Seafaring Days

A cap and shaving mug atop the desk in the executive officer's quarters on the USS Constellation.

A cap and shaving mug atop the desk in the executive officer’s quarters on the USS Constellation.

Snow collected in a coil of line on the deck of the Torsk.

Snow collected in a coil of line on the deck of the Torsk.

Climb aboard the Taney, the Torsk or the Constellation and hear a tale of bravery and courage, danger and destruction, victory and defeat. Baltimore’s Historic Ships (and a lighthouse) tell of Charm City’s seafaring days through the centuries. The weather may not be right for getting on your own boat — but these great ships are calling the boater’s name.

The mast of the Lightship Chesapeake against the backdrop of downtown Baltimore.

The mast of the Lightship Chesapeake against the backdrop of downtown Baltimore.

If you want to get a full appreciation of the hardships of being a sailing man (there weren’t any women aboard in the olden days), tour these ships on the coldest day you can, as I did. Even then, in the shelter of Baltimore’s harbor you won’t get a full sense of the wind’s frosty fury or the ocean’s violent motion in winter. But boy is it cold.

Historic Ships in Baltimore include the USS Constellation, the US Coast Guard Cutter Roger B. Taney, the submarine U.S.S. Torsk and the Lightship Chesapeake.

Caution: The medical exhibit aboard the USS Constellation is small but it may have hair-raising effects.

Caution: The medical exhibit aboard the USS Constellation is small but it may have hair-raising effects.

They are from different eras and serving different purposes — although all of them served in some way during World War II. And these ships  (I was corrected; they are not boats) tell a story of courage, hard times and good times. You’ve got to visit to get the whole story but while I was aboard them I found myself interested in some of details that reminded me that these were homes to many service men.

Hunt for the little exhibits on Soogie and stamp your identification card at each .

Hunt for the little exhibits on Soogie and stamp your identification card at each .

After seeing them all, you may have a favorite. It’s hard not to like the grand USS Constellation, one of Baltimore’s iconic attractions. Crew slept in hammocks. The youngest sailors were called powder monkeys and the winds powered this 19th century sailing ship.

The USCGC Taney was the home of Soogie, a dog who sailed on her during World War II and beyond. This intrepid little pup has its own exhibits on board. The Taney is the last vessel still afloat to have witnessed the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The rest of the Torsk may be metallic and confining but the officers could relax in comfort at dinner.

The rest of the Torsk may be metallic and confining but the officers could relax in comfort at dinner.

I may have been a little nervous about getting on the USS Torsk, a narrow submarine with a record 10,600 dives and service that stretches from World War II to the Cuban blockade of 1962. I don’t know if it was the teeth painted on the bow or the narrow interior but I overcame the initial hesitation curious to see how sailors live underwater. And I have to admit, it looks pretty tight, except for the fine dining table for the officers — a moment of respite in a forbidding place.

Photos of sea dogs are on display in the Lightship Chesapeake.

Photos of sea dogs are on display in the Lightship Chesapeake.

LV 116 Lightship Chesapeake marked the entrance of the Chesapeake Bay for more than 30 years, except for wartime duty during the Second World War. An exhibit on board looks at the life of real-life sea dogs.

The Seven-Foot Knoll Lighthouse.

The Seven-Foot Knoll Lighthouse.

The Seven-Foot Knoll Lighthouse is far from its original location at the mouth of the Patapsco River, heading into Baltimore’s Harbor, but it sure is a good lookout for tourists today. Climb up the red lighthouse on Pier 5 and after you learn about the solitary life of a lighthouse keeper, take a look at the Inner Harbor and Harbor East. Admission to this site is free — donations are always welcome.

© Text and photos Mary K. Tilghman

I recently visited the historic ships of San Diego. I admit it. I love boats, I mean ships. I love boats, too.

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