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Tall Ships of the Caribbean

Sails on the royal clipper are not computer controlled but controlled by skilled seaman using powered winches or horizontal and vertical power furling. Photo: Sam Frampton
Sails on the royal clipper are not computer controlled but controlled by skilled seaman using powered winches or horizontal and vertical power furling. Photo: Sam Frampton

We have all marveled at the majestic sight of the Tall Ships with acres of white canvas straining in the wind.  But have you ever wondered what kind of tall ships they are, or what colorful history lies in their past?

Today ‘Tall Ships’ does not define a particular type of sailing vessel. The term was coined with the introduction of the tall ships races in the 20th century and encompasses all large traditionally rigged sailing ships. In the old days a ‘ship’ was a sailing vessel with three or more masts with square sails on the first three masts. A fully rigged ship has square sails on every mast. A Barque (or Bark) has three masts or more with square sails on the first two masts and fore-and-aft sails on the mizzen or aft mast. A Barquentine has square sails on the foremast only and fore-and-aft sails on the remaining masts.  A Brig is a two-masted ship with square sails on each mast, while a Brigantine is the same as a Brig, except it never carried the crossjack. Hermaphrodite brigs are also two-masted, square-rigged on the foremast and fore-and-aft rigged on the aftermost mast. Clippers and windjammers are other terms related to large sailing ships of the past.

There are many tall ships sailing the Caribbean today. Some arrive for the winter season then head back across the Atlantic or to the United States for the summer. Nearly all are available for sail training, charter or cruises. Some vessels are relatively new, while others have an interesting history. Here are some you may recognize.

The Sail Training Tall Ships
Sail training is not only for youths but also adults; it not only teaches the novice crew the basics like sail handling, deck scrubbing, helming, lookout, maintenance and galley duty but also about personal development, working as a team, camaraderie and breaking down barriers. The sense of achievement and adventure from being at sea is remarkable and many people – young and old – leave having had a rewarding experience. Some ships even offer school education programs.

The Fredryck Chopin, a Polish sail training tall ship named to honor the Polish composer, was born out of “the desire to show the young generation the romantic side of life at sea and to make them feel like ancient mariners discovering new lands.” Classes afloat were introduced so young people could receive a school education whilst at the same time gaining the character building training of being at sea. Sadly, the ship lost both her masts in a storm off the Scilly Isles in 2010; luckily no one was hurt and both ship and crew were rescued and the ship fully repaired.

The three-masted barque tall ship Picton Castle offers deep water sail training and long distance education from two weeks to a year. The tall ship barque was refitted from a steel-hulled Cape Horner and is due to visit the Caribbean again in 2012.

Other tall ships that offer short-term sail training include the TS Pelican of London which will be visiting the Caribbean this winter. They offer programs for youths, gap year students and adults. Voyages range from day sails to three month transatlantic expeditions.

The tall ships Tenacious and the Lord Nelson, both from the British Jubilee Sailing Trust, are the only tall ships designed and built for people with physical disabilities. Tenacious, launched in 2001, claims to be the largest wooden-hulled tall ship of her type built since the end of the 19th century.

The Brigantine tall ship Tres Hombres is an interesting ship. Launched in 2007 from the original hull of a 1943 German minesweeper, and without an engine, she is not only a sail training ship but a working freighter delivering cargo in an environmentally friendly way.

The Cruise and Charter Tall Ships
Brig Unicorn can be seen in Rodney Bay, St Lucia. Unicorn started life in Finland in 1946 and became one of the fleet in the film Pirates of the Caribbean.

The Dutch-flagged, three-masted clipper tall ship Stad Amsterdam, built in the late 1990s and available for business events, luxury cruises and adventure sailing, was inspired by the clipper The Amsterdam built in 1854.

The awesome Royal Clipper is built in the image of the steel-hulled, five-masted tall ship Preussen, the only merchant ship of her class ever built. The Preussen sank eight years after entering service when the British cross-channel steamer Brighton accidentally rammed her in 1910. Royal Clipper now retains the title of being the largest five-masted fully-rigged ship since her predecessor. The ship has 42 sails covering an area of 56000 sq ft; she has three swimming pools and is the ultimate in traditional luxury sailing. In the same clipper fleet are her four-masted sister ships, Star Flyer and Star Clipper.

Most interesting, though, is Sea Cloud. This four-masted barque was commissioned in 1931 as a luxury yacht by an American couple in Kiel, Germany. She was the largest private sailing yacht of her day. In 1942, the barque was enlisted into military service by the USA and had her masts and bowsprit removed. She was painted grey, fitted with guns and anti-submarine weapons and posted to the Azores and South Greenland as a weather ship known as IX-99. After the war she was sold and renamed many times until 1955 she came into the possession of the brutal head of the Dominican Republic, Hector Trujillo.Later, having changed hands again, she was left to sit in the tepid waters of Colon, Panama, for five years. Eventually she was bought by a group of German business men and restored back to her former glory. She now operates as a cruise ship for those with “a passion for luxury sailing.” Sea Cloud’s sister ship Sea Cloud II was launched in 2000; the large barque was built as a cruise ship but is sailed traditionally by hand.

Rosie and her husband Sim Hoggarth, both from the UK, have cruised the Caribbean and North America for the last seven years on Alianna their Corbin39.

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