By Melissa Archer, Preservation Officer
Two weeks ago, Baltimore celebrated the bicentennial of the Battle of Baltimore with a harbor full of ships. There were tall ships, small ships, historic ships, reproduction ships and modern war ships. Among the celebratory fleet was a small, sleek sailing vessel called the Yacht Elf.
The Yacht Elf is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is protected by a preservation covenant held by the Maryland Historical Trust. So what’s so significant about the Yacht Elf? Elf is the oldest surviving racing yacht in the country, and two weeks ago I had the opportunity to sail on her during the parade of ships around Fort McHenry.
Although I was unsure of my sailing abilities and a little nervous about falling in, sailing on the Elf in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, surrounded by historic ships, was one of the easiest and most pleasurable things I’ve done as a state employee. My only job was to sit, avoid getting knocked out by the boom, and enjoy the experience.
Elf is a small craft, but when her sails open up she is majestic. Built in 1888, the Elf was a state of the art racing yacht. According to the Classic Yacht Restoration Guild, her sailing rig is a unique feature that was adapted from merchant ship designs. In her heyday she was used for racing and off-shore yacht cruising. She is notable for being the first small craft to sail round trip from Marblehead, Massachusetts to Nova Scotia in 1893. That’s a long distance for small boat!
The Elf is still around for experienced and novice sailors alike to enjoy due to the efforts of Captain Rick Carrion. When he acquired the Elf in 1971, she was in a rough state; her lead ballast had been replaced, sail reduced and rigging modified. Over the past 40 years Carrion has meticulously restored the Elf to her original condition.
The hard work and dedication of Carrion, various craftsmen, numerous volunteers and benefactors has paid off. The Elf is a unique piece of Maryland’s history that will survive for generations to come.
The Elf is based in St. Michael’s Maryland. Learn more and follow her adventures on Facebook!