On Friday, Dec. 10 the Pilot Schooner Virginia will be christened on the downtown Norfolk waterfront. Many of the state's elected officials, local civic, business and political leaders, representatives of the maritime community, students from local schools and contributors to the project will be among the thousands on hand to witness the momentous event.
Additionally, those attending the ceremony will hear from two of the nation's most distinguished sailors: Capt. Bill Pinkney, USN retired and Gary Jobson, known as the nation's pre-eminent sailing ambassador. Furthermore, Gov. Mark Warner and his wife, Lisa Collins-Warner
, who has been asked to officially sponsor the vessel, have been invited.
Pinkney, a follower of the Schooner Virginia project
, is the first black American to complete a solo circumnavigation of the globe. Pinkney's two-year, 32,000-mile-long voyage was the subject of a PBS documentary entitled "Voyages Home;" he recently retired as master of the tall ship Amistad. Jobson is a sailing analyst for ESPN, was a member of the 1977 victorious America's Cup team and is editor-at-large for Sailing World and Cruising World magazines
Schooner Virginia's voyage to her christening will be a true spectacle for all in attendance. Tugs, fireboats, sightseeing vessels and private boats will line the route from Harbor Park to Otter Berth at Town Point Park on downtown Norfolk's historic waterfront. Additionally, the event will put a piece of Chesapeake Bay history in perspective.
The Schooner Virginia project, administered by the Virginia Maritime Heritage Foundation, encompasses the recreation of a 1917-era wooden ship that served as the last pure sailing vessel deployed by the Virginia Pilot Association (VPA). That pilot schooner worked as a station keeping vessel off the Virginia capes at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay and delivering Virginia pilots to inbound and outbound vessels from 1917 to 1926. On Dec. 10, Schooner Virginia - aided by tugs -- will be escorted to the christening by two of the modern powerboats the VPA now uses to move its captains and navigators.
Schooner Virginia, a handmade replica of her namesake vessel that sailed the Chesapeake Bay from 1917 to 1926, has been evolving in her dry dock since Oct. 2002, when 400 people turned out to watch as the vessel's keel was laid.
Since then, work has continued at a rapid pace with shipwrights and marine engineers and architects collaborating on the first wood tall ship built on the Norfolk waterfront in almost a century. Using traditional methods and modified plans from the original ship, Schooner Virginia's builders have fashioned a 122-foot-long vessel that will sail the globe and represent the Commonwealth in many ways.
Schooner Virginia will be a floating classroom dedicated to several disciplines of maritime study; she'll travel the world as the seaborne goodwill ambassador for the Commonwealth; and she'll be used as an economic development platform. Many of her port calls in the U.S. and abroad will be selected to coincide with strategic marketing and economic initiatives to further the state's position in the international marketplace.
Earlier in the week, Sampson, Tidewater SKANSKA's heavy barge-borne crane, will lift Schooner Virginia from her dry dock berth and gently place her in the water without fanfare. Friday, Dec. 10, however, will be markedly different as Schooner Virginia, makes her way down the Elizabeth River under the gentle push of a tug boat from W.F. McGann Corp. moves her to Otter Berth, adjacent to Town Point Park, where she'll be greeted by thousands.
For those folks working downtown, the christening ceremony would be a great way to spend lunch hour. Sit, watch, eat and listen as Jack Ankersen, executive director of the Hampton Roads Sports Commission and voice of the Old Dominion Monarch Basketball teams (men and women) emcees this momentus and historical occasion. The U.S. Navy's Atlantic Fleet Band will provide the music appropriate to such an event.
Schooner Virginia could not have reached this point had it not been for the corporations and individuals that supported the project by donating time, money and/or equipment. The project's planners have been continually mustering support for the project since the idea was taken public in 1997. Additionally, Schooner Virginia project received financial and in-kind support from the Commonwealth of Virginia and the City of Norfolk, her homeport.
Following the christening, Town Point Park in the area between Otter Berth and Waterside will take on a festival atmosphere between 1 p.m. - 5 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 10 and from 11 a.m. - 4 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 11. Live entertainment, maritime displays and activities plus get a close-up view of Virginia.