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Down to the Sea — in Tall Ships

As a boy growing up in southern Indiana, magazines (including SAIL, of course!) and books were pretty much it in terms of the “sailing” I did in between summer trips to my grandparents’ place in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Among my favorites were C. S. Forester’s “Hornblower” series, Rudyard Kipling’s Captains Courageous, Jack London’s The Sea Wolf and, my personal favorite, Eric Newby’s The Last Grain Race. This in turn created an abiding love of pretty much anything having to do with schooners and square-riggers, a bittersweet love given the fact in the early ‘70s it seemed only a matter of time before the last of these kinds of vessels went the way of the dodo bird. I can still remember visiting the frigate Constitution as a kid in Boston and thinking, “We’ll never see its like again.”

Of course, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Even as I was mourning the end of this kind of old-time sailing, a community of sailors, boatbuilders and naval architects was doing its utmost to make sure it hung on. The result has been more barks, schooners, sloops and brigantines than I would have ever thought possible as a kid. Better still, this same fleet of vessels now offers a wealth of opportunities for sailors of all ages to get out on the water and see what this kind of sailing is truly like—whether for an afternoon or on passage. I’ve long believed sailboats and sailing represent much of what is best in humankind, and it can also be argued the modern tall-ships movement represents much of what is best in sailing. On the one hand, you have an effort to both recognize and rediscover the history of sail, a noble cause by any measure. On the other, you have a group of mariners with a passion for sharing both this history and their love of ships and the sea with as many sailors and non-sailors as they can: in the process making the world a better place overall.

Putting together our overview of some of the tall ships currently sailing, I was amazed at how many of them there are out there. Same thing working with managing editor, Lydia Mullan, on her story covering the ongoing efforts to build yet another historic square-rigger up in Maine. It’s truly incredible the amount of hard work that goes into making this kind of thing happen. The entire sailing community owes these dedicated sailors, riggers, boatbuilders and historians a word of thanks. The same is true for those individuals who through their hard work and generosity literally and figuratively help keep these fine vessels afloat financially. As was the case in the Age of Sail, today’s tall ships need to find a way to satisfy the bottom line to keep sailing, and whether it’s through donations or carrying passengers, it ain’t easy. I’m sure they’d love any kind of help you can give them.

Finally, as some readers may have noticed, a number of fine vessels out there, like the aforementioned Constitution in Boston and the Wavertree of New York, are not to be found in the pages of the issue you now hold in your hand. The reason is we had to draw the line somewhere and decided to only cover those ships still actively sailing. There are just too many tall ships out there these days to include every last one of them, a good problem to have. Look for us to make amends in a future issue of SAIL

January 2022

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