Posted by: wrmcnutt | July 17, 2009

A Sail on the Tall Ship “Pride”

The Tall Ship "Pride"
The Tall Ship “Pride”

On my last trip to Charleston, South Carolina, I decided to do something I’d wanted to do for a long time:  sail in a tall ship.  Like most natives, when I was a resident of the greater Charleston area, I failed to take advantage of the many opportunities to see and do that my hometown offered, and one thing that I’d never done was take a harbor tour.  My sister, ever the organizer, had, among her many folders, a flyer for the sailing tour boat Pride. 

I suppose the first thing out of the gate would be to say that we had a great time, I, of course, as the wannabe sailor, had the best time, but my wife liked being on the boat, seeing the pelicans and dolphins, and, of course, the beer.  The Pride boasts, among her other amenaties, a cash bar.  My sister also had a good time, enjoying seeing the city from a new perspective, as she’d never been on a harbor tour either.

Waiting for us at the dock

Waiting for us at the dock

The first thing to note about the Pride, though, is that she does not sail from the Cruise Ship Terminal.  Nor does she sail from the Maritime Center.  Nor sail from where the Fort Sumpter tour boats sail from.  Although she sails from near these places. Kind of like San Francisco is near Philadephia, if you’re in Poland.  Aquarium Wharf is the Pride’s home port, and it’s over a mile from the Cruise Ship Terminal.  I’d assumed that Aquarium Wharf would be near the Cruise Ship Terminal, so our afternoon began with a rather stressful session of speedwalking up East Bay Street in Charleston’s July humidity.  If I’d know that was where it was, we would have taken a cab.  The local bus does have a stop right there, though.  We took the bus back downtown after the tour was over.  Once you do get there, though, you are greeted by the three-masted schooner sitting at her dedicated dock, with her easy access gangplank.  While the gangplank was a little narrow for a wheelchair, someone with a mild mobility handicap would have no problem getting onto the Pride’s deck.

Okay – getting down to specifics, the Pride is eighty seven feet long at the upper deck and mounts over a thousand square feet of sail.  She has a diesel auxilary of about eighty seahorses, so there’s no danger of being becalmed in the harbor.  The hull is steel, which makes her very heavy, so she’s not as fast a similar fiberglass or wooden hulled boat would be, but this weight also makes her more stable.  She’s able to cut cleanly through the swell, which minimizes the pitching motion for to aft.  The heavy weight also means she’s less “tender,” and doesn’t heel over as much under said as a lighter boat.  And, in the wildly unlikely event of a collision, the steel hull is unlikely to be stove in.  Combined with the capable crew and huge load of life-reservers on board, the Pride is as safe as any motor tour on the harbor.

Under Sail - Charleston Harbor

Under Sail - Charleston Harbor

Seating on board is slightly less comfortable.  The decks are covered with lockers wherein the life-preservers reside, and you make your best seat among them.  This shot is from the bow looking aft.  As you can see, there’s plenty of room on the deck.  No crowding at all.  But we’re all seated on lockers.  No chairs and no cushions.  I didn’t expect much, but I wouldn’t have thought padded seats would be too much to ask. The deck is hard and coated with an abrasive that makes for very good footing, wet or dry.  And speaking of that, it was a dry voyage.  There was barely even any spray, so if you’ve never been sailing, this would be a great way to get your first experience without that “standing in a cold shower” experience that many small boats provide.  (See my snark adventures for all the different ways you can get your buttocks wet.)  The sun was shining and the sky was a clear blue.  The waves sparkled and the sea air was invigorating.  Once you got away from the docks, that is.  Harbors have a certain “air” about them.

Haul away, haul away, haul away joe!

Haul away, haul away, haul away joe!

The Pride is not a “bare boat” cruise.  Passengers are not required to work the boat at all. In fact, there was only one call for volunteers.  I was the only positive response. Another gentlemen was voluntold by his wife. They are apparently getting involved in sailing, and she wanted him to start getting used to it.The booms and the spars on the Pride are, to my surprise, laminated pine, not hardwood.  The Dacron sails are much lighter than traditional canvas. This, combined with the very pine timbers made for a very light-handling rig.  It’s not a bad picture of me raising sail.  But I don’t think the cell phone will ever look like an item of traditional gear.  For the interested, I maintained cell phone signal all the way across Charleston Harbor.

We didn’t see a whole lot in the way of sea creatures, but then, we didn’t expect to.  K was facinated by the hunting pelicans.  They would generally cruise ten to fifteen feet above the water and then suddenty dive in to make the kill, catching and eating shallow swimming fish.  We also saw cresting dolphins and seagulls.  Mostly, though, we saw other sailboats.  We also got some amusement out of our personal GPS. Under normal circumstances, it shows a car on the road.  While at sea, it showed a car in the middle of the harbor.  Alas, the pictures did not turn out.

There's plenty of beer?  Well then, weigh anchor!

There's plenty of beer? Well then, weigh anchor!

Our crew was friendly and competent.  Given a choice, I would have preferred a narrated tour, but there was no script.  Mostly we cruised the harbor.  When there was something of particular interest, such as the dolphins, or Fort Sumpter, where the War Between the States begain, or Castle Pickney, the worlds most frustrated fort, they would point it out.  They were also very responsive to questions.  But I think that a narrated tour would have been more fun.  I did learn something.  If I opt for a radical career change, crewing a tall ship means spending at least half your time as a waiter.  The Pride has a well-stocked cooler of domestic and imported beers, a small selection of wines and sodas, and plenty of water, so thirst was no problem.  And the crew remained gracious, no matter how many times K and I sent them back down the hatch for more beer.  Interestingly, apparently on the the skipper is on salary.  The rest of the crew splits a tip jar.  From the sign on the exit plank “Wind and tide can tip the boat.  Only YOU can tip the crew!”  I had no idea what was appropriate, but I’d had a great time, so I tipped twenty dollars. That’s enough to buy a round of good beer for three guys.  I wish I’d gotten thier names, ’cause they were great, but I was too excited about being on a tall ship.

Tickets aboard the Pride are $29 for each adult, but a quick stop by the Charleston Visitor’s center can get you a $2.50 discount per ticket by picking a coupon.  I want to say that the beers ran about $5/each and included a light-duty souvenier cuzi to keep them cold.  If those prices aren’t beyond your means, I highly recommend it for an afternoon in Charleston.

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