’s for sure. Here, what you are standing in is the galley. As you can see it’s pretty well-equipped. We have two stoves, this is a propane one, this is a diesel-powered one. We call the diesel powered one Chernobyl. When the weather is cold we typically leave the diesel one lit and it just heats up this whole space pretty nicely.
Brogan: It looks like a lot of copper. Is that for the backing, for the backsplash there?
Smith: Yeah, it’s heat shielding, basically. The crew, some of them polish it more obsessively than others, but they do polish it. Refrigerator and freezer underneath this counter here, underneath Haley’s birthday cake. This is called the cabin sole, S-O-L-E.
Brogan: That’s the floor that we are talking about here?
Smith: Yeah, the floor. As you can see, there are panels that lift up, and underneath there is more storage space.
Brogan: What kind of stuff do you keep in that storage?
Smith: For instance, this pile of junk that you have here, those are souvenirs. We have T-shirts and hats, and such that we can sell people. Those two ship hull models are part of our education program, describing the hull ship of Baltimore Clippers, and why they are so fast. We have that stuff, there are tools, there are spare parts, all kinds of things.
Brogan: You got a collection of DVDs here?
Smith: Yes, we got a flat-screen TV that we stow away and I think, they watched The Princess Bride last night. Every once in a while we’ll even do that, have a movie night on deck out in the ocean, which is pretty fun.
Smith: As we go, after here, that’s the cook’s cabin, Phil’s cabin, Phil and the engineer share that one. These other three are guest cabins.
Brogan: Do you ever have drama when you have people in these kind of close quarters?
Smith: It happens, but it doesn’t happen as much as you might think. People who do this for a living are either good at living in close quarters or they rapidly stop doing it. Stowing is everywhere. We’ve had crew members that were a little on the abrasive side, that was ... There was one that scolded Phil a little too much last year.
Brogan: He’s not a crewmember anymore?
Smith: Not a crewmember anymore. He has veto power; the cook has enormous power on a ship.
Brogan: I wouldn’t scold the guy that has a bunch of knives, for one thing.
Smith: This is the main mast, as it goes down, it’s stepped on the keel.
Brogan: Is this wood?
Smith: Yeah, they are laminated.
Brogan: This is a huge white kind of octagonal pole, I guess, what it looks from our perspective down here.
Smith: They are. the original spurs for this vessel were just trees, basically, one solid piece. They dramatically and spectacularly fell over the side in France about 10 years ago. They were replaced with laminated spurs. They are still wood, but they are laminated with resorcinol glue, which makes them stronger and lighter than just a tree and also more resistant to damage by rot. Because if one section rots it’s not going to go across a glue line into another section, whereas the tree is, billions of years of evolution have made trees transmit water, that’s what they are for.
Brogan: You want something that’s not going to soak up all that?
Smith: Exactly. We are going to go through this watertight door here.
Brogan: This looks much more like a modern ship. We are in an engine room here, basically.
Smith: Yeah. You just went from 1812 to a destroyer. These are engines, they are twin 150-hose caterpillar diesels.
Brogan: Smells like diesel.
Smith: Yeah, we just ... The engineer just replaced a valve cover gasket on this one. That’s our generator.
Brogan: That’s powering everything on board, really?
Smith: Right now we are plugged into shore power. We could just—we get a big cord and just plug into the dock and run all our electric stuff off that. We can create power through the engines alternators and through the generator. In there, that is the battery bunk, the ship house batteries. We have engine start batteries and those. Those white boxes there are called the inverters, they are inverter chargers. What they do is they charge the batteries, and they also turn D.C. power, which you get out of the battery into AC power, which is what you get out of hose outline.
Brogan: There are, it looks like portholes, or that’s not the right the word for it. What’s the word for these?
Brogan: Hatches, that’s the word. They are hatches that are going up to the deck from this room here.
Smith: Yeah. These are the controls for our water maker. Basically it takes saltwater and pump it at very high pressure through extremely fine membranes and make fresh water out of it. We don’t have to carry an enormous amount of water in our water tanks, we can just make it whenever we need it.
Brogan: You replace those filters often?
