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Sunday, September 28, 2008

In Washington D.C. with Amistad

I spent much of this past week in Washington, D.C. with the Freedom Schooner Amistad. This is the second occasion since my return from my sabbatical that I have been able to spend time aboard.

I arrived in D.C. on Monday night, arriving at just the right time to get caught in the traffic jam on I-95 that resulted from the opening of the new Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge to let Amistad through. Rumor has it that this is the first opening of the bridge for a vessel since the new bridge opened, so I am particularly pleased that Amistad got to inaugurate the bridge and am sort of ironically pleased that I got to get caught in the backup, especially since I still made it to the marina in time to catch docklines.

One of the planned highlights of the week was that Amistad was to play host to the Congressional Black Caucus as well as the Congressional Delegation from Connecticut, but the intense legislative schedule generated by our country's financial meltdown made it impossible for our legislators to visit the vessel while we were docked at the Capital Yacht Club. I am, however, grateful for their diligence in their work and trust that they may find other opportunities to visit Amistad when they are able to carve out a bit of free time.

Since our schedule of visitors ended up being lighter than expected, the crew was able to tackle a variety of maintenance tasks: the usual scraping, sanding and varnishing, as well as inspecting and maintaining rigging in preparation for next month's Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race.

The members of the yacht club were very kind to the crew. We were invited to participate in the Tuesday Night Spaghetti Dinner and got to know many of the folks who make the yacht club their home. I never had the opportunity to puchase a beer with my own money while we were there, and I expect that the other crewmembers had similar experiences.

It was particularly nice to have my father visit the ship while we were at the Capital Yacht Club. He came aboard on Wednesday morning and I got to give him a tour of the vessel. Then, as it was my "duty day," he joined me in the galley for a while, washing dishes while we caught up on the events in each other's lives for an hour or so before he had to go back ashore.

As the the weather forecast was anything but encouraging, the crew ended up dragging out the jury-rigged awning that we had used in Sierra Leone to keep the sun off the deck. It was a dubious affair when we put it up in Africa and hadn't improved with six months in the lazarette, but we managed to get it hung up over the main hatch, adding two other tarps and duct tape to creat an "elegant" arrangement that managed to perform its function without looking too prissy. That evening, we hosted a birthday party for the captain's sister-in-law and the boat was full of very interesting folks, who huddled under the awning to stay out of the sometimes torrential rain.

On Friday, we moved the ship a few hundred yards downstream to the Gangplank Marina. The U.S.S. Sequoia, which served as the Presidential Yacht for Presidents from Hoover through Carter, was docked at the next pier over. (see photo) We opened, in the rain, for visitors from the public and had a steady, though light, stream of guests throughout the day.

In the evening, my cousin, Jeff, and his partner, Terry, came to visit the ship, then they whisked me away to their home, where I spent the night. We watched the presidential debate and stayed up way too late discussing our thoughts about the candidates, then the next morning was a late-waking, coffee-drinking, lounging-about pajamafest, with lunch out at about 3:00, and my departure for home soon after.

It is good to be home, but I'm definitely looking forward to meeting Amistad in Baltimore in a couple weeks for the schooner race. Maybe we'll even win!

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