Schooner Sultana under sail. Photo: Sultana Education Foundation

Sultana to Set Sail Again on Chester River

After a year-long hiatus, the Schooner Sultana will raise her sails in Chestertown, Md. once more. The Sultana Education Foundation has announced it will return to in-person activities this summer, including preparing its namesake schooner for sailing.

2021 marks the 20th anniversary of the replica schooner’s first sail. The vessel, which has been out of commission for over a year amid the pandemic, will be re-rigged at the Chestertown public dock in July. While sailing programs can only operate in a limited capacity this summer, the organization is planning events at Chestertown’s annual Downrigging Festival to commemorate the momentous year. The Downrigging Festival will take place in Nov. 2021, and is expected to draw crowds from across the Chesapeake region.

“Downrigging was a popular event pre-pandemic, and I would imagine the need for it is even greater now
since we have missed out on so many of our usual events in the past year,” Carter said. “It’s going to be
great for us because people will recognize [Chestertown] as a place to go when they’re looking for things
to do as the world opens up again.”

The Sultana Education Foundation is more than just a ship, though. The organization collaborates with Kent County schools to provide students with hands-on learning experiences on the Chesapeake Bay, in addition to hosting educational activities for the public. This summer, they will be offering paddling trips and week-long day camps for kids, as well as smaller-scale events in their building on South Cross Street.

Throughout the pandemic, foundation president Drew McMullen says the group found great success with virtual programs, reaching an estimated 6,000 students through events like Facebook livestreams and in-class Zoom visits. According to Kent County tourism manager Jana Carter, Sultana’s adaptability was crucial in maintaining public interest in their organization’s message, as well as maintaining a sense of community engagement in a time of limited human interactions.

The core values of Sultana, however, cannot be upheld in a virtual setting. “Our whole philosophy is hands-on, interactive, sensory learning for kids,” said McMullen. “We found you can do a lot on Zoom, but what we really love doing is just impossible virtually.”

Eager to return to the shores of the Chester River, McMullen hopes the summer programs offer some sense of normalcy after a tumultuous year, particularly for the children, whom he says, “just need to go outside and play with other kids this summer.”

As we transition out of the pandemic, both McMullen and Carter are confident in the plans in place for the remainder of the year. McMullen explained that all Sultana staff members will be fully vaccinated before summer programming begins and that participation will still be limited to ensure COVID safety measures can be followed, as is the case for many events planned in Kent County this year.

“From what I’ve heard, many of the events planned this year will still have capacity limits or other restrictions in place to keep everyone safe,” Carter said. “But having small events is way better than having no events.”

-Alaina Perdon