Smith: Yeah, couple of years.
Brogan: This is nice.
Smith: This is the aft cabin. This is where the officers live, that large one behind you there. That is the captain’s cabin. Depending on who’s working, whether it’s Ian or I, that’s our home while we are here. Back there, and back there are the first- and second-mate’s cabins. Here is one of the heads ...
Brogan: A little shower.
Smith: A little shower, hand-pumped toilet. This is called the butterfly hatch. Both of these lids open up. When someone gets hot, it’s very nice to just kind of have a fan going down here and have that open.
Brogan: This room looks like a skylight in the cabin itself. All the wood, beautiful, heavily varnished. Is that practical as well as aesthetic?
Smith: It is protection for it.
Brogan: There is a nice sheen on all the wooden surfaces to protect it.
Smith: Yeah. Anything in the marine environment is extremely harsh. Protecting the wood is a lot of what we work on. Also, we go through the sort of inner skeleton of the boat, and we, because Baltimore Harbor is blackish, it’s not full sod like the ocean, we actually put sodium borate down there, because saltwater is very good for wood, it pickles it, it preserves it. Ships on the Great Lakes, you’ll see them, sometimes they’ll take that salt that you get for your dry wave, and just dump it in the bilge so that saltwater in the bilge.
Brogan: Should we go up through here?
Smith: Yeah, this is the navigation table. As you can see ...
Brogan: You have radio here?
Smith: As you could see, we are pretty modern back here too. This is a chatting program.
Brogan: On a nice computer screen there.
Smith: Yeah. I’ll show you us. That’s us. What you are seeing here, that’s called AIS, “Automated Identification System,” I think. It gives you all the large commercial traffic, and the name of the ship, the direction it’s heading, the speed it’s going, how close it will come to you, so on and so forth. This is single-side band radio for communication way out in the ocean. That is a weather fax machine that will send you weather reports both in text and as, like, weather charts.
Brogan: You have this whole range of technology on board it seems like, from different eras, of fax machine, hand-crank pencil sharpener, but then there is also this advanced mapping system, and radios that look like they could be from 20 to 30 years ago, the range from the 19th century to the present.
Smith: I call it Smith’s first-love technology. Basically, as you pointed out, we have all this old stuff that’s been around for centuries, and we have the modern stuff, like fax machines and computers and water makers and so on. The law is, the ability of a given piece of technology to infuriate me is in inverse proportion to its age. All the old stuff works perfectly every time. All the stuff that breaks is the new stuff.
Brogan: Here is that sign, remember the jar of pennies.
Smith: Yes, there is the jar of pennies. This is one of my favorite pictures of the ship. This was taken as she was sailing out of Hawaii, as you could see, she’s rolling.
Brogan: This is fun. You OK there?
Smith: This is the steering wheel. The wheel turns kind of a gear drive, which you can sort of see there. That is ...
Brogan: They are really greasy.
Smith: That is the rudderpost sticking up there.
Brogan: Right now we are at the back of the ship. What’s the proper nautical term there?
Brogan: We are at the stern looking out. You are facing away from where you are going when you are working there?
Smith: You got to look where you are going. Actually that’s one of the more ...
Brogan: It’s not like a steering, then, in a car.
Smith: It’s one of the more common misconceptions, that every time we are sitting at the dock there’ll be people who come up to the steering wheel, because it’s mounted on this gearbox, which is behind it. People, they think they are looking at the dashboard of a car or something like that. So they will walk up to the wheel, and they’ll face exactly backwards when they grab the wheel. It’s like, man, battle is that way. It’s forgivable when we are sitting at the dock, but I’ve seen people do it, tearing along under sail, like, “Hey, can I steer?” We are obviously moving that way. They do the same thing. They face exactly the wrong way.
Brogan: You have some little, small guns on the sides here. Any of those functional at all?
Smith: Those two little ones are not. They are what’s called swivel guns. They once were functional but they got old, touchholes got corroded, and so we don’t fire them anymore. The three of them that you see there up toward the middle of the ship ...
Brogan: Those are rolling cannons.
