ST. PETERSBURG — Ninety feet above the water, crew members of the 122-foot-long Lynx climbed to the top of the mast and attached the top sail.
The height can be dizzying, the wind gusts scary.
But this is where crew members feel most alive.
Freedom lives at the top of the mast.
"Best view in the world,'' said crew member Casey McKenzie, 19.
The Lynx slipped under the Sunshine Skyway bridge on Friday, its dark wood a striking contrast to the looming concrete structure overhead. The hull gently scraped and splashed aside the glassy water as dolphins swam alongside. Police and residents pulled their boats nearby and snapped photos.
Three times the ship fired off its cannons, announcing its arrival, before heading to the Harborage Marina in St. Petersburg.
On board, crew members ranging in age from 18 to 66 teased one another about nothing in particular, like family stuck at the dinner table too long.
"This is our whole life," said 29-year-old first mate Sara Martin.
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With its billowing sails and bustling crew, the Lynx may conjure images of bloodthirsty pirates and treasure hunts.
It has little to do with either.
Instead, the Lynx was inspired by a cargo ship used in the War of 1812 — a conflict often forgotten but sometimes called the second war for American independence, said Jeffrey Woods, executive director for Lynx Educational Foundation.
"It's just a magnificent sight," Woods said. "This is a piece of history before your eyes."
This Lynx was born when Woodson Woods, father of the foundation's director, heard about the original ship and couldn't get it out of his mind.
Stuck in a windless bay — an inescapable trap for sailboats — crew members in 1813 faced death by British hands or unceremonious retreat. As the British came closer, they jumped into the water and swam to shore, and the Royal Navy had a new toy.
The British took meticulous measurements of the Lynx. Almost 200 years later, Woods found the schematics and planned how he'd give the Lynx back to the United States.
Woods said his father raised enough private donations to build the roughly $3 million ship, which launched from Maine in 2001.
Since then, it has been touring the East and West coasts, used to teach about the war, sailing and the sea.
Running the ship, which has an annual budget of $650,000, isn't easy. But Woods said it has been worth it see more than 100,000 people cross the decks since the launch.
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Capt. Bob Nelson's voice burst through the air. Rubber-soled shoes pattered on deck as the crew ran to the weblike rope ladder leading to the highest point of the ship.
Crew members strapped on red and yellow harnesses.
Up went a 19-year-old man and an 18-year-old woman, both fresh off graduation stages.
Hand over hand, their bodies swaying with the ship's lull, they scaled the ladder. The captain, a Navy veteran who served in the Vietnam War, watched as the agile adults balanced at the top of the ship, far above water, securing the top sail.
For the crew, the ship is their home. There's no jumping off at port and driving home to air conditioning and Starbucks lattes.
The Lynx has many purposes.
It's a way to keep the past alive. It's a welcome reprieve from the realities of college tuition and dwindling scholarships. It's a way to see the world without draining your savings.
But above all, it feels like home.
"Our whole life,'' said first mate Martin, "is 70 feet by 20 feet."