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October 18, 2008

y Jim Washington
The Virginian-Pilot
© October 18, 2008

PORTSMOUTH

Two historic-replica schooners heaved through the chill and wind on the Chesapeake Bay as midnight approached.

One would surge ahead, then the other would catch up, back and forth for hours.

Bragging rights were on the line as the crews of the Pride of Baltimore II and the Schooner Virginia battled for the finish line of The Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race.

The race ended Friday at Thimble Shoals off Hampton - 127 nautical miles and a few breakdowns after its start Thursday afternoon off Fells Point in Baltimore.

The Baltimore and the Virginia, along with a record number of fellow competitors, docked at the Portsmouth waterfront throughout the day Friday.

"We were within a boat length of each other for hours," Pride of Baltimore Captain Jan C. Miles said Friday morning. "The crews enjoyed it immensely."

The Baltimore and Virginia will be docked in Portsmouth over the weekend, hosting educational programs; other activities also will be going on along the waterfront Saturday.

The Woodwind out of Annapolis was second over the finish line at about 6:40 a.m., despite ripping a spinnaker.

"The wind started pretty slow, but then it kept building and building and building," said Woodwind Captain Jennifer Brest, flags snapping in the breeze behind her.

This is the 16th year in the race for the Woodwind, a family business for Brest and her parents.

"The race is a lot of fun, but it's even more fun to see all the people who have become like family to us over the years," she said. "This is basically our family reunion every year."

Organizer Al Roper strolled up to tell Brest that the When and If, a boat once owned by Gen. George S. Patton, was docking next to her.

"And there's a cute mate on board," Roper informed her.

The mood was light as sailors caught up, swapped stories and cracked open a few early cold ones.

The race started 19 years ago as a challenge from Captain Lane Briggs of the Norfolk Rebel to the Baltimore vessel. The event has raised more than $104,000 for educational programs of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, according to organizers. Briggs died in 2005.

"I still get a tear in my eye at the starting line every year," Brest said.

So who won? In 2007, the Virginia took the victory and set a speed record, but it wasn't to be this year.

"It was just after midnight when their captain got on the radio and basically said, 'Fun's over,' " said Miles, captain of the Baltimore. "It was the end of the jousting."

The Virginia's gaff, a wooden pole or spar at the bottom of one of the sails, had broken. As the ship limped into Portsmouth hours later, the Virginia crew paid tribute to the Baltimore with hearty cheers of "hip, hip, hooray."

Jim Washington, (757) 446-2536, jim.washington@pilotonline.com

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