Monday, June 05, 2017

Balticon51 and Baltimore's Historic Ships, or "How I Spent My Holiday Weekend"

We were in Baltimore over Memorial Day, enjoying a relaxing weekend with friends at Balticon51, an area science fiction convention. It was my first visit to the city since Worldcon in '98 when I came down with mono. My memories remain mostly fuzzy about that time period.

This time though it was all good. Even though we were there primarily to catch up with good friends (I'd list them all but I'm afraid I might leave someone off--they know who they are), it was also a very enjoyable convention. I volunteered for a Green Room shift, because cons run on volunteer power and as a Green Room manager at numerous Worldcons I knew exactly how important it was to have the room well staffed. However, Manager Eileen did a bang-up job and only needed me for a couple hours, so I was free to hang out and visit with people. I even attended some program items, including a valuable one on how to hand-sell your books.

I also took time to see some sights. Baltimore, of course, is a historic US harbor and features in some of my novels, particularly Sea Change:

"The Fancy is rigged for speed,” he said, pointing to the raking masts. “She’s fine-lined and tall, and built in Baltimore, home of the fastest vessels afloat. And that ability to maneuver quickly is necessary, because unlike your British merchants, we do not have a fleet of navy ships escorting us everywhere. We Americans have to rely most on our own wits, our seamanship, and our gunnery skills to stay free.”
The ship I'd most hoped to see while in Baltimore's Inner Harbor is The Pride of Baltimore II, modeled on the Chasseur, the most storied American privateer of the War of 1812. However, the Pride was cruising in the Bahamas, so instead I visited two other historic ships. One was the USCG Cutter Taney,
 The Taney served in WWII and subsequent actions, through the Viet Nam war and into the era of drug interdiction. It's now part of the Historic Ships collection in Baltimore. While I don't write in the era of the Taney's service, I did research the USCG aka the Revenue Marine for Smuggler's Bride, so I've always had an interest in the USCG vessels. Touring the Taney was a reminder of how cramped conditions are and were in these smaller vessels, and what life was like for those who served aboard them.

I may not have had a chance to see the Pride of Baltimore, but I did see another storied sailing ship, the USS Constellation.  This is not the frigate Constellation of the War of 1812, but the sloop-of-war Constellation built in 1854.

While it's a bit past the era I write in, life aboard a USN ship in the mid-19th century is similar enough that I could enjoy the tour and find neat tidbits to work into my future novels. Here's a picture of the captain's day room, a space used for discussion of ship's business with the officers, and other purposes. I found it surprisingly spacious. There was also a zinc tub built into the bulkhead next to the captain's "seat of ease", which could be easily drained by pulling a plug. It's a neat feature I hadn't considered until now. 

I've often said one of the best parts of being a writer is doing the hands on research, whether it's caving in North Central Florida for The Bride and the Buccaneer, or walking the streets of St. Augustine for Captain Sinister's Lady, or a day at the beach with mojitos (all the books). Now I can add another historic ship tour to my research notes, and I look forward to sharing the information in future novels.

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