Smith: Those do fire. We shoot blanks just to make noise. It is fun to sail into a harbor and round up close enough to the dock when you fire off the cannons—it sets off car alarms. It’s a kind of a more fun thing. In another job, and another type of sailing ship, we would do what were called battle sails, in that we had two ships, and we would try to maneuver in the ways that you would have with a sailing ship during a sea battle. It was challenging and fun. The largest one here, this is the main sail, and ...
Brogan: That’s enormous.
Smith: Right now we just have the, we have the lights rigged up.
Brogan: How high is this masthead?
Brogan: Almost as long as the vessel itself?
Smith: Exactly. As you could see, there is ... It’s called rig. You look up these masts and they are sort of tilted back. That’s called two-rigged mast. Many Chesapeake craft have that attribute, including the Baltimore Clippers and Pungy schooner like Lady Maryland, who lives over there and Skip Jacks and so on.
Brogan: What’s the function of that angled set up?
Smith: It is a subject of much debate. I could give you a synopsis of what I think is the most likely thing. It’s more accurate to think of ship design like an organism evolving, and there are mutations, some of them do nothing, some of them do something, some of them did something and stayed on for later on. What I think is going on with the mast rig, is in the early Colonial period, there was a great deal of timber around, there were trees all over the place, but cordage—rope—was at a premium.
If you are going to build a small, say, log canoe, and you are going to stick a mast in it. You get a great big tree and you’d stick it in and you’d have it leaning back, it would support itself a little better when you put load on it with a sail. Also, for the reasons of where you would step that mast and have the center of effort to sail, like balanced over where it needed to be in the boat, you would tilt the mast back.
I think over time that just sort of became, “This is how we do masts.” Because you couldn’t just take these masts and straighten them because it would force where the center of effort of the sail plan is. However, you could rig this boat, so the center of effort, the sail plane was the same, in the master straight, it would make no difference at all. I mean, it looks cool...
Brogan: It does look cool.
Smith: Baltimore Clippers are primarily fast because of their whole shape, which is skinny and a very narrow, short V, what’s called, in historical parlance, it was called sharp built. That’s the name that got thrown around when talking about these things.
This is our little rowboat. I am going to have fun rowing around St. George’s Harbor in Bermuda with a Dark ’n’ Stormy, when we get there.
This is another example of a new and old at the same time. This stuff is called Vectran, and it’s a space-age fiber that we are making our new running four stays out of. We’ve taken the space-age fiber, this line has a breaking strength of approximately 50,000 pounds.
Brogan: A lot of pounds.
Smith: We have parceled it and served it like they did back in the day. It looks like it belongs on a tall ship.
Smith: These on the side are life rafts. If the vessel were to sink out from underneath us, these things would float free and a hydrostatic release would inflate them. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen. Up here on that bow, this is the anchor windlass. This is the anchor chain. We use this to hull the anchor up. We use it especially when we travel, we do anchor quite a bit at night.
Looking aloft there, that is ... You could see the topsail yard, that’s what you were asking about before, whether people climbed up there. They most certainly do. You could see the foot ropes below the yard that they stand on to sort of lean over the yard like you see in paintings and stuff to frill the sail up.
Brogan: That is the ship. Thank you for the tour.
Smith: You are very welcome. Thank you for coming down.
Brogan: You are listening to Captain Jordan Smith. Next, he tells us how he and his crew keep the pride in peak condition. What are the main things you have to look after, what are the things that take you to home depot?
Smith: It’s all about, with a wooden vessel, you always have your eye out for rot. Pride had very, very good timber selected for her when she was built, and so we’ve had very minimal problems with that, but it’s a constant matter of keeping the wood coated. A lot of painting, a lot of varnishing, like all the deck seams are cocked with pitch, and every once in a while one spring will leak and then it has to be redone. It’s very much a constant refinishing effort that comes in waves, certainly we have time to do it, and you never really reach a finishing point, because by the time you reach the finishing point, it’s time to start at the beginning again.
