Monday, October 13, 2014

The 25th Annual Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race

October 13-19, 2014
 From Baltimore, Maryland, to Portsmouth, Virginia

Schooners underway at the beginning of the
Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race.
There are schooners here, there and just about everywhere participating in the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race (GCBSR). The 25th annual race begins Thursday, October 16th on the south side of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge near Annapolis, Maryland. The schooners race throughout the afternoon and night into the next day to their designated finish line. For classes A and AA, the finish is an east-west line at Thimble Shoal Light and classes B and C finish at Windmill Point. Then they proceed on to docking in Portsmouth, Virginia along the quaint historic seaport's basins and seawall.

Schooners rafted together at the High Street Landing at the end
of the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race. Photo by Joe Elder.
With 34 entries in this year's race represented from all around the Chesapeake Bay and as far away as Key West, Florida, they'll be schooners of all types and sizes for you to view. The schooners will be on view in Portsmouth's North and High Street Landings as well as along the Olde Towne riverfront. Some may be available at times for boarding and tours. Make sure to bring your camera along for this is surely a  great photographic opportunity.

A. J. Meerwald under sail during the
Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race. Photo by Allen Graves.

Plan to spend the day and take in all that Olde Towne Portsmouth, Virginia has to offer. This is a great time to stroll along our historic High Street corridor and visit our exceptional antique shops, art galleries and unique specialty stores found in Olde Towne. Have a great lunch or dinner in one of our chef and family owned restaurants, sports bars and pubs...there's plenty to choose from and you'll definitely find one to your liking.

Figurehead of the Schooner "Lady Maryland." Photo by Joe Elder.

Schooner racing on the Chesapeake Bay is rooted in the trade rivalry between Baltimore, Maryland, at the northern end of the Bay, and Portsmouth/Norfolk, Virginia, at the southern end. The fastest sailing vessels delivered goods and people to their destinations and often garnered the best price for their cargo by beating slower schooners into port. Over the years, commercial schooner designs evolved for the bay's routes — taking into consideration shallow waters, local crops and regional needs, with speed being a primary concern to beat competitively loaded vessels into port. These schooners also played a critical role in our nation's early wars. While there are no cargo-hauling schooners now working the Bay, there are a considerable number of schooners still in use as cruising vessels and privately owned boats.

Schooners and rigging dominate the view at the High Street Landing,
 Olde Towne Portsmouth, Virginia. Photo by Joe Elder.

In 1988, when the City of Baltimore launched her flagship modeled on those earlier vessels, Captain Lane Briggs of the Tugantine Norfolk Rebel — the world's only sail-powered schooner-rigged tugboat — challenged the Pride of Baltimore II to a race from Baltimore to Norfolk, reviving an historic rivalry between schooners, captains and cities on the Bay. With the challenge accepted, the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race (GCBSR) was born.

In 1990, a weekend in October was set aside for what had become an annual event, and yacht clubs at the northern and southern ends of the race volunteered to support the schooners and crews in their efforts.

"Mystic Whaler" sails into Baltimore before the race begins. Photo by Joe Elder.

Over the 25 years of the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race, there have been some incredible races with schooners going to the wire to win. Harsh weather conditions in some of the races have tested the mettle of the vessels, crews and captains. As many as 56 schooners have signed up for a single race, and more than 150 — with vessels from as far away as California - have enjoyed the fall race on the Bay. The 2007 race was the fastest race in this long series. With strong following winds, several schooners set new records for both elapsed and corrected time. The schooner Virginia set a new time to beat of 11 hours, 18 minutes and 53 seconds, beating the previous record of 12 hours, 57 minutes and 51 seconds set by Imagine...! in the 2005 GCBSR.

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