Nautical Life


life preserver created for Hilfigger promo piece   

life preserver created for Hilfigger promo piece

 (all illustrations produced by Kevin Sprouls)

I’ve always enjoyed being on board a boat. My wise spouse is of the opinion that I was not rocked enough as a child. Maybe so.

Book cover illustration for "The Shadow in the North" by Philip Pullman (Random House)

Book cover illustration for "The Shadow in the North" by Philip Pullman (Random House)

Recently, I had the pleasure of being a passenger on the A. J. Meerwald, an oyster schooner hailing from Bivalve, NJ, built in 1928. My son, Brendan, and I joined the ship for the first leg of a trip which was occasioned by The Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race, an annual event which is run from Baltimore to Norfolk, VA. We made the transit from Bivalve to Baltimore, getting our good ship to the starting line.

Boarding at around 9 pm, we got our bunk assignments, and joined most everyone for a snooze, in anticipation of weighing anchor at 2:30 am, taking advantage of the favorable current which was expected at that time. I know you might be disappointed, dear reader, that I was not on deck for that nocturnal departure, but I was managing to sleep (lightly) despite the din of the big old diesel which powered us. Yet, rest assured, I didn’t miss breakfast at 6 am! At 6:30, the near-full moon was sinking below the horizon, and the saffron veils of dawn began to dispell the darkness. Brendan and I took our stations at 7 o’clock watch, along with the crew.

The crew of the Meerwald, composed mainly of young women, were a wonder to behold. These 20-somethings were totally adept and intelligent, and besides maintaining the vessel and her course, had the charge of directing us lubbers in our chores. All meals were vegetarian, and delicious. Coffee and tea was available on demand pretty much ’round the clock.

Mate Brendan Sprouls

Mate Brendan Sprouls

We made passage up the Delaware Bay to the Chesapeake/Delaware Canal, and into the Chesapeake, arriving at Baltmore, on schedule, at 6 pm. Along the way, we learned communication signaling from bow to helm, took charge at the wheel, and participated in hoisting the massive sails, with the associated task of coiling lines on deck. I had never even heard of a ballantine (excepting the ale), which is a 3-ringed coil designed not to tangle as the gaff is lowered and the line travels aloft.

Baltimore was a load of fun. It seems there is a bar every twenty paces. My wife joined us in the evening, as she was kind enough to drive down from Jersey to give us our lift home after the race preparations and festivities. We had our dinner at Bertha’s, a fine establishment serving a grand assortment of seafood. One receives a free bumper-sticker with the check. After dinner, we settled into barstools at on of the ubiquitous taverns aforementioned, and shared many toasts. Although I’ve never been to N’awlins, I imagined this place to be pretty close in atmosphere. The barkeep was tossing rocks glasses around like a seasoned juggler, and aside from having a drink or two himself, even bought us a couple of rounds.



Upon our return to the ship, we found that the night continued to be sultry, so I elected to sleep on the cabin-top on deck. The air was fresh, and I had occasion to hear the entertaining late-night stragglers returning from a night on the town. Next day witnessed the Parade of Tall Ships, in the late afternoon.

This was a feast for the senses, complete with canon firings and dueling pirates. The captain, Jesse Briggs, considered it an appropriate occasion for bagpipe music, so I contributed a few tunes.


My son, who is an awesome player, also performed. Later, in the evening, a grand reception was held for the various and sundry denizens of the tall ships, to kick off the race on the following day. At the event, we met an extraordinary individual by the name of William Pinkney. He commands the tall ship “Amistad”, of slaving history. Captain Pinkney is also a solo circumnavigator, and his book, “As Long as it Takes: Meeting the Challenge” tells the tale of his adventures.

We met many fine people in our three-day tour, and I hope to continue relationships that were created during our sojourn. At some point in the course of this blog, I’ll fill out with more tales of life on the water, but, for now, “Smooth Sailing!”

lighthouse of Alexandria

Lighthouse of Alexandria, illustration for Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc. 2004 Annual Report

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