Every year we hull the vessel out of the water. We take her down to Portsmouth, Virginia. Basically they have a cradle for us at this joint platform that picks the whole thing up. That’s when we paint the bottom, we re-cork hull seams as needed on kind of a rotating basis also. Although, of any wooden vessel that I’ve seen, this thing does not leak at all. We mapped the bilges out in the fall, came back and looked at them in spring, and there was nothing there.
Brogan: What are the maintenance tasks that you dread most, though?
Smith: I don’t dread them, they have to do it.
Brogan: That’s the prerogative of being captain, I suppose.
Smith: That’s right. Earlier in life when I had to do these kinds of things, and this was before people got smart about wearing dust masks and stuff, but working with the bottom paint can be kind of nasty, because you have to sand a portion of the old stuff off first, and it’s toxic, and it got nasty chemicals in it and pretty un-fun.
Brogan: You are smart about it now, certainly.
Smith: Yeah. Also, our engineer has to deal with this, but of course there are marine toilets and the pipes are smaller and they get clogged, and getting them unclogged is an extremely unpleasant task.
Brogan: I would imagine just using those toilets is not always a super-pleasant task. What about the actual sails themselves, what kind of maintenance goes into those?
Smith: The sails are made of the stuff that’s called Oceanus. It’s basically Dacron, it’s a polyester. It’s synthetic.
Brogan: Just like they had in the War of 1812.
Smith: Exactly, but it looks like canvas, except it doesn’t rot and it doesn’t mildew. A lot of the tall ships use them. There is always ... It just sort of depends on what they need. There is a certain amount of small repairs and restitching that goes on, usually during the winter.
Brogan: If they get a hole in them or something like that.
Smith: Exactly, and as needed over the course of summer. Usually, I probably get close on 10 years out of a sail. It varies depending on how much you use it, of course. We sail this vessel a lot, and that seems to be pretty much what we get.
Brogan: Do you keep extras on board?
Smith: Yeah, not for everything but we do have a couple of heavy-weather sails and things like that. The jib, for instance.
Brogan: What part of the sail is the jib, if you can just explain?
Smith: The jib is one of the sails. On this ship it’s the second one back. There is the jib tussle, then the jib, then the staysail, then the foresail, then the mainsail. Then the topsail is above that. The jib this past winter required a pretty significant repair. A company called Quantum Sails in Annapolis let me sort of use their floor space to repair the sail, which is very nice of them. Most of the time they just charge people for that, but because we are a nonprofit, and we are always hollering about how poor we are, they did that for us as a donation.
That involved much more significant effort. They had to pin the whole sail out and replace large portions of three panels. Like 20 or 30 square feet of it got replaced. As I had worked as a sailmaker for many years earlier in life, I sort of dusted off those skills and did that.
Brogan: There are, I assume, also a lot of ropes and cords and everything that have to be looked after.
Smith: Yeah, and that stuff like everything else, it has a service life too. The service life is related to how much it get used and how much strain it gets put under and stuff like that. It’s just a matter of constant monitoring. We have, one of the ship officers is called a bosun, B-O-S-U-N. It’s more bowdlerization of boatswain. On an old sailing ship they would take care of all the small craft and the rigging. That is what the job is, is doing rig inspections. She finds something that sets off an alarm bell she’ll show it to us. We will figure out what we are going to do with it.
Brogan: From your perspective, you’ve sailed modern ships as well, are there significant differences for you when you are captaining a boat like this one as opposed to one of those more modern vessels? In terms of your responsibilities and such, I suppose.
Smith: That’s the thing. We have all the modern stuff. We have computer charting and we have engines and we have a water maker. It’s got all the stuff. It just got an old-fashioned rig. As a sailing machine, Pride compares very favorably to modern boats. She’s high-powered and fast, by any standard at all. We don’t have a washing machine, and that’s a shame. The skills needed and the demands of the job are— they are not identical, but they certainly overlap a lot depending on what kind of vessel you are on.
Brogan: How does the Pride of Baltimore II of Baltimore fit into Baltimore itself? How much work do you do with and in relationship to the city?
Smith: This coming year we are spending ... The majority of the year will be spent in and around Baltimore. In part, that is out of a desire by the state government who ...
