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Tallships: New Age of Sail

Back from the brink, today’s global tall-ship fleet offers a wealth of opportunities for those interested in trying out old-time sailing
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Time was sail-powered vessels ruled the waves. The Age of Sail, as we now call it, lasted millennia. Then came steam engines and the internal combustion engine. For over a century, sail hung on. But the end was never really in doubt, and with the arrival of the 20th century, square-rigger sailing, in particular, nearly disappeared, despite the best efforts of such mariners as Australian Cape Horner, Alan Villiers. A handful of training ships, like the U.S. Coast Guard cutter, Eagle, hung on, the value of experience under sail having long been recognized by the navies of the world. A scattering of vessels also continued to make their living in places like the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and coastal New England: think Indonesian trading schooners and the windjammer fleet in Maine. But that was pretty much it.

A funny thing happened, though, on the way to the demise of tall-ship sailing: the tall ships of the world not only found a way to hang on but make themselves relevant again. An early milestone was the first official tall-ships race in 1956, organized by UK-based Sail Training International (sailtraininginternational.org). Soon afterward came the first Operation Sail, or Op-Sail, in the United States in the early 1960s, as envisaged by President Kennedy.

These days, Europe, in particular, is a hotbed of tall-ship sailing, with fleets of luggers, barks, schooners and any number of other vessel types plying the waters of the Low Countries, the Baltic and Coastal France. There’s even a small but growing fleet of sail-powered cargo vessels now in operation, carrying things like coffee, olive oil and rum to ports on either side of the Atlantic. (See Green is the New Black, in the August 2020 issue of SAIL.) Here in the United States, tall-ship sailing can be found not only on the West and East coasts, but on the Gulf of Mexico and Great Lakes as well.

In North America, the place to go to find out the latest on tall-ship sailing in both the United States and Canada is Newport, Rhode Island, based Tall Ships America (go to the web site www.tallshipsamerica.org). Globally, Sail Training International remains your best starting point.

In terms of opportunities available, these range from serious sail-training and bluewater passagemaking aboard vessels like Canada’s bark-rigged Picton Castle to helping out with the maintenance aboard boats like the historic Grand Banks fishing schooner Adventure to simply going out for a daysail aboard the galleon San Salvador on San Diego Bay.

Whatever your inclination, there’s never been a better time to go down to the sea in the same kinds of ships as our forebears once did in what remains the greatest adventure of all—casting off lines aboard a well-found sailing vessel.

Lynx

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Launched in 2001 in Rockport, Maine, the topsail schooner Lynx is a re-creation of the privateer Lynx, built in 1812 in Fell’s Point, Maryland. During the War of 1812, the original Lynx was captured by the British. However, in a stroke of good fortune for naval historians, the boat’s lines were subsequently recorded by her captors for posterity. Today, “America’s Privateer,” as she’s known, divides her time between Annapolis, Maryland; Simons Island, Georgia; and Nantucket, Massachusetts. In addition to serving as a floating classroom, Lynx is available for charters and daysails. Berths are also available for deliveries between ports. For more information, visit tallshiplynx.com.

Europa

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A bark with some serious miles under her keel, the Europa is based Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, and initially came down the ways in 1911 in Hamburg, Germany, where she did service as a light ship. In 1986 she was renovated and re-rigged as a sail-training vessel and today accommodates 48 trainees and 16 permanent crew. No stranger to Cape Horn, the Europa will also be making a number of trips to Antarctica in 2022, and over the years has been a regular participant in Tall Ships Races on both sides of the Atlantic. In addition to training sailors, her crews take advantage of the fact they regularly visit some of the most remote corners of the world to do research on climate change and the health of the world’s oceans. For more information on the Europa, visit barkeuropa.com.

Kalmar Nyckel

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Among the most fascinating vessels making up the U.S. tall-ships fleet is the Kalmar Nyckel, a full-scale replica of the Swedish flagship that founded the colony of New Sweden in 1638, the first permanent European settlement in the Delaware Valley. Launched in 1997, the Kalmar Nyckel is now based in Wilmington, Delaware, where she serves as a floating classroom offering “old salts” of all ages a variety of sea- and land-based recreational and educational experiences. These include dockside tours and daysails on the Delaware River. The ship also offers a robust training program for those interested in learning the art of rigging, maintaining and sailing a 17th-century square-rigger. For details, go to kalmarnyckel.org.

