Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race
Schooner racing on the Chesapeake Bay is rooted in the trade rivalry between Baltimore, at the northern end of the Bay, and Portsmouth/Norfolk, VA, 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 other 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.
In 1988, when the City of Baltimore launched her flagship (Pride of Baltimore II) modeled on those
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 was born.
By 1990 a weekend in October had been set aside for the event sponsored by Fells Point Yacht Club in Baltimore and the brand-new Town Point Yacht Club in Norfolk, founded to support the race. Ever since
then, the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race is held on the same week as the Columbus Day holiday and is scheduled to start right after the Annapolis Boat Show. This schedule is designed to attract vessels making their seasonal migration south and the potential for hurricane-season weather always adds
excitement to the outcome, sometimes requiring a shortened course. The event kick-off id the weekend before the race in Baltimore, with FPYC members coordinating a “Dingy Race”, with blindfolded rowers. Wednesday, of race week begins with an educational component for school aged children, and then a parade of sail through the Inner Harbor. The evening continues with the “All Hands Party,” a friendly gathering for sponsors and participants (all four to six hundred of them), which is sponsored by the Fells Point Yacht Club.
With the growth of the event and the resulting focus on these vintage sailing craft, the organizers and sponsors elected soon after the start of the event to maximize the value of the Race in very special ways. The Race brings focus to the maritime traditions of schooners on the Chesapeake and brings focus to the environmental issues facing the Chesapeake. All net proceeds of the Race are donated to support youth education efforts aimed at saving the Bay. This is why The Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race is proud to say that we are “Racing to Save the Bay!”
Pride of Baltimore II
Norfolk Rebel Captain Lane Briggs