- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Al lmost 400 years ago — on June 2, 1608 — Capt. John Smith and 14 recruits set off in a stout open workboat called a “shal- lop” to explore the great unknown estuary known as Chesapeake Bay.

It was one year after the establishment of the Virginia Colony at Jamestown, and these men, with a variety of skills, meant to search for food sources, to trade with the Indians and to find the fabled Northwest Passage to the riches of the Orient.

Now, on Saturday, a crew of seven men and five women with a mean age of 27 will set out from Jamestown in a 28-foot replica of that shallop — propelled only by oar and sail — on a 1,500-mile, four-month-long voyage that will largely retrace Smith’s route.

Making 23 stops in Maryland, Virginia, Delaware and the District between May 12 and Sept. 6, the barge-like shallop will arrive in the Washington area in late June and will be hauled to the Mall to go on display at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival from June 27 to July 1.

“It’s a crazily ambitious idea,” says Drew McMullen, president of Sultana Projects Inc., who says the non-profit organization in Chestertown, Md. — best known for “under-sail” training programs on the Bay aboard its replica of the 1768 schooner Sultana — at first planned to do nothing more than reproduce Smith’s boat.

“Then we thought, ‘If we’re trying to draw attention to this piece of history, why don’t we do the whole voyage?’ ” Mr. McMullen says. “That would do it.”

But it’s become more than just a cool idea. Saturday’s dignitary-laden launch ceremonies at Jamestown will inaugurate the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, the first national water trail in the United States, which follows the routes of Smith’s two major voyages around the Chesapeake Bay during the summer of 1608.

They take place during Jamestown’s Anniversary Weekend, the high point of the settlement’s 400th anniversary commemoration, whose events are expected to draw about 90,000 visitors — including, on Sunday, President Bush.

And when the little boat reaches Annapolis on July 14, helping to row it to shore will be Maryland’s governor, Martin O’Malley.

Rebuilding history

So it is with a suitable sense of the recreated times that Capt. Ian Bystrom and his crew set off in late April on a shakedown cruise on the Lynnhaven River off Virginia Beach.

The goal of the voyage, says Capt. Bystrom, 30, who previously served as first mate aboard the Sultana, is to impress on the public the historical impact of Smith’s expedition and the environmental challenges confronting the Chesapeake today.

“We want to teach people about an important time in history and about the people who lived here,” he says as crew members bail the boat with non-period plastic buckets.

The making of this replica was no simple task, says crew member Austin Hall, who previously worked as a horse wrangler and back-country guide in the North Carolina mountains.

“There were no plans for Smith’s shallop, so we sent a scholar to England to look at work boats from that time,” he says.

What’s more, Smith’s shallop, like many small boats built in England in those years, was built in two pieces so it could fit inside a larger ship — in this case the Virginia Company’s flagship, the Susan Constant — for an ocean voyage.

When the Susan Constant made landfall at the mouth of the Chesapeake on April 26, 1607, the two parts were hoisted on deck and put together.

Sultana Projects made its shallop in the same way, building it in two pieces at its shipyard in Chestertown under the direction of master shipwright John Swain, using period materials and techniques. Sultana shipped it off in two pieces in January for display at the Science Museum of Virginia in Richmond, where it was shown through the end of March, with its sails up but again in two pieces.

Not until the shallop reached Nauticus, a maritime museum in Norfolk, was it put together and set in the water — on March 30, to fanfare led by Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine.

Mr. Hall, nodding toward crew member Liz Schale, points out the spot where the two parts were joined.

“See where Liz is sitting, in the center?” he says.

Hoodies and puffy shirts

The crew’s official working uniform is khaki pants and red jackets emblazoned with the expedition’s motto (“1 boat, 8 oars, 12 explorers, 1,500 miles”). On a few occasions during the voyage that begins Saturday, they will don 17th-century garb — “puffy shirts, Capri pants, and floppy hats, wool hats,” says English-born William Ryall, wrinkling a slightly sunburned nose.

But for this dry run they are variously clad in shorts, bright yellow plastic shoes, jeans, hoodies, T-shirts, Teva sandals, baseball caps and visors.

