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The Sinking of the Pride Of Baltimore : A Modern Day Tragedy At Sea

Updated on January 8, 2012
A drawing of a typical topsail schooner from the early 19th century.
A drawing of a typical topsail schooner from the early 19th century.

The Original "Pride of Baltimore"

Tall ships have a long and distinguished history in America. After all, the first Europeans arrived in the New World on tall ships. The colonies grew with immigrants who braved the daring Atlantic crossing in order to start new lives free from the oppression of their homeland. The first trade routes between Europe, the Americas, and Africa were forged by those great beasts of wood and sail. Wars were fought from the decks of tall ships, and their cannons thundered across the water. America was created by the forces of wind on canvas and those who braved the sea.

In the War of 1812, one particular tall ship, the Baltimore built schooner Chasseur, earned its fame by harassing british merchant ships in the British Isles. This forced King George III to recall ships from the British Royal Navy away from the United States. In all, the Chasseur sank or captured 17 ships. Upon her return, the Chasseur and her crew were dubbed "The Pride of Baltimore" and became a legend.

Commissioning of a Legend

In 1975, over a hundred and fifty years after the heroic actions of the Chasseur, the city of Baltimore decided to revitalize its Inner Harbor. As part of the plan, the city commissioned a replica of a historical Baltimore Clipper using only the tools and techniques authentic to the early 19th century. For 10 months people could watch as craftsmen labored over the hull, recreating the sights and sounds of Baltimore Harbor over 200 years ago.

When she was launched, she was named the Pride of Baltimore and was owned by the citizens and city. Her missions was to be an ambassador of the state, encourage tourism, and teach the rich maritime history of the early United States. In her 9 years of service, she sailed over 150,000 nautical miles, sailing as far away as the Baltic and Mediterranean sea.

The Pride of Baltimore was 90ft long, 23 feet wide, and displaced 129 tons. She was by no means a small vessel. Carrying a crew of 12, she carried out her peacetime mission valiantly - and living up to her name - with pride.

Pride of Baltimore II with full sails.
Pride of Baltimore II with full sails.

Tragedy At Sea

Even in modern days, sailing can be a dangerous past time. Not all who sail upon the briny deep return to solid land, and the sea has claimed many of the vessels that once sailed upon her.

On May 14th, 1986, the Pride of Baltimore and her crew were returning home from Britain, following one of the historical trade routes to the Caribbean. Only 250 miles from Puerto Rico, the ship was suddenly hit with violent winds which apparently came out of nowhere. This phenomenon is known as a "white squall" because none of the dark clouds normally associated with a squall are present. A white squall is a rare event upon the ocean, and very hard, if not impossible, to predict or see coming. Within seconds, 80mph gusts of wind heeled the Pride of Baltimore over and 20ft waves swept across her decks. She sank in a matter of minutes.

Of the twelve crew members, 4 went down with the ship. Armin Elsaesser 42, Captain; Vincent Lazarro, 27, Engineer; Barry Duckworth, 29, Carpenter; and Nina Schack, 23, Seaman. These souls remind us that even in the modern era, the sea is still the master ...

The remaining 8 crew survived in a partially inflated life raft for 4 days and 7 hours before the Norwegian tanker Toro recovered them.

A memorial was created for those lost in this tragedy in Baltimore Harbor.

The Rebirth of the Pride

Only 2 years after the sinking of the Pride of Baltimore, the city commissioned a second ship to carry out and honor the mission of the original. Named the Pride of Baltimore II, this second ship was created with contemporary attention to seaworthiness and comfort. However, she is still a replica of a historical Baltimore Clipper.

For over 20 years now, the Pride of Baltimore II has carried out its original mission - to promote maritime history, encourage tourism, and honor those lost at sea during the age of sail. She continues to sail to tall ship festivals around the world every year. In 2010, the ownership of the vessel passed from the citizens of Baltimore to the company which crews and maintains her, but her mission hasn't changed. All who view her are awestruck by the awesome beauty and power of these magnificent vessels.

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