A group of modern-day John Smiths rowed away in a small, open boat May 12 from Jamestown, the site of the first permanent English settlement in America, which Smith helped to found 400 years ago.

“This is all just kind of overwhelming,” the captain, Ian Bystrom, said before the boat left. “I’m used to just sailing boats and teaching kids and the next thing you know, we’re here on the 400th anniversary.”

Several hundred cheering people lined the shore of the James River as Bystrom, followed by his crew of 11, slowly stepped onto large rocks at the water’s edge and then into the 28-foot boat, called a shallop.

The launching of the shallop, a replica of the boat Smith and his crew used to explore the Bay, also marked the formal move of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail from concept to reality.

National Park Service Director Mary Bomar formally launched the trail during a visit to Jamestown coinciding with the shallop launch, saying the trail would provide “new forms of discovery for our visitors as they explore the wonder of what the captain called a ‘goodly bay.’”

The colonists arrived at Jamestown May 13, 1607. After the settlement was established, Smith soon led a series of voyages, first along the James and York rivers in 1607, followed by two major explorations through the Chesapeake and portions of its major tributaries in 1608, producing the first maps of the Bay.

Congress passed legislation creating a trail tracing Smith’s voyages last fall.

Bomar called the Bay an “American treasure” and said people visiting the trail would see “the Chesapeake Bay as it was then—and as it is now.”

She said that trail would teach people about the Bay and the issues it faces. “Education leads to appreciation, and appreciation results in stewardship—caring for special places. I believe that greater understanding and appreciation of citizens throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed can be a significant force in conserving and restoring the Bay.”

Exactly how and where people will learn about the Bay will be determined in a management plan the park service is set to begin writing this summer and hopes to complete by the end of 2008.

The final plan will spell out how the trail will be managed and interpreted, and will lead to maps and guides that identify everything from important historical sites to access points.

Although the water trail will be “most fully experienced by watercraft” according to park service materials, many sites can be visited by land and the final plan could recommend a companion driving route.

“The trail will be enjoyed by water, whether paddled, sailed or motored,” Bomar said. “It will also be enjoyed from the land at sites all along the shores of the Chesapeake and tributaries.”

Some efforts to make the trail “real” don’t have to wait for the plan and are already under way. The routes of Smith’s explorations are already known, and they border roughly 75 sites that belong to the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Network, a system of public and private parks, museums, and historic and natural sites coordinated by the park service that tell Bay-related stories.

Park service grants to gateway sites this year will prioritize projects that begin marking the trail and educating visitors about Smith’s explorations.

“Those will be the first places that we begin to make the trail real,” said John Maounis, superintendent of the Gateways Network and the John Smith trail.

The park service will begin offering workshops on trail management this summer, and has a traveling exhibit about the trail that will be set up at shallop stops.

The boat will stop at more than 20 spots in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and Washington, D.C., before returning to Jamestown on Sept. 8. The crew will attempt to complete the entire trip entirely by oar and sail.

Workers with the nonprofit Sultana Projects Inc. of Chestertown, MD, crafted the boat mostly using tools like those in Smith’s time.

Smith’s crew ran low on food and water two days into their trip and turned to the native Indians for help. Stephen Adkins, chief of the Chickahominy tribe in Virginia, said the modern boat’s crew has an edge over Smith because they went to the Chickahominy Tribal Center to learn about the Indians of the early 17th century and of today.

“We need to give these folks a hand for trying to get it right,” Adkins said during a ceremony before the boat left.

Bomar said the trail will tell that part of the story as well.

“While we commemorate the contributions the of the English settlers who came here to settle America, we also recognize the contributions of the Americans who were already here with a thriving society and culture,” she said.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report

See the Shallop

Scheduled stops for the Capt. John Smith Four Hundred Project 2007 Re-enactment Voyage include:

  • May 12: Historic Jamestowne, VA
  • May 19 & 20: Onancock, VA
  • May 29: Phillips Landing, DE
  • May 30: Seaford/Blades, DE
  • June 2: Vienna, MD
  • June 9 & 10: Solomons, MD
  • June 16: Colonial Beach, VA
  • June 21: Accokeek, Maryland
  • June 23 & 24: Mount Vernon, VA
  • June 27 to July 1: Washington, D.C.
  • July 2: Alexandria, VA
  • July 14 & 15: Annapolis, MD
  • July 17: Rock Hall, MD
  • July 21: Port Deposit, MD
  • July 21: Perryville, MD
  • July 22: Havre de Grace, MD
  • July 28 & 29: Baltimore, MD
  • Aug. 4 & 5: St. Leonard, MD
  • Aug. 12: Tappahannock, VA
  • Aug. 18 & 19: Fredericksburg, VA
  • Aug. 25 & 26: Deltaville, VA
  • Sept. 1–4: Norfolk, VA
  • Sept. 8: Historic Jamestowne, VA

For details about the shallop and related events, visit www.johnsmith400.org/.