When the 100-foot Pride of Baltimore II is launched on Saturday, nearly two years will have passed since its namesake and four crewmembers disappeared in a flash of high wind and rain called a white squall.
After the sinking 240 miles north of Puerto Rico, the operators of the clipper-schooner weathered a critical report by federal safety investigators and the city debated whether to chance the sea again in a second Pride.The eight survivors of the sinking, who spent nearly five days in a partially inflated life raft ankle-deep in sea water, urged continuance of the Pride's mission of good will and promotion of Baltimore and Maryland.
So far, the state has contributed $1 million and the city $500,000 toward the $4.5 million cost of creating a new, safer ship. An additional $200,000 has come from individuals, whose outpouring of sympathy and enthusiasm for the Pride ultimately impelled the decision to rebuild.
In its voyages around the United States and abroad, the first Pride provided economic development officials with a lure for businesses and drew attention to the Inner Harbor, Baltimore's waterfront showpiece of urban revitalization.
Boston has its non-profit Spirit of Massachusetts, and California has a boat called the Californian, operated by a non-profit group that primarily offers sailing lessons.
Still, said Gail Shawe, executive director of the Pride of Baltimore Inc., the non-profit corporation that is building and will operate the ship, "The Pride really was the only vessel built with public dollars, owned by the public and used for a goodwill mission tied to economic development."
Her office is decorated with photographs of the original Pride sailing past a Danish castle and under the Tower Bridge in London.
The Inner Harbor has echoed with the hammer blows of 16 shipwrights as the longer, wider and more stable Pride II has taken shape.
Peter Boudreau, one of the Pride's rotating captains and builder of the new clipper, is eager for it to move beyond the sad shadow of its predecessor.
"It's not intentionally callous. I'm sure everybody has their private thoughts," said Boudreau, 33, who was building another ship May 18, 1986, when he listened in disbelief to news that the Pride and four of his colleagues were lost. "You really want to get on with things; do what you do best."
The shipbuilders, who have placed five good luck horseshoes around the hull and their workshops, are putting final touches on the ship, hammering cotton and oakum threads into the hull seams with mallets and chisels.
Following a computer-aided design, they've turned nearly 100 tons of Central American hardwoods and Douglas fir from the Pacific Northwest into masts, deck, hull and interior.
William A. Beasman, chairman of the Pride of Baltimore Inc., praised the workmanship.
"The artistry and skill in the keel, the knees they're absolutely works of art," he said. "When it's covered over, you don't see that work. There's not a boat built in the United States that can match the quality of that work."
In designing the Pride II, naval architect Thomas C. Gillmer carried on the sleek look and advanced rigging design of the Baltimore clipper-schooners, the first wholly American-designed vessels. For port arrivals, departures and special occasions, the ship will fire six-pound cannons and swivel guns like those carried by Chesapeake Bay clippers that ran British blockades in the War of 1812.
Unlike the first Pride, the new ship has been fitted with a second diesel motor. Coast Guard regulations mandate that as a passenger-carrying vessel, the new ship must contain watertight bulkheads, which weren't required on its predecessor. Their absence contributed to the Pride's rapid flooding after it tipped in the fierce wind, according to the Coast Guard.
Pride II is 92 feet long at waterline, compared with 76 feet on the original, and 3 feet wider at the beam. It's heavier, too, displacing 185 tons compared to the original ship's 123. "It's going to take more wind to make this boat keel over that far," said Boudreau.
Two years before the sinking, a Coast Guard-commissioned study determined the ship was unstable and prone to tip. The study said the Pride would lose stability once it tipped more than 30 degrees from upright, would begin to flood at 53 degrees and would not be able to right itself once it reached 76 degrees.
The squall knocked the Pride on its side within 20 seconds, and it sank within 2 minutes, crew members said.
After the 1986 tragedy, Shawe said, board members shied from a replacement project as they coped with "guilt, a sense of responsibility. It was our decision that put that boat out there and four people lost their lives."
When the decision to rebuild was made, safety was the top consideration, she said.
In a report on the sinking, the National Transportation Safety Board criticized the Pride organization for sailing an uninspected vessel.
"We weren't trying to sneak into some loophole. They (the Coast Guard) had no reason to inspect the boat," Shawe said, explaining that only ships that carry passengers or cargo must undergo Coast Guard inspection.