14 July 2007

The Chesapeake Bay: Then and Now

There are 12 people on a mission to look at the Chesapeake Bay from an unusual perspective. They are retracing the voyage of Captain John Smith on his explorations of the Bay in a 28-foot reconstruction of the shallop Smith and his crew sailed into the Bay 400 years ago. They are sailing and rowing their way to towns and cities, bringing an educational exhibit and recording the state of the Bay from their unplugged points-of-view as a modern-day crew with GPS, high-tech outdoor gear and camp stoves.

Exploring the Bay from Smith's route are a crew comprised of men and women sailors who come from diverse professional backgrounds including engineers, biologists, ecologists, anthropologists, historians and one forensic scientist. I have been reading their online journal this morning and have found some interesting comparisons and contrasts between their experiences on the Bay now and the experiences of the seventeenth-century English explorers recorded in Smith's journals. Native Americans no longer have a thriving culture on the Bay, but the 2007 crew is often relying upon the locals for supplementing their meager stores of food. Smith encountered a number of severe storms that forced him to land and occasionally ran aground. The 2007 crew has had to row quite a bit due to low winds lately, but they have also braved stormy weather and have had to struggle to put the boat back in the water after several groundings.

I do find it very haunting that Smith saw open vistas on the Chesapeake shoreline like this:
30 leagues we sayled more Northwards not finding any inhabitants, leaving all the Easterne shore, lowe Islandes, but overgrowne with wood, as all the Coast beyond them so farre as wee could see: the Westerne shore by which we sayled we found all along well watered, but very mountanous and barren, the vallies very fertill, but extreame thicke of small wood so well as trees, and much frequented with Wolves, Beares, Deere and other wild beasts.

The reconstructed shallop is now at the mid-way point in it's journey and is being celebrated all weekend at the Annapolis City Dock. This morning, the shallop will sail in a boat parade, then the Governor and other dignitaries will make speeches. The shallop will be on display 10-6 both July 14 and 15. I helped to plan an exhibit table for my employer, one of many Annapolis organizations that is welcoming the JS400 crew to Maryland's capital. I'll be helping with set-up today so I may stay downtown for the fanfare. Then tomorrow I work throughout the day helping to the staff the table along with volunteers. After reading the crew's journal I have become more aware of the significance of this recreation. There is something to be learned about the Bay now, as well as something to be taught about its past.

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