In 1956, I was on board the Schooner ERNESTINA visiting my cousin Manuel G. Andrade, a crew member who had just arrived from the Islands of Cape Verde. The ERNESTINA was docked at India Point Pier in Providence Rhode Island.
The I-195 and I-95 interchanges were still under construction. I was 15 years old and was thrilled to be aboard a real ocean-going Schooner, especially a Schooner with a Capeverdean Master, Henrique J. Mendes.
In 2000, forty four years later, the invitation to sail on the one hundred and six-year-old schooner ERNESTINA was unexpected. Tom Goux Educational Director for the ERNESTINA Commission, called and asked whether I would like to be the Artist in residence for five days on the ERNESTINA. Artist, were invited to sail for a week from Philadelphia along the Delaware River and into the upper Chesapeake. The culmination was to participate in the events of Tall Ships Delaware 2000 in Wilmington, Delaware on June 23 and 24.
On the thirty seventh anniversary of my joining the United States Navy, I again pack my sea bag for a maritime adventure aboard ship. We left New Bedford, Massachusetts on Sunday June 18, four of us, heading for Penn's Landing in Philadelphia. Our driver, Polly Zajac, the ERNESTINA commission program coordinator, Scott, a crew member and Barbara, a participating artist, squeezed into Polly's compact station wagon, four strangers on our way to make history on the historic schooner ERNESTINA. We arrived in Philadelphia in a thundering deluge of rain. It was raining so hard that we missed the turn to Penn's Landing and found ourselves heading back over the William Penn Bridge and into New Jersey.
We gave it another try. Despite the rain, lighting and flooded roadways we arrive at Penn's Landing and boarded the ERNESTINA. We stowed our gear and joined the ERNESTINA crew of twelve and six other artist participants. Amanda Madeira, our Captain, gave us an orientation to our new home. We received instructions in boat safety and were assigned to one of three watch teams. Sophie, the Chief Mate, assigned me to the "A" Watch. Aside from regular duties our station in an emergency was to deal directly with problems such as fire, person overboard etc.
ERNESTINA is a one hundred and ten-year-old (2000) Gloucester fishing schooner Built in 1894 at the James and Tarr Shipyard in Essex Massachusetts and designated the EFFIE M. MORRISSEY. Designed by George McClain, a former schooner skipper, He made her lines fine and sharp for extra speed, with a deep hull and extra heavy ballast for stability in severe gales. Her overall length is 156 feet. Her deck is 112 feet and at the waterline, she is 93 feet. Her draft is 13 feet, and she can spread up to 8500 square feet of sail. Her best recorded speed under sail was 200 miles in 24 hours occasionally reaching 16 knots. In 1924, Captain Robert Bartlett purchased the EFFIE M. MORRISSEY. Bartlett was the skipper for Admiral Perry when he made his famous expedition to the North Pole. In 1926, the EFFIE M. MORRISSEY began a new career in Arctic exploration. For twenty years, she took students and scientists to the frozen north charting the waters of Greenland and Alaska. And collecting oceanographic samples, Arctic plants, animals and studying the life of the Inuit people. Captain Bartlett died in 1946.
The MORRISSEY was sold to two brothers in New York, for $6000.00 and almost lost when she sank as New York firefighters, flooded her trying to extinguish a fire on board. She was raised and towed to Connecticut. Capeverdean Captain, Henrique Mendes, and his wife purchased the boat for $7000.002 (higher price) dollars. Captain Mendes repaired and restored the dying Morrissey, to seaworthy condition and bestowed it new life. He christened her ERNESTINA, in honor of his daughter.
A Grand Banks Schooner is reborn, as the ERNESTINA, and becomes a packet schooner connecting American Capeverdeans to their homeland, of the Cape Verde Islands. In the spring of 1949, she began service as a packet schooner bringing immigrants to the United States and cargo back to Cape Verde. In 1965, ERNESTINA made her last packet trip to the United States. She was the last vessel to bring immigrants to these shores entirely under sail. In 1982, Capeverdeans and friends from many areas of the United States and Cape Verde raised thousands of dollars to restore ERNESTINA. The Republic of Cape Verde spent over 300,000 dollars to restore ERNESTINA and presented her to the United States people as a symbol of the friendship between the two countries.
In 1986, ERNESTINA is designated a National Historic Landmark and recognized with an award as an example of maritime historic preservation. Since 1994, ERNESTINA has embarked on a fourth career. As the official Tall Ship of the State of Massachusetts she represents a proud maritime history and has become a floating classroom where thousands of children and their teachers have experienced the sea and its environment. In addition, young and old have learned seamanship through sail training.
AN ARTIST LIFE ABOARD SHIP
Because ERNESTINA needs at least fifteen feet of water to float, we had to wait for the tide to rise enough to allow us to get underway. About two p.m. we depart from Penn's Landing, gliding past Admiral Dewey's cruiser USS OLYMPIA and the submarine USS BECUNA and out into the Delaware River. We anchored in the afternoon at the mouth of Raccoon Creek. The creek is on the New Jersey side opposite Marcus Hook. The Silhouette of the Refineries set against the setting sun created a view of astounding beauty. A view contrasting the nineteenth century technology of the ERNESTINA and twentieth century technology of industrial complexes along the river, and the many high-tech ships moving up and down the Delaware River.
