Schooner AJ Meerwald

Historic Chesapeake Bay Schooner sets sail in annual Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race

Being a licensed Captain is a great source of pride to me. I have enjoyed working with my clients as well as pursuing other commercial opportunities like relief captain jobs on various schooners, water taxi and tow boat jobs, and tour boat and ferry captain work.

Recently I penned an article on several positions that one could pursue while being a licensed Captain. One that I did not mention was Relief Captain. That is, sometimes the master of a vessel needs a stand-in or substitute for any number of reasons. About the same time that article was published, I was invited to apply for a Relief Captain position aboard the Schooner A.J Meerwald.

The experience of training for the job of Relief Captain on the A.J. Meerwald has been one of the most exciting and rewarding opportunities that I have had as licensed Captain.

History of the Schooner Meerwald

AJ Meerwald SchoonerThe A.J Meerwald was built in 1928 at the Charles H. Stowman & Sons Shipyard in Dorchester, NJ. She was built as a Delaware Bay Oyster Schooner, one of hundreds working the waters of lower Delaware Bay at that time. Now there are barely a handful of these elegant vessels still capable of getting underway. The Meerwald had her own history of downturns and reincarnations.

Commandeered by the Maritime Commission under the War Powers Act in 1942, she was converted into a fire boat. After the war, she was returned to the Meerwald family who put her back into service as an oyster dredge but left her as a power vessel. She was later sold to Clyde Phillips who renamed her after himself. Ownership changed and her catch shifted from oysters to clams.

In 1988, she was gifted to the Bayshore Center Project in Bivalve, NJ and she began a lengthy restoration that restored her original lines and rig. Rechristened the A.J. Meerwald, she was launched anew in 1995. She is 85 feet on deck and has a sparred length overall of 115 feet. She draws 6 feet with the center board up and 12 feet with it down. She is registered at 57 tons.

Governor Christine Whitman of New Jersey declared the Meerwald the State Tallship of New Jersey in 1998. Today she rides to her lines with a sleek elegance that bespeaks the era in which she was built.

Capt. Briggs and the Crew

sailing AJ MeerwaldI first went aboard the Meerwald on Father’s Day Weekend at the invitation of Capt. Jesse Briggs. I was made to feel welcome immediately by him and his crew.

A generally quiet man, Capt. Briggs is a respected mariner in his own right with a family history of maritime endeavors that would make any sailor proud. Prior to joining the Bayshore Center, Jesse worked with other historical and educational based organizations like the Galveston Historical Foundation and South Street Seaport. He has hired a crew of dedicated young adults who are complemented by an energetic and willing staff of capable volunteers. Capt. Briggs is clearly the Master of his vessel in all respects.

Capt. Jesse’s late father, Lane Briggs, was a famous personality in Norfolk marine circles. He designed and built an auxiliary sail driven tugboat named the Norfolk Rebel that he described as a “tugatine”. Capt. Jesse’s brother, Steve, now owns and operates the Rebel continuing the family tradition.

The Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race

Capt. Lane’s other legacy is the annual Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race (GCBSR). The GCBSR is the largest point to point schooner race in the world. The race has kept schooner sailing alive on the Chesapeake Bay. To see the fleet heading south to Portsmouth recalls a past that most of us have never known.

Perhaps more importantly, the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race has raised over $75,000 for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation since 1990.

Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race

The race is more than just a race. There is a gathering of tallships and schooners in Baltimore Harbor before the race. All vessels can be viewed dockside and some offer a hands-on learning experience for Baltimore area students.

The schooners will be in Baltimore as early as October 10 through the night of October 12, 2016.

The boats shove off early on the morning of the 13th to get in position for the start of the race off Annapolis below the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. The start time is scheduled for 1:30 PM on Thursday, October 13. The race ends in Portsmouth, VA the next day.

Most of the schooners will take about 20-24 hours to run the course. Then there will be a repeat of the dockside activities in Portsmouth.

The A.J. Meerwald is offering berths to passengers for all legs of her journey…from Bivalve NJ to Baltimore, during the race, and then the return leg to Bivalve. Contact the Bayshore Center Project for more information.

I plan to be aboard for the race portion. Perhaps I will meet you aboard!

Capt. Rob Chichester offers domestic and offshore sailing vacations and crewed yacht charters through Chesapeake Flotillas, LLC. Training and yacht relocation services are also available. Capt. Rob is currently training to be a Relief Captain on the Schooner A.J. Meerwald of Bivalve, NJ. For more information on any of this, visit www.chesapeakeflotillas.com.

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Capt. Rob is an engineer and owner & operator of Chesapeake Flotillas offering charters, instruction, and vessel relocation. A USCG Licensed Master, Capt. Rob has planned and executed flotilla cruises all over the Chesapeake Bay, Europe, and the Caribbean. Rob holds a 200-Ton Master's license with Auxiliary Sail and Assistance Towing endorsements. He also is certified by the American Sailing Association to teach Basic Keelboat Sailing, Basic Coastal Cruising, and Bareboat Chartering. A self-proclaimed sailor & poet, he operates a 41-foot sloop Bay Poet based out of Rock Hall, MD.

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