Brogan: Who is partially funding…
Smith: To work with us and do things around here. That can involve receptions for the governor. We do other stuff with the Port Authority. We do education programs in conjunction with Fort McHenry, history stuff obviously. We do public tours and sails mostly in the inner harbor, down where the Constellation is. Ever since the building of the first Pride of Baltimore, that has been part of the ship’s role is to be the people of Maryland’s ship, and the people of Baltimore’s ship, via those things.
Brogan: You are not from Baltimore originally, though?
Smith: I am not. I grew up in Long Island, New York, and I came to Maryland in 1990 to go to college. I went to St. Mary’s College, which is down in the southern tip of the state.
Brogan: Has being co-captain of the Pride of Baltimore given you a different perspective on the city or the state?
Smith: Yeah. I’ve never exactly ever been a pro-city kind of guy. I’ve got to say that Baltimore, it kind of grows on you as a place. Generally speaking, the atmosphere of Baltimore is a pretty ... As cities go, it’s a pretty low-key friendly kind of atmosphere. You could go have a beer in a bar and strike up a conversation easier here than you can in many other places I’ve been.
Brogan: Do you ever get to have a beer here on the ship, or is that…?
Smith: Yes, we do. Not when underway. When we are tied to the dock for the night, and everybody is done with work, then yes.
Brogan: What’s your favorite part about captaining a ship like this one?
Smith: First of all, in the world of tall ships, the Pride is one of the most famous and recognizable ones in the world. There is a great deal of pride that goes with that. I remember I saw this vessel for the first time in 1992. I was with my parents on our boat in New York Harbor. I think it was a tall ship event commemorating the 500th anniversary of Columbus. All the other ships from all over the world, they are all motoring into the harbor and going to their spots up along the Hudson and the East rivers to prepare for the parade the next day.
They are just motoring in and they are motoring in. Then the Pride comes in with every sail in the locker set, just whole in the mail. I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. So, just the opportunity to be the guy doing that is pretty good.
Brogan: It’s awesome. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us about your work and the ship today.
Smith: You are very welcome. Thank you for coming.
Brogan: It was a pleasure. Thank you so much.
* * *
Brogan: In this Slate Plus extra, captain Jordan Smith of the Pride of Baltimore II talks to us about racing the ship, explaining the combination of strategy and planning that goes into a successful competition. Can you lead us through the process of taking the Pride of Baltimore II out for a race, how does this start?
Smith: Sure. I could describe a race that we did last year on the Great Lakes. What they typically do, for these festivals, you have a bunch of these ships traveling from place to place. They view it as an excuse to have a race series, also. We did, I think five races, and we won three of them and won the series. Good example is we did a race from Bay City, Au Sable Point, which is kind of at the entrance to Saginaw Bay, up around the top of Michigan kind of to very near Mackinac Island was where the finish line was.
There were, I guess, six or seven other vessels in the race. The Niagara, which is a large tall ship that lives in Erie, Pennsylvania, and a few others. The day begins, the race would start at 11 o’clock and race preparation is all about just gathering data. Mainly about the weather, and getting the best idea you can of what the wind is going to do, when it’s going to do it, what direction it’s going to blow from, and so on.
The day kind of starts with gathering all of that stuff, and formulating a plan with how you are going to attack the navigational challenges of the race. This particular one, the wind was north of the start, and we are sailing north, so we are sailing upwind. It’s shifting into the west as time went on ... No, shifting into the east and all the way around to the south west. Basically, the wind direction went in three quarters of a circle.
Brogan: You are looking at weather reports to anticipate this stuff or are you just having to deal with it as it arises?
Smith: Kind of both. Sometimes particularly when it’s a large change like that. It’s kind of, it’s a little dodgy as to when exactly it will happen. You are always keeping your eyes open and you are just sort of trying to anticipate what’s going ... You gather the data and you use it to try to anticipate what’s going to happen, but when it happens, it happens anyway. We started the race ...
Brogan: Is there a cannon shot or something?
