Schooner Days 2011 - 026, 2011
One of the overlooked pleasures of living where we do is the annual Schooner Days celebration in Portsmouth, Virginia. I’m always disappointed that so few people get into this event. As such events go, this is arguably one of the more authentic parts of living along the Chesapeake Bay.
Schooner Days isn’t just some contrived festival for tourists. It’s actually the culmination of the annual Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race, which can be a pretty thrilling and treacherous sailing race down the Chesapeake Bay from Baltimore to Portsmouth. Last year’s race coincided with a nor’easter storm. Sailors, most of them on big old lumbering wooden boats, battled strong winds, heavy seas and lots of “green water over the bow.” For a race that can last as long as two days—this year’s winner came in at just over twenty-seven hours—last year’s sailors finally made it into Portsmouth later than ever and absolutely worn out.
Schooner Days 2011 - 035, 2011
This year they had much better weather, more favorable winds and friendlier seas. The thirty-nine boats that took part in this year’s race were all cleaned up and shipshape in time for crew members to get a little sleep before heading ashore for an afternoon of beer, barbecue and camaraderie. (All except, that is, the hearty young sailors from a Maine-based Outward Bound program, who had to watch the party from outside the tent because they are underage for alcohol consumption.)
Neither my wife nor I are very knowledgeable or confident sailors. But we’ve always enjoyed being around sailboats. They’re something intriguing about vessels built to use nature’s winds. Most of the boats in this year’s race were once working boats, hauling cargo up and down coastal waters. They’re the real thing, low, beamy and practical. This year’s race winner, America 2.0, on the other hand, is a thoroughly modern 106’ carbon fiber sailing ship that usually entertains tourists on the New York waterfront. What she lacks in authenticity, though, is neatly made up for by the elegant lines of her deep blue hull.
Schooner Days 2011 - 033, 2011
I don’t think there’s ever been a boat built that doesn’t require a lot of expense and maintenance. Wooden boats in particular are forever needing sanding, painting or any of a hundred other things done. Very few of the schooners taking part in this year’s race are privately owned. But I give this year’s sailors a lot of credit. Every one of the boats I looked at is in beautiful condition.
Schooner Days 2011 - 036, 2011