By Sharyn Alden
My cab driver stuck his head out the window and yelled to people standing near a guarded fence edging the harbor at Gallows Bay, outside Christiansted, St. Croix.
“We’re looking for the Rosebud, or the Rosewood,” he said. “Or maybe it’s the Rosebloom.”
I tried to make myself heard above the cacophony. “It’s the RoseWAY!” I yelled as loud as I could. But the Cruzan speakers had lost sight of the fact that even though I may have known the ship’s correct name, not a ship could be seen from where I sat inside the cab.
That was how my sail began on the tall ship Roseway, a 90-year-old three-masted schooner that sends a strong message that all tall ships are precious resources. This tall ship provides a true master-and-commander experience to day and overnight sailors, as well as students connected to the World Ocean School.
Time was wasting. I had booked a Sunday day sail and there wasn’t a ship in sight. The taxi driver used up a couple more “roses.” “What about Rosie, or Red Rose?” he tried again to the lingering group of onlookers. There was more headshaking outside the cab’s window, but then I saw the enormous old ship tied to a distant dock, her signature red sails nearly indistinguishable below the masts.
A few years ago, when Roseway first arrived in St. Croix, it was love at first sight when I spotted her gigantic sails fully unfurled off the island’s East End. I had sailed on other tall ships (like the Denis Sullivan, built and launched on the Great Lakes) but had never seen anything quite like the Roseway.
The ship has a colorful history. She was built of oak in Massachusetts but was built for speed, so she could compete for the U.S. in international sailing competitions. She subsequently worked as a fishing yacht, and was used as a platform for harpooning swordfish. In fact, Roseway holds the record for catching the most swordfish: 74 in a 24-hour period. And in World War II, Roseway was a pilot ship sporting a .50-caliber machine gun and guiding ships into an unlit Boston Harbor.
For Roseway, the good times ended in the late 1990s when she was repossessed by the First National Bank of Damariscotta.
By 2002, the tall ship was abandoned and sinking in Boston Harbor’s muddy waters, its glory days apparently over. But fate changed course when the bank donated her to the World Ocean School, a non-profit organization based in St. Croix and Boston, for use as a floating classroom of sorts.
Immediately after changing hands, the Roseway was pulled by a tugboat took into Boothbay Harbor, where an 18-month, $1.3 million restoration began. There were once 4,000 Grand Banks schooners built in the late 1800s and early 20th century, and Roseway is one of just six such schooners still in existence — and the last pilot ship. Now this 137-foot survivor offers day sails and an educational program on water.
The World Ocean School uses Roseway to provide hands-on programs for students – including many students from St. Croix-area schools — who want to explore maritime history and nautical science. The program lets kids apply math, science, history, and language arts to shipboard challenges like navigation, sailing theory, and oceanography. Students even get the chance to write poetry at sea.
Devo, one of the ship’s mates, said, “Many of these kids call the ocean ‘the deep.’ They’re afraid of it because, as unlikely as it seems, they live on an island but many of them can’t swim.”
“Most of these kids haven’t seen St. Croix from offshore, and many can’t read or write,” he continued. “Still, they love learning onboard about things like why the ocean is blue, and why the ship doesn’t sink.”
It was a perfect day for a sail. A half moon was barely visible on a backdrop of robin’s-egg-blue sky, and I walked across the gangplank along with nine other tall-ship sailors.
We were an enigmatic crew. Some of us were there because of our love of sailing, some were curious, and others were there for their own reasons.
Candia Atwater, an attorney working in the prosecutor’s office in Fredericksburg, said local students piqued her interest.
“At first, I came to find out what they were experiencing,” she said. “Now this is my third sailing. Each time I come away with new appreciation for this old ship.”
One of the things that sailors new and old appreciate right away: Sailing a tall ship is manual labor.
A few minutes after we set sail we raised the sails. We divided in two teams, one on each side of the ship, and pulled hand-over-hand as hard as possible on a wrist-thick rope.
It was heavy work. Chanting “Heave-ho! Heave-ho!” helped get it done. And the work was worth it when we looked up and saw the sails furled, and felt the difference in speed once the ship was under its own power. A less-than-bracing breeze filled the red sails, but it still felt like we were moving briskly.
With the sails raised, I had time to wander around and inquire whether the crewmembers are tall-ship fanatics.
They are. Devo has been a crewmember on several tall ships, mostly on the U.S. West Coast. Miriam Rocek, the ship’s cook, said that Devo played a role in the film Master and Commander.
Rocek is a tall-ship aficionado, too. She was wearing a necklace with the words “Kalmar Nyckel,” and explained it’s the name of a tall ship out of Delaware.
“I wear it because it was my first experience being a crew member on a tall ship,” she said, and excused herself, climbed below to the small kitchen and started kneading soda bread for dinner.
Later, the tradewinds picked up, the moon glowed, and the giant sails, now fully furled, quietly pulled us back to shore.
Looking above at thousands of square feet of sail whipping above my head, I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend a day in the Caribbean.
Sharyn Alden is a long-time travel writer with a media-relations business, Sharyn Alden Communications, based in Madison, Wis.
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