Once the shallop clears the marina, eight crew members each takes a 20-pound Douglas-fir oar and starts rowing on alternate sides of the boat. Although some are experienced rowers — Leona Dalton was an assistant crew coach at Washington College in Chestertown and Ashley Maloney was a member of the Stanford crew that took gold at the 2004 Henley Royal Regatta — others are rowing for the first time.

Kelly Poole, a licensed Coast Guard captain, her red hair tamed in a pink visor, leads a chorus of “Row, row, row your boat,” as the small, no-tech 17th-century craft glides down a river lined with imposing 21st-century homes and plied by wave-making, state-of-the-art boats.

The oarsmen wear no gloves.

“Our gloves will grow,” says Ms. Schale, a former kayaking guide, ski instructor and marine biology teacher, gazing ruefully at her hands.

“Last week, I had a couple of hot spots on my hands, but don’t think I’ll get any blisters,” says Donald Dover, nickname “Donkey,” who worked as a forensic scientist at the World Trade Center site after September 11.

“Leona gave us a tutorial, and told us to use the fingers, not the palms, to grasp oars gingerly and not hang on for dear life.”

Under sail

Where the river widens, the posh homes recede into the background and the shallop approaches First Landing State Park, where the English settlers first stepped onto Virginia soil. Its pristine beaches and unspoiled forests form a more suitable backdrop for the historic craft.

Here, the wind picks up, and it’s time to put up the sails.

“OK, John Mann and Andy, put your oars across,” says Ms. Poole, who serves as mate on the shallop. “Everyone else keep rowing.”

Ms. Maloney takes a jib sail out of a bag, and Mr. Ryall, who grew up sailing with his father in small boats on the Trent River in England and served on the Pride of Baltimore, raises it.

“Let’s set that main,” shouts Capt. Bystrom, as Ms. Poole lowers the lee boards on the side of the boat to act as sort of a keel, increasing stability.

“In Smith’s time, they didn’t have the ability to put centerboards in boats,” Mr. Ryall explains.

“This is a sprint-rigged boat. Sailing has evolved over the years. It started with square-rigged boats, which could mainly catch wind coming directly into the sail. With a sprint-rigged boat you can go close-hauled into the wind like this.

“A lot of people didn’t think the boat was going to go this fast. We can do 5 knots under sail, and about two and a half knots rowing.”

Low tech and high

In his diary, Smith wrote that “the crew was oft tired at oars,” but at the end of a 30-minute shift, Capt. Bystrom’s crew seems more exhilarated than exhausted.

“The first 10 minutes were hard,” says Rebecca Pskowski, of Rockville, who has served as cook and deckhand on large sailing ships but is a novice rower. “But you get into a rhythm. It’s neat to learn new skills.”

Still, sailing is faster than rowing, and the shallop seems roomier with the oars set aside. Mr. Hall lies back on a seat and dangles his feet over the side. Ms. Schale points out loons and cormorants, and sunscreen is passed around.

“We’re trying not to be ‘oft tired’ by using wind and currents,” Mr. Ryall says. “Fifteen hundred miles is a long way — our strategy is always going with the tides.”

Tide and current tables and charts of the Chesapeake are some of the low-tech equipment the boat will carry, along with tents, sleeping bags, mosquito netting and a Coleman stove. And unlike the original shallop, this one has a light on the mast and a radio.

“John Smith didn’t have them — but he didn’t have big container ships bearing down on him either,” Capt. Bystrom says.

Nor did Smith have sophisticated water quality indicators supplied by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. These instruments will continually assess the Bay’s water and relay the information back to NOAA scientists via satellite.

John Smith’s trail

Today’s Bay no longer has water so clear and fish so plentiful that “the men used their swords to spear them,” as Smith wrote in his journal.

And concern over the Bay’s health is central to not just this voyage but to the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail that it inaugurates.

Established by Congress in December and administered by the U.S. National Park Service, the new water trail is a 1,700-mile circuit that starts and ends at Jamestown. It follows Smith’s two 1608 voyages up the Bay and includes the routes of his later explorations of the James and York rivers.

The hope is that in calling attention to the cultural, historical and environmental richness of the area through recreational and “heritage” tourism, the trail will also awaken its followers to the need to protect and restore the Bay.

