Cap’n Rob Chichester at the helm. Photo provided by Carroll Green.
by Carroll Green
On Friday, Oct. 28, 2016, I joined a skeleton crew of the Bay Poet in Rock Hall, Md., for our final voyage of the season. I was given a heads-up by the skipper to arrive by 15:00 because the tall ships would be visiting nearby Chestertown. Perhaps we could visit New Jersey’s official tall ship, the A.J. Meerwald, a 115 foot, 57-ton restored oyster dredging vessel launched in 1928.
Cap’n Rob Chichester has been in training on the Meerwald this year as a relief captain. Recently he participated in the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race, starting Thursday, Oct. 13, just south of the Bay Bridge to Portsmouth, Va. Upon completion of the race in Portsmouth, amid the celebratory hoopla, Rob couldn’t help but notice that out of perhaps 200 or more participants he was the only person of color present.
Cap’n Rob Chichester. Photo provided by Carroll Green.
As we pursued this discussion, we realized that we know black sailors from coast to coast, but that Rob is one of two black sailors to captain a tall ship in recent memory. Bill Pinkney, the other captain, is the only black sailor to single-handedly circumnavigate the globe.
On Friday evening as planned, we boarded the Meerwald to meet Rob’s crew members and wander the decks—what a wonder! Antique wooden schooners require frequent maintenance and periodic restoration, which is generally a labor of love, totally outside the scope of maintenance on modern day marine vessels. We learned about the Maryland Emancipation Day Program scheduled the next day, Saturday afternoon, at 16:00 hours and adjusted our float plan accordingly.
Allen Johnson, former Chesapeake Bay waterman, now an artist, painter and sculptor. Photo by Carroll Green.
Saturday was a terrific day for sailing on the Bay. Wind gusts up to 26, miles per hour, propelling us frequently above 8 knots. We were back in port in time to drive the short distance to Chestertown. We arrived at the historic Sumner Hall, one of two remaining structures in the U.S. built for African-American Veterans of the Civil War, before the appointed hour, and Rob, Chef Theresa, and I were directed to our seats on the front row—the front row?
Then, another surprise, Rob and I were invited to join the panel for the discussion on African-American watermen. My erstwhile colleague, Rob Chichester—captain of the Bay Poet, relief captain of the A. J. Meerwald, instructor of coastal navigation and seamanship, principal of Chesapeake Flotillas—was up for the task. We brought a slightly different and welcome view to the panel. African American experience and history is an integral part of the history of this country.
I know I express the sentiments of the crew of Bay Poet, that we felt honored to be invited to be participants in this historic recognition of the contributions of our Eastern Shore African American ancestors.
So goes another day in the lives of this illustrious crew. New horizons, new friends. Some follow the sun; we follow the wind.
An avid and accomplished sailor, Carroll Green is a Washington, D.C., Ward 4 resident, 2007 candidate for Ward 4 city council seat, and founding member of East Rock Creek Village, which assists senior citizens to “age in place.”