October 19, 2013 along Portsmouth, Virginia's riverfront.

"One of the Greatest Gathering of Schooners in the World" featuring participating schooners from the 24th Annual Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Schooner Days 2011 and the 22nd Annual Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race

Schooner Days in Olde Towne Portsmouth, Virginia

There're schooners here, there and just about everywhere!  It's Portsmouth, Virginia's Schooner Days and we're celebrating the arrival of the schooners after they complete the 22nd Annual Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race (GCBSR) from Baltimore, Maryland to Portsmouth, Virginia. With nearly 40 entries in this year's race, they'll be schooners of all types and sizes for you to view.

You'll definitely want to spend the day and take in all that Olde Towne has to offer. This is a great time to visit the newly renovated and expanded Portsmouth Children's Museum, stroll along historic High Street and visit our exceptional antique shops, art galleries and unique specialty stores that can only be found in Olde Towne. Have a great lunch or dinner in one of our chef and family owned restaurants, sports bars and pubs...there's plenty to choose from and you'll definitely find one to your liking.

You may also want to walk the streets of Olde Towne's historic district, full of authentic period homes that date back to the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. Colonial. Federal. Greek Revival. Georgian. Victorian. In the approximately 20 blocks that make up the Olde Towne Historic District, you will find one of the most impressive collections of antique homes found between Alexandria, Va., and Charleston, S.C. The Olde Towne Historic District is one of five districts in Portsmouth listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places. Hopefully we'll get to enjoy some great fall foliage too!

Visit Olde Towne's historic district, full of authentic period homes that date back to the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries.
Schooner Days Events

Friday, October 14, 2011
Friday Night Rendezvous · 1830 Hours · An informal get-together at Roger Brown's in Olde Towne Portsmouth (316 High Street) for early arrivals. The public is welcome to come and mingle with the crews of the schooners that completed the race.

Saturday, October 15, 2011
There will be seafaring activities going on down at High Street Landing and North Landing. Schooners will be moored at both landings and may be viewed dockside. Some may be open for tours, but all will be available for pictures and this is definitely a premium photo op, so grab your cameras and fire away! Don't be surprised if you run into a sailor or two dressed up in period clothing strolling along the seawall- you'll think you've gone back in time but actually they're rein-actors from the Colonial Seaport Foundation.

Great photo ops all day at Portsmouth's Schooner Days.

Education Program · 0900 Hours · Selected schooners host area students for a hands-on learning experience. (See description below)

The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum will feature THE AGE OF SAIL  special children's activities from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Learn about the history of ships and the impact they played on our local history.  Also, kids of all ages can learn the different parts of a ship, and how ships developed over time—from the Chesapeake Indians to modern day.  Finally, participants can discover firsthand how a ship floats in the “Ballast Lab Experiment.”  The Age of Sail is included with paid admission to the museum and there's no registration needed.

Pig and Oyster Roast · 1300 Hours · This a private party (sorry, invitation only) at North Landing Park for captains, crew, sponsors and volunteers. The race results will be announced and awards will be presented in the evening.

Pig and Oyster Roast at the North Landing.

Sailors' Evening and Sea Chantey Sing-along · 2100 Hours · This is a chance for everyone to continue the post-race festivities at North Landing Park.
We've ordered sunshine all week-end long, so get out and about and aboard Schooner Days. Whatever you do, spread the word, and don't miss the boats. See you there!

We've ordered sunshine all week-end long, so get out and about and aboard Schooner Days.

The Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race Education Program

Wednesday and Saturday of Race Week

The Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race (GCBSR) education program brings young people living near the Bay on board schooners for a unique and exciting experience. The students enjoy hands-on lessons perpetuating the mission of the race — to promote public awareness of the Chesapeake Bay's maritime heritage and encourage the preservation and improvement of the Chesapeake's natural resources. We entrust these students to be the stewards of the Chesapeake Bay and the schooner fleet for the next generation.

The lessons learned and the lasting impressions made on these young minds can only be gained first hand aboard these historic vessels.
An education program is conducted at both ends of the Bay. On Wednesday, students from Baltimore meet the schooners before the race. After the schooners race down the Bay, they are joined by students in Portsmouth. All of the students tour some of the schooners and learn about the Chesapeake Bay, ecology and maritime history. Many of the schooners have well developed programs with professional educators that make these vessels very effective learning platforms.