Dotting the route will be interpretive buoys placed by NOAA that will monitor water quality and weather and will allow boaters to call in for background stories on the area. One buoy has already been placed at Jamestown; by the end of the summer two others — at the mouths of the Potomac and Patapsco rivers — will be in place.

Shallop crew member John Mann, a Baltimore native and a former naturalist at the Echo Hill Outdoor School in Worton, Md., on the Eastern Shore, says the environmental question is an important one for this trip.

“A big part of the adventure is to teach people about the history and ecology of Chesapeake Bay,” he says.

“This is a chance to see the Bay on an intimate level and see how the pieces fit together. The thing I can’t get my head around is, when we pull into Baltimore, what was that like when Smith came?”

History up close

Not only will crew members know the Bay better at the end of the voyage, they will also know each other very well after living together on a small boat whose only toilet is a “luggable loo” — basically a bucket.

“Ian hired people who had experience living in small quarters with very little privacy,” explains Andy Bystrom, Ian’s brother, who grew up sailing on Lake Erie and later taught science in Ecuador. “One of the reasons for working on boats is the sense of community, of sharing.”

“My idea was to find a group of people who would be able to sit in a small boat and have a good time together,” adds Capt. Bystrom, who holds a Coast Guard captain’s license as well as a degree in geography.

“I had about 80 applicants. I looked for experience outdoors, either sailing or something else, and education experience. The hardest thing will be when we come into port, putting on a great show after a week on no sleep.”

Although the crew members know the trip will be long and strenuous, with little privacy or space for personal belongings, they are enthusiastic and motivated.

“I always wanted to do a really long trip — there’s something that pushes you,” says Mr. Hall.

“This is the chance of a lifetime,” says Mr. Dover. “We’re making history.”

Capt. Bystrom sums it up: “It hasn’t been done in 400 years, and it might never be done again.”

Following Smith’s route

On its launch Saturday at the height of Jamestown’s 400th anniversary celebration, a small boat that will re-create Capt. John Smith’s first journey up the Chesapeake Bay will inaugurate the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. This, the first national water trail in the United States, follows the routes of Smith’s two major voyages around the Chesapeake in 1608.

The barge-like boat, called a “shallop,” will make 23 scheduled stops in Maryland, Virginia, Delaware and the District between May 12 and Sept. 6. At each stop the public will be able to see the shallop, visit with the crew and view exhibits about Smith’s voyage and about the Bay.

Because the boat is equipped with a GPS transponder that monitors its location, people can follow the voyage through the project’s Web site, at johnsmith400.org. There the crew’s daily journals, photos and video will be uploaded in real time. Followers can learn about differences in water quality around the Chesapeake and even pose questions to crew members.

For more information on the trail and how to follow in Smith’s wake, see the Web sites of the project’s partners at friendsofthejohnsmithtrail.org and noaa.chesapeakebay.net.

For fun interactive maps of Jamestown and of John Smith’s voyages, see nation algeographic .com/chesapeake.

Here’s a guide to the scheduled stops. Note the admission fees at certain venues.

1. The National Park Service’s Historic Jamestowne, Va.: Near the Tercentennial Monument. Ceremony launching the shallop and the John Smith Chesapeake Bay Trail 10:30-11:15 a.m. May 12. Admission fee and advance tickets required.

2. Onancock, Va.: The Town Wharf. Attend the John Smith/NOAA Weekend and see the Salisbury Zoo’s traveling exhibit of live animals found on Delmarva today. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. May 19, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. May 20. No admission fee.

3. Phillips Landing, Del.: Phillips Landing/Nanticoke Wildlife Area near Laurel, Del. Dedication of an official state monument to Smith’s exploration of the Nanticoke River. 9 a.m.-3 p.m. May 29. Monument ceremony 11 a.m.; shallop departs 1 p.m. No admission fee.

4. Seaford/Blades, Del.: Nanticoke River Marine Park, Blades. Commemoration of Smith’s first contact with the Indians in what is now the state of Delaware. Also on view: the Salisbury Zoo’s traveling exhibit. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. May 30. No admission fee.

