On Friday, October 28, 2016, a skeleton crew of the S/V Bay Poet, boarded her in Rock Hall, MD, for our final voyage of the season. I was given a heads up by the skipper to arrive by 1500 because the tall ships would be visiting near by Chestertown, perhaps we could visit New Jersey's official tall ship, the A.J. Meerwald, a 115 foot, 57 ton restored oyster dredging vessel launched in 1928.
Cap'n Rob has been in training on the Meerwald this year as a relief captain. Recently he participated in the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race, starting Thursday, Oct 13, just south of the Bay Bridge to Portsmouth, VA. Upon completion of the race in Portsmouth, amid the celebratory hoopla, Rob couldn't help but notice that in a throng of 200 or more participants he was the only person of color present.
As we pursued this discussion, we rejoined that we know black sailors from coast to coast, but only two are certified to captain a tall ship, Rob and Bill Pinkney. Bill, of course, is the first black sailor to single-handedly circumnavigate the globe.
On Friday evening as planned, we went aboard the Meerwald to meet Rob's crew members and wander about the decks, what a wonder! Antique wooden schooners require frequent maintenance and periodic restoration, which is generally a labor of love, far beyond the scope of maintenance on modern day marine vessels. We learned about the Maryland Emancipation Day Program scheduled the next day, Saturday afternoon, at 1600 hours. We adjusted our float plan accordingly such that we could attend.
Saturday was a terrific day for sailing on the Bay, wind gusts up to 24-26, mph, propelling us frequently above 8 knots. We were back in port in time to drive the short distance to Chestertown. When we arrived at the historic Sumner Hall, one of two remaining structures in the U.S. built for African American Veterans of the Civil War. We arrived before the appointed hour, Rob, Chef Theresa and me. We were directed to our seats on the front row...the front row? Then another surprise, Rob and I were invited to join the panel for the discussion on African American Watermen. My colleague, Rob Chichester, Captain of the Bay Poet, relief Captain of the A. J. Meerwald, instructor of coastal navigation and seamanship, principal of Chesapeake Flotillas, LLC was up for the task at hand.
Admittedly, we brought a slightly different and, if I may say, a contemporary view to the panel. The Watermen of yore plied the Chesapeake Bay and the Delaware River. As the motto of Chesapeake Flotillas indicates; Around the Bay or Around the World, the crew of Bay Poet has sailed the waters of the Caribbean; the Adriatic Sea and the waters of Croatia; the Aegean Sea and the Greek Isles; a French canal cruise last month; Italy next year and Germany in the planning stages.
Also on the program was Robert Earl Price, Artistic Director, Sumner Hall, an award winning playwright, screen writer and poet; artist in residence, Drama Department, Washington College; resident playwright 7 Stages Theater, Atlanta, GA; and the dynamic acappella duo of Ms. Irene Moore and Ms. Mary Henson. As the Executive Director, Nina Johnson, says; African American history is everybody's history. I second that emotion and say that the African American experience/history is an integral part of the history of this country.
I know I express the sentiments of the crew of Bay Poet, that we felt honored to be invited to be participants in this historic recognition of the contributions of our Eastern Shore African American ancestors.
So goes another day in the lives of this illustrious crew. New horizons new friends. Some follow the Sun. We follow the wind.
Send email to the author. Click here.