Commentaries

Downtown View: Doing Nothing At Sea

When Hampshire House owner Tom Kershaw invited me to join him on the square-rigged, 122-foot schooner Lynx, based in Nantucket and St. Petersburg, Florida, at Saturday’s Parade of Sail, I immediately said yes. Journalists often get to do something special—once I walked the entire Big Dig tunnel while it was under construction, and I’m still jealous of my colleague who explored the part of Hanover Street still extant under City Hall Plaza.

Tom was able to invite about 40 guests to join him in the parade because he has been a long-time board member of Sail Boston. He has a special relationship with the Lynx, built in 2001 based on a privateer of the same name that participated in the War of 1812. His charity, Cheers for Children, has supported the Lynx’s sailing instruction and history programs, but are really providing kids a potentially life-changing experience. Three members of the Peacock family, who run the programs, were on board. Donald Peacock said sailors in his family go back to the early 1800s.

We arrived at the ship about 6 a.m. It was a good thing we got there early. Fan Pier no longer looks like the old Fan Pier, and without Anthony’s, Pier Four no longer looks like Pier Four. But we found the ship, climbed aboard and enjoyed a leisurely day, starting with coffee as we watched the crew ready the ship for a sail.

Most of the guests were long-time friends of Tom. A television crew led by meteorologist Cindy Fitzgibbon of Channel Five set up their equipment to broadcast all day, but no beauty shots were to be had.

The water was glassy, but fog enclosed the ship so tightly that we could only hear the airplanes taking off above our heads. We never did see them. About 8 a.m. the ship left the dock and joined a line headed for the outer harbor. When we passed the large Navy ship anchored near the Reserved Channel, a crew member stuffed the small cannon with a ball of explosives and bread—why the bread I never understood—and fired it at the Navy ship. It was a salute, but it also could have been a hostile act. The Navy, thankfully, did not return fire.

During most of our journey we could barely see the ship ahead of us or the one behind. A fine mist pelted our faces. Tom’s friend Lindy distributed thin plastic rain ponchos adorned with the Cheers logo.

The sea became rambunctious, making it difficult to maintain footing unless you were holding on. But the fog lifted somewhat, and the sea took on that glassy look again. The crew raised the sails, with one female crew member climbing to the top of the mast to do some adjusting and all the others heaving and hauling the lines to secure the unfurled sails in their rightful places.

We were sitting on wet wood, but it was not cold. The sea was not emitting that wonderful briney, fishy, kelpy fragrance that northern seas can achieve. Police boats flew through the water, slapping the waves as they bounced. There were few bird sounds, few clanks on what was mostly a wooden ship, and a low drone of motors. The major noise continued to be that of airplanes landing and taking off.

At one point, a Boston Whaler, the Annie Laurie, roared up to our ship. We paid no attention until a police boat roared even faster and megaphoned the Annie Laurie to get away from the Lynx. Oh. Security.

Land came into view as the fog lifted more, and we saw we were lingering, waiting for the delayed parade to begin, with all the other ships spread out between Nahant and south of Boston Light.

Gradually most of the ships began to raise their sails. About 10:30 a.m. our ship’s guests started to delve into big coolers, bringing out sandwiches and hummus dip. Soon we heard the parade had begun. We hung around for an hour or so though because we were in the ninth flotilla. Our lead ship would be the three-masted Gulden Leeuw, or Golden Lion when translated from the Dutch. We would sail in tandem with the smaller Ardelle.

The sail into the inner harbor, the turn-around and the return to our dock were accompanied by a few more cannon firings and the remarkable sight of sailors in uniform standing on the yards of the barque Guayas.

We docked and shed our sea legs as we walked into the crowds along the Harbor Walk, all the while thinking of the talk we’d heard on board.

This spectacle is expensive. Ships pay for crews, food, gasoline and all else that enables them to sail across oceans. Such groups as Sail Boston give ships “honorariums” so they can afford to participate.

It was reported, unverified, that Mayor Walsh has said this is the last time Boston will put on this extravaganza. The security costs are too high. Given the many police officers we encountered on land and the many police boats on patrol, we could see why this would worry a mayor who has housing to build and schools to support.

So maybe you should get yourself down to the harbor to enjoy a free boarding of these ships. It isn’t certain that they’re coming back.


Downtown View is a column by newspaperwoman Karen Cord Taylor who founded The Beacon Hill Times in 1995 and served as its editor and publisher until late 2007. She also founded and served as editor and publisher of the Charlestown Patriot-Bridge and The Back Bay Sun weeklies. Karen now works from her home in downtown Boston and blogs at BostonColumn.com. Please feel free to leave responses in the comments section below.