Adventure

The schooner Adventure first went down the ways in Essex, Massachusetts, in 1926 to enter the cod, haddock and halibut fisheries, and continues to sail out of the historic fishing port of Gloucester, Massachusetts, to this day. A true community effort, she relies on the support of volunteers and donors to continue her mission of preserving the maritime history of this storied part of the world. She remains a working vessel in the fullest sense of the word, taking the public out for regularly scheduled daysails. These include trips for school kids and the descendants of the original Gloucester schooner sailors. To learn more about this historic sailing vessel, visit schooner-adventure.org.

Elissa

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Launched in 1877, the iron-hulled bark Elissa was on the verge of being taken to pieces in a Greek scrapyard when she was rescued by the Galveston Historical Foundation of Galveston, Texas. Restoration work began in 1978, and today the vessel plays host to thousands of visitors annually as the crown jewel of the Galveston Historic Seaport. A dedicated corps of volunteers works year-round to keep the vessel in trim. Interestingly, in her heyday as a commercial carrier, the Elissa not only specialized in calling in at many of the smaller ports in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean, but even loaded cotton in Galveston on occasion, making her return to Lone Star state a true homecoming. For more, visit galvestonhistory.org.

Pride of Baltimore II

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Modeled on the sleek, fast maneuverable Baltimore clippers that gained fame as privateers during the War of 1812, the topsail schooner Pride of Baltimore II was commissioned in 1988 after her predecessor, the Pride of Baltimore, was lost in a freak squall. Since that time, Pride II has sailed over 275,000 miles and visited more than 200 ports in 40 countries. Another true working vessel, she is available for everything from deck tours to daysails and private charters. Though restricted to her home waters of the Chesapeake Bay in 2021, the hope is to compete in the Annapolis-to-Bermuda Race and visit the Great Lakes in 2022. For more information, visit pride2.org.

Star of India

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The flagship of a Maritime Museum of San Diego fleet that includes no few than four operational tall ships, the iron-hulled bark Star of India was built on the Isle of Man in 1863, making her the oldest active iron-hulled sailing vessel in the world. Originally called the Euterpe, she made 21 trips around the world before arriving in San Diego in the 1920s, where she languished for a number of years before finally being brought back into sailing trim in 1976. As is the case with the other vessels in the museum’s extensive fleet, a cadre of volunteers both sails and maintains this magnificent bluewater sailing vessel. For more information, visit sdmaritime.org.

Niagara

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Based out of the Erie Maritime Museum in Erie, Pennsylvania, the brig Niagara is a reconstruction of Oliver Hazard Perry’s flagship during the Battle of Lake Erie aboard which he uttered the famous words: “Don’t give up the ship!” Launched in 1990, the Niagara, with the support of the Flagship Niagara League, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the art of historical seamanship, the historic vessels, includes a robust volunteer/sail-training program as part of its mission. Daysails are also available, both aboard the Niagara and the Lettie G. Howard, a fishing schooner built in 1893 in Essex, Massachusetts, and also based out of the Erie Maritime Museum. For details, visit the Flagship Niagara League at sailfnl.org.

Irving Johnson and Exy Johnson

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Designated the Official Tall Ships and Maritime Ambassadors of the City of Los Angeles at their launch in 2002, the 110ft wooden brigantines Irving Johnson and Exy Johnson were purpose-built by Southern California’s Los Angeles Maritime Institute to provide sail-training opportunities for younger mariners, in particular. The ships are named for the late Captain Irving and Electra “Exy” Johnson, both sail-training pioneers aboard their schooner, Yankee. Also sailing under the auspices of the Los Angeles Maritime Institute is the topsail schooner Swift of Ipswich and the three-masted schooner, American Pride. For more information, visit lamitopsail.org.