Although all of the vessels racing in the GCBSR are classified as schooners, their forms, functions and designs are diverse. A Baltimore Clipper Privateer, an 18th-century sailing ship, was extremely versatile on the seas. She could engage enemy ships, seize their cargo, and cross an ocean all in one voyage. A Virginia Pilot Vessel was an early 20th-century sailing ship whose purpose was to send harbor pilots out to incoming ships as they entered the Chesapeake Bay. Her primary mission was to sail as fast as possible to get her pilots onboard the incoming vessels before any other ship could. An 18th-century Chesapeake Bay Pungy Schooner was designed to be a fast sailing cargo ship. Her lower freeboard made her cargo easy to quickly load and unload, which made her adept at carrying perishables such as seafood and produce. The differences in design of these and other schooners, although subtle to the untrained eye, become very much apparent as the students learn about the work schooners once accomplished on the Chesapeake Bay.

The 22nd Annual Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race.

In Baltimore, the students also visit a maritime museum as part of their field trip to the waterfront. The students in Portsmouth visit some maritime exhibits along the Elizabeth River. Touring the schooners is, of course, the highlight, as the students walk the decks of sailing ships and interact with the crew and captains. They see the bunks where the crew sleeps and the galleys where chow is cooked. They get a feel of the layout of the main deck and sailing rig when they work together as crew to raise a sail.

The lessons learned and the lasting impressions made on these young minds can only be gained first hand aboard these historic vessels. The GCBSR thanks the schooners who contribute to this program. Having a better understanding of the Chesapeake Bay ecology and history will enable these students to keep schooners sailing on the Bay for generations to come.

In addition to the hands-on education program, the mission of the race is further strengthened by annual donations — $147,624 to date — to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to support its environmental education programs for children.


Schooner racing on the Chesapeake Bay is rooted in the trade rivalry between Baltimore, Maryland, at the northern end of the Bay, and Portsmouth/Norfolk, Virginia, at the southern end. The fastest sailing vessels delivered goods and people to their destinations and often garnered the best price for their cargo by beating slower schooners into port. Over the years, commercial schooner designs evolved for the bay's routes — taking into consideration shallow waters, local crops and regional needs, with speed being a primary concern to beat competitively loaded vessels into port. These schooners also played a critical role in our nation's early wars. While there are no cargo-hauling schooners now working the Bay, there are a considerable number of schooners still in use as cruising vessels and privately owned boats.

In 1988, when the City of Baltimore launched her flagship modeled on those earlier vessels, Captain Lane Briggs of the Tugantine Norfolk Rebel — the world's only sail-powered schooner-rigged tugboat — challenged the Pride of Baltimore II to a race from Baltimore to Norfolk, reviving an historic rivalry between schooners, captains and cities on the Bay. With the challenge accepted, the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race (GCBSR) was born.
In 1990, a weekend in October was set aside for what had become an annual event, and yacht clubs at the northern and southern ends of the race volunteered to support the schooners and crews in their efforts.

Over the 21 years of the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race, there have been some incredible races with schooners going to the wire to win. Harsh weather conditions in some of the races have tested the mettle of the vessels, crews and captains. As many as 56 schooners have signed up for a single race, and more than 150 — with vessels from as far away as California - have enjoyed the fall race on the Bay. The 2007 race was the fastest race in this long series. With strong following winds, several schooners set new records for both elapsed and corrected time. The schooner Virginia set a new time to beat of 11 hours, 18 minutes and 53 seconds, beating the previous record of 12 hours, 57 minutes and 51 seconds set by Imagine...! in the 2005 GCBSR.

With the growth of the event and the resulting focus on these vintage sailing craft, the organizers and sponsors elected soon after the start of the event to maximize the value of the race in very special ways. The race brings focus to the maritime traditions of schooners on the Chesapeake and brings attention to the environmental issues facing the Chesapeake. All net proceeds of the race are donated to support youth education efforts aimed at saving the bay. This is why the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race is proud to say that we are "Racing to Save the Bay!"