5. Vienna, Md.: Vienna Waterfront. Celebrating Smith’s exploration of the Nanticoke River, with Indian ceremonies, artifact displays, museum and house tours, rides on a skipjack and the Salisbury Zoo’s traveling exhibit. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. June 2. No admission fee.

6. Solomons, Md.: Calvert Marine Museum. Remembering Smith’s exploration of the Patuxent River and his encounters with the Patuxent Indians. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. June 9 and 10. Admission fee required.

7. Colonial Beach, Va.: Town Pier. The shallop’s arrival will be the culminating event in Colonial Beach’s “Celebrating Jamestown 400 — Come Home to Colonial Beach” festival. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. June 16. No admission fee.

8. Accokeek, Md.: National Colonial Farm. Celebrating the 1608 voyage. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. June 21. Admission fee required.

9. Mount Vernon: George Washington’s Mount Vernon. The shallop will be on display at the wharf. 8 a.m.-5 p.m. June 23 and 24. Admission fee required.

10. Washington, D.C.: The National Mall. Celebrating Jamestown’s 400th anniversary and the roots of Virginia culture at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. 11a.m.-5:30 p.m. daily, June 27 to July 1. No admission fee.

11. Alexandria: Alexandria Seaport Foundation, next to the Torpedo Factory. Evening event marking John Smith’s exploration of the Potomac River. 4-8 p.m. July 2. No admission fee.

12. Annapolis: City Dock. A weekend commemoration of Smith’s exploration of the Chesapeake. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. July 14 and 15. No admission fee.

13. Rock Hall, Md.: Rock Hall Harbor. Evening event commemorating Smith’s encounters with the Tockwogh and Ozinie Indians. Also featuring the Salisbury Zoo’s traveling exhibit. 5-8:30 p.m. July 17. No admission fee.

14. Port Deposit, Md.: Marina Park. A weekend of events commemorating John Smith’s exploration of the Upper Chesapeake. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. July 21; shallop leaves for Perryville at 3 p.m. No admission fee.

15. Perryville, Md.: Perryville Community Boat Ramp. The John Smith shallop will be accompanied by kayakers from the Susquehanna Sojourn as it makes its way downriver to Perryville. 5-9 p.m. July 21. No admission fee.

16. Havre de Grace, Md.: Hutchins Park. The shallop will be part of the weekend’s 2007 Maritime Heritage Festival: live music, boat building demonstrations, local foods and crafts, living history displays, children’s activities, boat raffle, more. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. July 22. No admission fee.

17. Baltimore: Inner Harbor near the National Aquarium. See the shallop, meet the crew, see the exhibit. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. July 28 and 29. No admission fee.

18. St. Leonard, Md.: Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum. The “Patuxent Encounters: The Patuxent Indians and Captain John Smith” festival commemorates Smith’s first encounter with the Patuxents. Living history, dancers and drummers, children’s activities, hands-on demonstrations in flintknapping, pottery, basketry, firemaking and more. Live music. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Aug. 4 and 5. Shallop arrives noon Aug. 5. Admission fee; advance tickets through Ticketmaster.

19. Tappahannock, Va.: June Parker Marina. Commemoration of the 1608 voyage. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Aug. 12. No admission fee.

20. Fredericksburg, Va.: City Dock. Celebrating the exploration of the Rappahannock River. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Aug. 18, noon-5 p.m. Aug. 19. No admission fee.

21. Deltaville, Va.: Fishing Bay Yacht Club. Remembering Smith’s painful encounter July 17, 1608, with a stingray at what he then named Stingray Point. Gathering here will be the three replica shallops that have been constructed on the Chesapeake Bay, including examples from the Deltaville Maritime Museum and the Reedville Fishermen’s Museum. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Aug. 25 and 26. Shallop arrives afternoon Aug. 25. No admission fee.

22. Norfolk: Nauticus. Major four-day voyage retrospective featuring photos and films from the voyage as well as lectures by the captain and crew about their experiences. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sept. 1-4. No admission fee.

23. The National Park Service’s Historic Jamestowne: Final day of the re-enactment voyage. Special celebration for the captain and crew as well as a retrospective of the voyage in the new Historic Jamestowne Visitors Center. Times to be determined, Sept. 8. Admission fee required.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide