Capt. Jan Miles was steering the Pride of Baltimore II through what he thought was a routine squall in the Bay of Biscay Tuesday afternoon when he felt his bow sprit give way. Moments later he heard an explosive crack as the foremast of the replica 19th century sailing vessel crashed onto the deck to his left. The main mast fell next — this time three feet away — to his right side.
“I contemplated whether I could jump overboard in time,” Miles recounted in a telephone interview Tuesday. “but that thought was unnecessary. I was so busy watching it fall. My brain was moving too quickly for my body to do anything.”
As the 100-foot-tall masts and rigging of the Pride of Baltimore II came down, Miles said his first thoughts were of the 18 passengers and crew onboard. But none of them was hurt.
Since its commissioning in 1988, The Pride of Baltimore II has sailed the seas as a Goodwill Ambassador from the state of Maryland and the Port of Baltimore. It is the replacement for the original Pride of Baltimore which capsized and sank off the coast of Puerto Rico on May 14, 1986. The captain and three of the 11-member crew were lost.
Since 1988, Pride II has sailed nearly 200,000 miles and visited over 200 ports in 40 countries.
Tuesday’s incident occurred in the Bay of Biscay between France and Spain where the Pride II was racing in the Tall Ships’ Regatta on its way to a Tall Ships’ Festival in Santander, Spain.
At around 3:30 in the afternoon local time, about 9:30 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time, the squall arose, bringing with it 7-foot waves and 40-knot winds that caused a crack in the bow sprit, the long spar that thrusts forward from the front of the ship. As the bow sprit gave way, the Pride’s two masts were left without support and they collapsed in turn.
“This is the worst rig failure I have ever experienced,” said Miles, who has worked on ships for most of his life and has worked on Pride II since it was commissioned in 1988.
Five hours later the crew pulled the damaged ship into the port at Saint-Nazaire, France, under motor power
Miles said he had no reason to suspect the bow sprit would give way.
“It happened under conditions for which the ship is designed to be able to withstand,” he said. “In this case we discovered a flaw that we had no reason to believe was there.”
The damage could take months to repair, Miles said.
Back in Baltimore, Executive Director of Maryland’s PRIDE, Linda Christenson, said the organization is working out plans for making the necessary repairs to the ship.
Many parts of the ship will need to be replaced or repaired, including the two masts and most of the spars — the yards, the main boom and the bow sprit, Miles said.
Replacing the two masts, which are over 100 feet tall, will be especially difficult, Miles said, because it is hard to find suitable Douglas Fir trees for a reasonable price. Lamination construction, in which smaller sections of wood are glued together, may be used to try to offset the difficulty of finding the tree.
Christenson said everything should take about two months to repair and could cost around $200,000. It is not known whether repairs will take place in Europe or in the United States, nor is it known who will complete the repairs.
To raise money for the repairs, Maryland’s PRIDE will begin a “Raise the Rigging” campaign to collect donations toward the ship’s repair. As a result of the rig failure, Pride II’s remaining 2005 European and Mediterranean sailing schedule has been halted. The 12 permanent members of the crew of the Pride II will remain with the ship while it is docked disassembling the broken parts of the ship, Miles said. The six guest crew members will continue on to Santander, Spain where they were scheduled to participate in the Santander Tall Ships’ Festival.