WHEN the phone call came, my first blurted response was "Are you kidding?" quickly followed by "yes."I had been invited to rendezvous via longboat with the H.M.S. Rose, the world's largest wooden tall ship still in use, at the mouth of Boston Harbor. The rowing club in the seaside town of Hull, Mass., was going to reenact the transfer of a harbor pilot to the Rose. I would play the role of the pilot. The next evening, with the sun low in the west, we set off northeast in the longboat. The creak of the oars filled my ears, salt spray my eyes and nose. My imagination, under sail in nautical history, perched on the horizon where the Rose plowed toward us. The original H.M.S. Rose, a 24-gun frigate, was built in Hull, England, in 1757. She first saw action in the Seven Years' War in the English Channel and in 1761 took part in the capture of Havana and Martinique. She was sent to Newport, R.I., in 1774 to pursue Yankee smugglers avoiding royal taxes. In this regard, the Rose had a direct influence on the origin of the United States Navy. She was so successful in rounding up smugglers that the Rhode Island legislature petitioned the Continental Congress to establish a navy to deal with the Rose and other British ships. The bill became law in 1775. The role of privateering in the American Revolution is often overlooked. Privateers were privately owned but officially sanctioned ships whose purpose was to capture ships flying the enemy flag during wartime. H.M.S. Rose looked on the actions of US privateers as mercenary pirates. The Rose's career ended in 1779 when she was deliberately sunk at the mouth of the harbor in Savannah, Ga., to block a French invasion fleet. Keen for a fight, the French were denied their chance to take aim on the British garrison in Savannah. The current version of the Rose, a replica of the original, was built in a shipyard in Nova Scotia in 1970. Alas, like the French, I too had to settle for a near encounter with the Rose. As our longboat approached, the Rose's speed and a countervailing current, plus nightfall, proved too much. Our longboat was unable to come alongside and transfer me aboard. Was I disappointed? A little. But how many times will I get to be a harbor pilot, smuggler, and privateer all in one stroke?