Schooner Ruth: From a Beach in Barbados to Antigua Classics

Schooner Ruth moving water
Schooner Ruth moving water

For over a decade, visitors to Barbados’ Carlisle Bay watched with fascination as the 100ft schooner Ruth grew in size and shape. The keel was poured in 2003, followed by years of painstaking labour to create the hull, deck and rig. Amidst great fanfare, she was launched in 2014, making sailing history as the first steel schooner in the world to be built on a beach. 

Years before and miles away, owner Ian Dash was given a model fishing schooner as a child, thinking one day he would like one of his own. Later working in British Columbia on a 52ft lug rig fishing schooner designed by Naval Architect Tom Colvin, Dash learned first-hand about the ocean’s wrath and a vessel that will tolerate it. In 1999 he sought the designer’s services. “I wanted a fast work boat,” he said. “Somehow, my idea of 80ft grew to 100 ft on Tom’s table.”

Moving to Barbados in 1983, Dash recruited talented craftsmen from Barbados, Guyana and the OECS. Based on Canada’s Grand Banks schooners, the sails, blocks and hardware were all all handcrafted in Nova Scotia. Tying her linage together, stays were covered with New England pine tar and hatches oiled with Barbados beeswax. She represents the best of both maritime worlds.

Captain Schleper and Navigator Braithwaite, Schooner Ruth
Captain Schleper and Navigator Braithwaite, Schooner Ruth

As the project neared the end, the sustainable trading ship, Tres Hombres, sailed in. Two of their crew joined the Ruth project: Sean Parsonage was instrumental in replicating the traditional rig and Danielle Doggett became the launch captain and invaluable advisor on how to make Ruth pay for herself.

In 2017, on discovering they had a common dream, Dash engaged Gerrit Scheper, a 7th generation Barbadian schooner skipper, as Ruth’s captain

Ruth’s rock band!
Ruth’s rock band!

Like her forebears, Ruth is a working girl. Together, owner and Captain are fine-tuning her mission, which envisions inter-island trade under sail to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the installation of state of the art solar and wind electrical systems to minimise Ruth’s carbon footprint and to power her refrigeration systems. To meet the growing crew needs for sail-cargo ships, Ruth serves as teacher and classroom, offering Yacht Master training aboard and already, several Bajans have received their STCWs.

Captain Gerrit on Schooner Ruth
Captain Gerrit on Schooner Ruth

Supporters include the University of the West Indies, Barbados’ Port Inc. and Global Affairs Canada/World University Service Canada, funding support for the solar-powered refrigeration. “When we’re SOLAS compliant, we’ll introduce trading between the Windward Islands, Guyana and Barbados,” Dash said.

Adventure tourism is on the horizon for Ruth and already she served as Barbados’s Sailing Ambassador during a hurricane relief mission to Anguilla in 2017. The Schooner’s schedule last year included her first foray into racing at Antigua’s Classic Yacht Regatta in April 2018, where she dazzled the competition both on and off the course. At the helm, Gerrit Scheper executed every tack with skill, rounding each mark with just feet to spare. Her team, small in number but big in force, took home prizes for their notable performance in the Sea Shanty Contest and Honourable Mention as Sailor of the Year went to young crew member, Nazz Alexander. Her return to the 2019 Antigua Classics is keenly anticipated.

Captain Schleper and Navigator Braithwaite, Schooner Ruth
Captain Schleper and Navigator Braithwaite, Schooner Ruth

Ruth’s purpose is to serve by example. “By teaching and laying a pathway for others”, Dash explained “using traditional rigging and simple but highly efficient skills that are cost effective, we can keep it alive.” His passion for carrying the past into the future is infectious and will hopefully be followed by other classic sailing vessels to help close the shipping bottleneck between Caribbean islands.