Keepers of the maritime tradition

Reproductions: Today's tall ships are hybrids of old and new -- floating classrooms for young cadets -- with sea stories of their own.

June 21, 2000|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,Sun Staff

The tall ships visiting Baltimore this week will have sails like the vessels that conquered the world for European trade. But below decks, the ships of OpSail 2000 are as near the Age of Sail as their diesel engines.

The vessels are reproductions, built since 1918 as training ships and ambassadors of goodwill for Indonesia, Ukraine, Germany, Italy, Chile, Uruguay, the United States and other nations.

Most have steel hulls, sophisticated electronic gear and engines that enable them to meet tight schedules however the wind may blow.

"If Ishmael were to walk out of 'Moby Dick' and into Fells Point this weekend to see these ships, he would see the same spars and rigging, the same barques, barquentines and schooners," said Jerome Bird of Pride of Baltimore Inc., which owns the globe-trotting goodwill ambassador. "The steel hulls, however, would be new to him."

Burchenal Green of the National Maritime Historical Society in Peekskill, N.Y., said the ships are floating classrooms that carry historical significance.

"These ships were built for serious training," he said. "They are used to teach naval cadets character, discipline, teamwork, how to work in close quarters and deal with very difficult weather."

Three-masted, square-sailed ships were the mainstay of European navies from the 1500s to the mid-19th century. Magellan's fleet used a similar type of "full-rigged" ship to circle the globe, said Peter Stanford of the National Maritime Historical Society.

"The kind of ships on this tour played a huge role in history because they opened up the whole world to new cultures," Stanford said.

Many of the vessels have fascinating histories.

Danmark, a three-masted sailing ship built by Denmark in 1932 as a training vessel, sailed to New York in 1939 for the World's Fair. When World War II broke out, its captain turned the ship over to the United States to prevent its capture by the Nazis. The Coast Guard used the vessel for cadet training on Long Island Sound.

Later, the United States took the sailing ship Horst Wessel from Germany as reparation for the war. The vessel is now the Coast Guard training ship Eagle.

The schooner Bat'kivshchyna (which means motherland) is on a symbolic voyage of freedom. Its Ukrainian crew looks forward to sailing past the Statue of Liberty on July Fourth and thanking Ukranian-Americans who donated food and money during the years of Soviet rule.

"HMS" Rose was constructed in Nova Scotia for the U.S. Bicentennial as a replica of the British frigate of the same name built in Hull, England, in 1757.

During the American Revolution, the British used the fast, heavily armed warship to suppress smuggling around Newport, R.I., and to help drive Gen. George Washington's forces from New York.

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