Smith: Yeah, there is like a 10-minute counter. They set up a starting line, and there is a 10-minute countdown with signal cannons. There is a gun at 10, a gun at five and a gun at the start. The idea is that it’s this imaginary line where, between two buoys, most often. You can’t be on the course side of that line before the gun goes off. The idea is that you want to hit the starting line as close to it as you can without going over it, going full speed, when that starting gun sounds.
Brogan: You are sort of cruising up to it, against…?
Smith: Yeah, and it’s a matter of timing, because if you mistime it and you are early, you’ve got to turn around and go back, which is not fast.
Brogan: Not a great turn radius, on a 120- or something-foot boat.
Smith: Yeah, we started the race, you are going to be sailing upwind, and basically, because of that large wind shift we, in anticipating we tacked and headed in-shore ...
Brogan: Tacking in this case means going at, shifting ...
Smith: Shifting, through the eye of the wind, so the sail shifts sides, because you can’t sail any sailing vessel directly into the wind. The most modern sailboats will sail through approximately 80 degrees or maybe a little less than that. This one is more like, sometimes as good as 90, but more often 100 degrees.
Brogan: That’s the angle that the sails are at?
Smith: Yeah, the wind direction is here, you could go that way or you can go that way. If I’m sailing toward you, it’s a matter of zigzagging back and forth.
Brogan: Are you as captain the one who is making those calls about how the sail should be positioned?
Smith: Yeah. We timed this business pretty well. We got in shore at the right time, because another thing you are counting on is what happens at night. During a summer day you’ll have what’s called a sea breeze where hot air rises over land, cool air from the water rushes in to replace it, so there is wind blowing onto the shore.
Then at night because the water temperature varies much less than the land temperature, the opposite effects happens. The lake in this case stays much closer to the same temperature, and so you have air blowing off the land and onto the lake. We had counted on that, and we dug way close in shore as we were going around the top of Michigan. The wind picked up and we took off at like 10 and 10 and a half knots.
Brogan: Knots are roughly equivalent to miles per hour?
Smith: Roughly, like 1.1 something. It’s a nautical mile per hour.
Brogan: Does that feel fast, 10 and a half knots?
Smith: It does.
Brogan: Because that wouldn’t feel fast in the car, but when you are cutting across the water it’s ...
Smith: It does. Our competition stayed too far out in the lake and did not get this land-breeze effect. By the following morning we were approximately 35 miles ahead.
Brogan: This is a long race.
Smith: Yeah, it’s a hundred and something miles. A hundred and, I don’t remember exactly, but 120 or so.
Brogan: You are just going without a rest throughout the whole thing?
Smith: Yeah. To run the ship we have what’s called watches. We split the crew into three groups. At any given time, one group is on watch, in other words, they are sailing the ship. One group is on standby, so if something has to happen they would be the ones who would get out of bed or go up and help. Then one group is off watch, and that just rotates. Typically, you are on watch for four hours, and you are off watch for eight, but you are on standby for four then. The captain does not stand to watch, I’m just sort of on call all the time. During a race, on a long motion passage I could just hang out and read a book, but during a race, I’m a lot more directly involved.
Brogan: You are on deck the whole time.
Smith: Not the whole time, but a lot of it.
Brogan: It sounds like this 12, 13, 14 hours’ stretch, that you are at this, is that ...
Smith: We were going 10 knots the whole time, unfortunately. This race took us slightly over 24 hours.
Brogan: You must have been pretty tired by the time it was over.
Smith: Then we went to Mackinac Island and had some fun.
Brogan: How much of what you are doing in these race conditions is about the way that you are sort of positioning yourself with regard to the other ships in the race, how important is that tactical component when you think about this?
Smith: It is extremely important, but it’s not everything. Being able to just sail fast and a lot goes into that. Some of that is skill, some of that is preparation of, make sure the bottom doesn’t have stuff growing out and things like that. The two things are related. The more of a speed advantage you have, the easier it gets to make those strategic decisions and the ... You don’t have to roll the hard six all the time if you are going faster than everybody. You could be strategically conservative because you have that advantage.
Sometimes it is a matter of who is willing to take the biggest risk, and it doesn’t matter how slow they are that the possibility exists game enough, sometimes that strategic concerns would outweigh everything, but more often it’s a combination of the two things.