Shallop arrives in Eastport today, going to City Dock Saturday

By PAMELA WOOD
Staff Writer

Day 61 of the Capt. John Smith-inspired Chesapeake Bay exploration went much as the rest of the voyage has: slowly.

Whether they’re powered by oar or by sail, the dozen adventurers aboard a replica of Smith’s boat barely move faster than a leisurely stroll.

On their trip from Thomas Point Park to Eastport yesterday, it took nearly three hours to go 6 miles.

Crew member Liz Schale looked up from her Sudoku puzzle book and said, “People think it’s high adventure.”

Capt. Ian Bystrom added, “But we’re barely moving. Boredom is always an issue.”

So goes life on the “shallop,” as the crew members criss-cross the Chesapeake Bay in the spirit of Smith, the first European to explore and document the area.

Smith and his men from the fledgling Jamestown colony in Virginia set out in search of Native Americans to trade with and also the famed (but nonexistent) Northwest Passage.

Smith’s writings are legendary – he wrote of oysters the size of dinner plates and fish so thick he caught them with a frying pan – and his maps guided the way for settlers through much of the 1600s.

His work not only shaped bay life back then, but also inspires and educates people today who are trying their best to restore the nation’s largest estuary.

Next year marks the 400th anniversary of Smith’s voyages around the bay. Inspired by Smith, a nonprofit organization on the Eastern Shore called Sultana Projects built a replica of the 28-foot wooden “shallop” Smith used in 1608.

At the 400th birthday celebration for Jamestown in May, the shallop and its young crew started their 121-day journey around the bay.

Their main mission is educational. Along the way, the shallop stops at festivals, where the crew sets up extensive exhibits and talks with visitors.

The next stop is in Annapolis this weekend, with Gov. Martin O’Malley helping to row the shallop from Eastport around to City Dock at 10 a.m. Saturday. It will be on display from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

They often answer the same questions: How do you go to the bathroom? (Answer: In a bucket.) Why are there women on board, when Smith’s crew was all men? (Answer: Because this is a modern voyage.)

In addition to talking about life on the boat, crew members try to engage visitors with history and ecology, talking about how today’s degraded bay is much different from Smith’s pristine bay.

They also talk about how it is that people who live around the bay are contributing to its woes.

“People don’t realize that for all intents and purposes, the Chesapeake Bay goes up to New York,” said Forrest Richards. “The whole concept of a watershed is difficult for people to grasp initially.”

They also hope to promote the Capt. John Smith National Historic Water Trail, which is under development as the first national trail on the water.

The folks on the shallop also are taking full advantage of modern technology to get the word out. A Web site (www.johnsmith400.org) tracks the shallop’s path and has links to journals, photos and videos that crew members transmit from the shallop.

A device automatically samples water every half-hour for a battery of tests such as oxygen, pH, turbidity and algae. The data is fed to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Learning, traveling

Despite the problems of the bay – algae blooms that suck life-sustaining oxygen, sediment that clouds the water – the shallop crew has found much to admire about the Chesapeake.

“There are still places that are well preserved,” Capt. Bystrom said, recalling a journey down the Eastern Shore’s Nanticoke River. “You can go down that river for long periods and not see anything.”

Crew members have counted 71 species of birds. Ospreys and bald eagles are so common that a sighting is no longer a big deal. They’ve spotted dolphins and rays, and even deer swimming in the water.

Other highlights along the way have been meeting hard-working watermen, experiencing the kindness of strangers and being so close to the water for hours on end. And the swimming breaks are nice, too, they say.

When the sails are up, there’s little work for the crew to do. So they pass the time by reading (“Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” is a recent favorite) and debating questions like how to build the ideal superbeing using animal attributes – osprey vision or gorilla hands, for example.

They also sing bad versions of rock songs, such as “Come Sail Away” by Styx.

Crew members were drawn to the summer job on the shallop for a variety of reasons. They’ve bonded into a quirky sort of shallop family as the weeks have passed.

They’re all in their 20s and 30s and share a sense of adventure. Many have experience with sailing, rowing or outdoor education. Some have crewed on other historic ships. A few are from the bay area – Bowie, Baltimore, the Eastern Shore – but the rest are from all over the country.

Ashley Maloney said she joined up for the personal challenge of living and working on a boat.

“I’m learning a lot about history,” she said. “I’d never be able to travel this much.”

The only trouble for the crew: Once the journey ends in Jamestown on Sept. 8, they all have to find new jobs.

Published 07/12/07, Copyright © 2008 The Capital, Annapolis, Md.

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