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Roseway and the World Ocean School

September 11, 2001 brought changes in course to many—including Abby Kidder, Dwight Deckelmann, and Roseway, a 135-foot Grand Banks schooner designated a National Historic Landmark in 1997 by America’s National Park Service.

“My partner Dwight and I were hiking the coast of Maine to cope and process what had happened and on a mountaintop decided it was time for us to make a contribution to the world,” says Kidder.  She had earned a master’s degree in human ecology and environmental ethics and was a certified trainer at the Institute for Global Ethics.  Deckelmann had earned a BS degree in biology and was a self-taught sailor who had spent years building boats and delivering yachts.  The pair envisioned forming a special school and within a year they had a place to house it—a run-down, old, wooden boat.

Built in 1925 at John James’ family shipyard in Essex, Massachusetts, Roseway was commissioned by Harold Hathaway of Taunton who was motivated to defend Gloucester’s honor in races against the Halifax fishing schooners.  A Hathaway acquaintance who “always got her way,” gave the vessel her name, and Roseway was launched.  In 1934, fishermen hauled a record of 74 swordfish in one day aboard the fishing yacht. 

In 1941 the Boston Pilots Association bought the seaworthy schooner and assigned her to keep lonely vigil in heavy seas off Boston Harbor.  During World War II the U.S. Navy fitted her with a machine gun so she could guide Allied ships through coastal minefields and anti-submarine netting.  In 1973, the pilots reluctantly retired their Roseway, the last sailing pilot boat in the United States, and replaced her with smaller steel powerboats.

Approaching age 50, Roseway needed a new mission. A group of Boston money men stepped in, painted over the giant “Pilot” letters on the side, and converted her to a tourist windjammer.  She enjoyed her moments of fame in the 1977 TV remark of Rudyard Kipling’s “Captains Courageous” and continued carrying passengers for more than 20 years.  But chartering takes its toll and wooden boats are costly to maintain.  Roseway’s owner lost his boat in 2001 to the First National Bank of Damariscotta when U.S. Marshals seized the 76-year old vessel.

By 2002, the bankers had received only ridiculously-low bids for the repossessed vessel and agreed to donate it to Kidder and Deckelmann, whose mountaintop vision had taken the form of a 501(c)3 nonprofit, the World Ocean School.  A tugboat took Roseway to Boothbay Harbor where she was hauled out on the railway at Sample’s Shipyard.  Kidder raised money while Deckelmann supervised a two-year restoration—90% of the hull was re-planked and the schooner was given new wiring, plumbing, and propulsion systems. 

The couple re-launched Roseway in 2004 for her new career as the floating platform of their program.  The mission of their nonsectarian organization is to provide challenging educational programs by fostering an appreciation for community relationships, developing a deep commitment to ethical values, and cultivating an expanded world view.  The two founders saw a way to do this through onboard classes in maritime history, sail training, and community building.

Last fall, the ship weighed anchor for the Caribbean, came to St. Croix for fuel, and never left.  Instead, Kidder and Deckelmann opened their M.A.S.T. (Marine After-School Training) program to students from the island’s public high schools.  “As soon as we hit the docks, Crucians started coming up, and the schools came calling,” says Tom Ryan, Roseway’s current Captain. 

One 17-year old senior at Central High School had never before been sailing or even left the island of St. Croix, according to a report in the “Virgin Islands Daily News,” until she went three miles out aboard Roseway.  She and the other kids were given hands-on sailing instruction, a bit of nautical history, and information on maritime careers.  To raise operating money, the crew operated day sails and charters, and the rust red sails became a familiar sight around the island. 

About 600 school students participated in the program this year and about 2,000 people enjoyed tall ship day sails. “This is a very special community and the pinnacle of work we have been doing,” said Kidder while speaking to a group of potential donors in April.  Her current goal is to fund the cost of bringing a dozen students from the U.S. Virgin Islands to Boston for four weeks of Summer Ambassador Adventures on Roseway.  

Roseway is en route to her summer port of Boston this month. But when winter begins in the northeastern U.S., Roseway will return to her winter home and the welcoming embrace of St. Croix and its people.  Kidder and Deckelmann need financial support to continue the work of the World Ocean School.  To donate and for more about Rosewaywww.worldoceanschool.org or call (617) 443-4841.

Chris Goodier is the editorial director of All at Sea and a St. Croix-based freelance writer.  Her articles and photographs have appeared in numerous publications including Caribbean Travel & Life, Art Fusion, and Discover St. Thomas/St. John/St. Croix.

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