Working: How does Jordan Smith, co-captain of the Pride of Baltimore II, work?

How Does a Schooner Captain Work?

How Does a Schooner Captain Work?

What do you do all day?
June 5 2017 10:40 AM

How Does a Schooner Captain Work?

This experienced sailor explains how you keep an old-school ship in peak condition.

Schooner Captain
Jordan Smith.

Jacob Brogan

This season on Working, we took a trip to Baltimore to chat with some of the city’s residents about how they make their livings there. We were hoping to learn a little about the ways Baltimore shapes their work—and the ways they’re shaping Baltimore by working.

Listen to this episode of Working with special guest Jordan Smith:

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“I’ve only come close to being seasick once. And that was on a race on a modern boat,” Jordan Smith tells us in this episode of Working.

Today, Smith serves as co-captain of a very different kind of ship, the Pride of Baltimore II, a recreation of an 1812-style schooner. For this episode, which you can listen to via the player above, we headed out to the Baltimore docks to visit Smith on the ship to learn what that unusual job entails—and how his ship fits into the city from which it borrows part of its name.

Smith grew up in what he describes as a “sailing family” that put him on boats from the age of 6 months on. Over the years, he developed an intimate familiarity with sailboat racing, a complex sport that only gets more complicated when you’re engaging in it with a boat as large as the 157-foot-long Pride of Baltimore.

And though they do race the ship, Smith and his crew also spend a great deal of their time protecting its bones against the harsh marine environment. “As the captain of the ship, one of the things is just keeping everything going. I feel like I spend more time in Home Depot than is entirely proper,” he tells us. But he explains that his position is also managerial: There, however, he takes “an upper-tier supervisory” role, since much of the day-to-day wrangling of the crew falls to the first mate.

His elevated role also means that he gets to avoid some of the more unpleasant tasks these days, including climbing the masts. “I dislike going aloft,” he tells us. “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, you know?”

Despite the ship’s old-fashioned trappings, its crew employs plenty of up-to-date equipment when they’re underway: Giving us a tour of the ship, Smith pointed out computers and modern mapping systems along the way. Nevertheless, he also shares what he calls his “first law of technology”: “The ability of a given piece of technology to infuriate me is in inverse proportion to its age.” One item that he wishes they had on board, though? A washing machine.

Then in a Slate Plus extra, Smith talks about the combination of preparation and strategy that goes into racing a tall ship like the Pride of Baltimore II. If you’re a member, enjoy bonus segments and interview transcripts from Working, plus other great podcast exclusives. Start your two-week free trial at Slate.com/workingplus.