Oliver Hazard Perry

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When it was launched in 2015, the Oliver Hazard Perry represented the first oceangoing, full-rigged ship to be built in the United States in over 100 years. Today she serves as both a training vessel and the official flagship of the state of Rhode Island. Based out of Newport, Rhode Island, the Oliver Hazard Perry has an LOA of 200ft and includes seagoing accommodations for up to 49 crew. Volunteer opportunities, including everything from leading tours to helping with the ship’s rigging or in the engine room, abound. Multiple sail-trainee programs are also available, including those for young people interested in careers at sea. To learn more, visit ohpri.org.

San Salvador

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Another magnificent example from the Maritime Museum of San Diego’s tall-ships fleet, the galleon San Salvador is a reproduction of the first-ever European vessel to visit Southern California, back in 1542. A member of the museum fleet since 2015, the San Salvador is available for daysails and also regularly sails to other cities in California. As is the case with the Star of India, volunteers play a critical role in her operation and upkeep. Same thing with the other vessels in the museum’s fleet, which include the topsail schooner Californian (a re-creation of a Gold Rush-era revenue cutter that is also available for regular daysails) and the HMS Surprise, a reproduction of an 18th-century frigate and one of the stars of the movie Master and Commander, starring Russell Crowe. To learn more, visit sdmaritime.org.

Virginia

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The 122ft Schooner Virginia is a reproduction of the last all-sail vessel built for the Virginia Pilot Association, which used her for sail-training and navigational training purposes through the late 1920s. Launched in 2004, Virginia is part of Sail Nauticus, based in Norfolk, Virginia, a subset of the Nauticus Foundation, which also maintains the historic battleship Wisconsin. The Virginia’s educational mission emphasizes STEM education, maritime history, tall-ship training and environmental education. The schooner also participates in events like the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race—in which she holds the all-time course record. Volunteers are involved in everything from giving tours to maintaining and repairing the hull to helping handle the vessel’s towering rig underway. For details, visit nauticus.org.

Picton Castle

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Based in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, the Picton Castle stands out among the world’s tall ships for its emphasis on bluewater sail training and long-distance voyaging. Trainees have the option of signing aboard for anywhere from three months to an entire year—no experience necessary. In the words of the vessel’s the captain and professional crew, “You will learn as you sail!” Boasting the same towering bark rig favored by the Cape Horners of old, the Picton Castle has already sailed around the world no less than seven times and plans to make it eight in 2022. The ship also hosts a program known as “Bosun School,” where aspiring mariners can up their game in the areas of sailmaking and rigging. For more information, visit picton-castle.com.

Sultana

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Launched in 2001, the schooner Sultana is a reproduction of a Boston-built merchant vessel that served for a number of years in the late 1700s as the smallest schooner ever commissioned in the British Royal Navy. Based out of Chestertown, Maryland, the schooner hosts as many as 14,000 students and teachers annually as part of her mission to help young people better understand the Chesapeake Bay. She is also available to the general public for daysails. The annual “Downrigging Festival” she hosts each fall is an event not to be missed. For more on the Sultana, visit sultanaeducation.org.

Spirit of Bermuda

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Launched in 2006, the Spirit of Bermuda is a re-creation of the fore-and-aft rigged vessels long favored by the merchant mariners and privateers of her home port of Bermuda. Although she carries three masts, she is still technically a sloop, as per the designations used by the British Royal navy in the 18th and 19th centuries. Owned and operated by the Bermuda Sloop Foundation, she serves as a sail-training vessel for the island’s youth. In this capacity, she has logged some serious miles, taking part in any number of tall-ships rallies and races, including the Newport-Bermuda race. To learn more, go to bermudasloop.org.

Bluenose

In the 1920s and 1930s, the International Fishermen’s Cup was arguably even more prestigious than the America’s Cup. And among the many U.S. and Canadian fishing schooners that took part, none was more renowned than Canada’s Bluenose, which defeated the U.S. flagged Gertrude L. Thebaud in the very last of the races in 1938. Though the original Bluenose was lost on a reef in Haiti in 1946, the Bluenose II, launched in 1963, continues to keep alive the tradition of Canadian-style schooner sailing. In addition to opportunities to become a member of her crew, the schooner is regularly available for harbor cruises and daysails. For more on the Bluenose II, visit bluenose.novascotia.ca

January 2022

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