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!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Set Sail for Portsmouth Virginia's Seaport Schooner Fest

There are schooners here, there and just about everywhere participating in the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race (GCBSR). The 24th annual race begins Thursday, October 17th on the south side of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge near Annapolis, Maryland. The schooners race throughout the afternoon and night into the next day to their designated finish line. For classes A and AA, the finish is an east-west line at Thimble Shoal Light and classes B and C finish at Windmill Point. Then they proceed on to docking in Portsmouth, Virginia along the quaint historic seaport's basins and seawall.

 iPortsmouth Virginia's Seaport Schooner Fest celebrating the arrival of the schooners.

With 34 entries in this year's race represented from all around the Chesapeake Bay and as far away as Key West, Florida, they'll be schooners of all types and sizes for you to view. The schooners will be on view in Portsmouth's North and High Street Landings as well as along the Olde Towne riverfront. Some may be available at times for boarding and tours. Make sure to bring your camera along for this is surely a  great photographic opportunity.

The schooner 'A.J. Meerwald' at the Bay bridge preparing
for the start of the race. Photo by Joe Elder.

October 19, 2013. Plan to spend the day and take in all that Olde Towne Portsmouth, Virginia has to offer. This is a great time to stroll along our historic High Street corridor and visit our exceptional antique shops, art galleries and unique specialty stores 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. 

Schooners after the completion of the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner race at the High Street basin, Portsmouth, VA.  Photo by Joe Elder.

The merchants and restaurants can be found starting at the riverfront adjacent to the High Street Landing with Skipjack Nautical Wares & Marine Gallery and Riverview Gallery. Directly across the landing is the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum  and a block away north on the riverfront is the Lightship Portsmouth. Both will be open for tours throughout the day. Walk west along High Street (away from the river) and the Portsmouth High Street Information Kiosk is located on the corner of High and Water street. This is the perfect place to stop and ask questions before venturing out. The Portsmouth Visitor's Center is just a few blocks away heading north up Water Street and is next to the North Landing.  

Cross Crawford Parkway and you will discover the Virginia Sports Hall of fame on your right and across the street the newly renovated and expanded Children's Museum of Virginia. This also is the beginning of our High Street shopping and dining with numerous unique shops, boutiques, and fine antique shops to peruse. High street also boasts a number of taverns, sports bars, coffee shops and fine dining for you to choose from. Roger Brown's Restaurant and Sports Bar is one of the GCBSR sponsors, so make sure that you give them a try. It's one of Olde Towne's favorite places and also boasts a large outdoor seating area facing High Street for your dining pleasure. Located on the corner of Court and High Street is the Portsmouth Arts & Cultural Center. Featuring 120 juried works in painting and calligraphy from across the nation by the Sumi-e Society of America. The organization foster's and encourages an appreciation of East Asian brush painting. 

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.

Saturday, October 19, 2013
After the completion of the race, the schooners will be moored inside the High Street and North basins and along the riverfront. 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. 

Great photo ops all day at Portsmouth Seaport 
Schooner Fest. Photo by Joe Elder.

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

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. Photo by Joe Elder.

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 visit Olde Towne Portsmouth, VA. 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. Photo By Joe Elder

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.
Photo by Joe Elder

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 on-board 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. Photo by Allen Graves.

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 24 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.

Virginia set the current time to beat of 11 hours, 18 minutes and 53 seconds in the 2007 Great Chesapeake Bay Schoooner Race. She beat the previous record of 12:57:51 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!"


From Virginia Beach:
To get to Portsmouth, you can take the Interstate 64 High Rise Bridge, the Midtown Tunnel, or the South Norfolk Jordan Bridge.

From Williamsburg/Richmond:

From I-64 eastbound, take the I-664 South exit and cross the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel. Take Exit 15 onto I-264 East. Take Exit 7B for Downtown Portsmouth and follow Crawford Street to High Street and the riverfront.

From Norfolk:

You can take Midtown tunnel into Portsmouth.
The Downtown Tunnel is currently closed on weekends to west bound traffic.
Take the Midtown Tunnel: The first stoplight after the tunnel is High Street. Turn left and follow to the riverfront.