As the Artist-In-Residence, it was my role to set the program for this the first "Artist under Sail" on board the ERNESTINA. My presentation was simple and brief. Because this was such a unique opportunity of actually living and working as part of the crew, I felt that each artist should make this a voyage of observational sketching, picture taking and just taking in the experience.
The Polaroid Corporation had provided cameras on loan and a supply of film for our use on this trip. My primary tool would be my video camera. There was little time or space to get out painting equipment and actually spend time in a workshop watching a demonstration of painting techniques. I would consult with each artist individually as the need arose. We were quickly incorporated into the working crew We stood regular four hour watches, checking the bilge, recording weather information, recording readings from engine room and galley gages as well as from radar on the hour or half- hour as required. At anchor, we checked our position just as regularly by compass as well as the radar to insure that we were not dragging the anchor.
Every morning there was chores to do after breakfast. I can assure you that there is no cleaner environment than that of a sailing ship. While one watch cleaned the heads (toilets), the others did boat checks or washed pots and pans in the galley or the scrub the deck. Cleaning the head was not just scrubbing the toilet bowl with disinfectant it meant the whole room and ceiling as well. The floors were mopped in all living and working spaces. No food or drink other than water allowed below deck except in the galley, where the cook strictly controlled it. When provisions came on board, every thing was removed from boxes on the dock to keep unwanted guest off the ship. We soon ascertained another lesson about historic fishing schooners. There is no power driven machinery to alleviate the work.
Leaving Raccoon Creek, on Tuesday morning, we had to turn the windlass by manual power. It required six crew members to keep it moving. With the anchor secured to the gunwale, we got underway. Wind conditions and the rather narrow shipping channel forced us to motor down river and through the C and D canal. This is the first time in its history that this schooner has transited the C and D canal. During this leg of the trip, most of us managed to do some sketching as well as take pictures of river traffic, Fort Delaware and other items of interest. I could go out on the bowsprit and get an interesting video perspective of ERNESTINA underway.
In many ways, New Castle from the water did not look much different today than it did in the nineteenth century. We entered the Chesapeake and anchored at the mouth of the Sassafras River. Everyone on board was impressed with how much cleaner the waters of the Chesapeake are than the Delaware River. Laurie, the cook was a master of culinary delight. Fried Chicken, pasta, prime rib, fresh vegetables, and salad with sumptuous desserts for dinner. A variety of breakfast treat such as blueberry turnovers, muffins, biscuits, hot and cold cereals, pancakes, eggs bacon sausage and juices for breakfast.
Sandwich makings left over from dinner, and other treats made lunch a pleasure. Even the heartiest appetite was satisfied; Fruit, coffee, and tea were always available. Meals were served on deck, except in inclement weather. After the meal, each person was responsible for washing his or her own dishes.
On Wednesday, Captain Amanda Madeira got us going early. Chores completed we weighed anchor and set sail. We raised the fore sail and then the jumbo and sailed down the Chesapeake. What a beautiful day it turned out to be. During our sail, we met the schooners LORINDA and AMERICA on their way to Wilmington and Philadelphia. Many small boats circled us to get a good look at ERNESTINA. Barbara one of our artists lost her watercolor board overboard owed to a strong gust of wind. While this was hardly a grave emergency, the Captain decided it was a good chance to practice our man overboard rescue procedures. We all went to our emergency stations. While the Captain brought Ernestina about, we lowered the rescue boat. With in five minutes of the, overboard signal we had picked up the victim, returned the well soaked paper to the ship, and recovered the rescue boat.
There was much good fun had at the expense of the embarrassed artists. The afternoon saw us head north to the mouth of the Bohemia River. By now, we had learned another lesson about historic fishing schooners. There are no showers, no hot or cold running water. I felt, I should stay down wind of everyone. However, I realized we were all faced with the same dilemma. The hoses used to wash down the deck provided some relief.
However, anchored at the mouth of the Bohemia another option appeared. While some went swimming along the side of the boat, I tried my hand at rowing a fishing dory.
After dinner we celebrated the change from Spring to Summer with entertainment presented by all willing to participate, talented or not. With a thunder storm moving in we drifted off to bed. ERNESTINA has bunks for thirty-six. They are narrow and hard but when you are tired, sleep comes easily. There is no such thing as separate bunk rooms for men and women. Everyone lives together. The two heads are in the fish hold, which is the main bunk area. The bunks line the sides of the ship, double Decker style. There are no closets. Your possessions share your bunk. There is little privacy except in the head.
The dictum is that if someone is dressing or changing others direct their eyes away. Thursday morning, we get an early start. We motored up the C and D Canal. On entering the Delaware, we raised the fore sail and the jumbo. Several freighters and tugs passed us on the way north. About two p.m. we lowered our sails and moved to our docking location at the Port of Wilmington.
After hot showers at a local College, we spent an amiable evening at the Tall Ship Delaware crab feast and crew competition. Sailors from the United States, Russia, Poland, France, Holland, The Ukraine etc. participated in amiable but spirited competition. Our crew proudly came away with the overall top prize.
Friday morning: Parade of Sail day.
I woke early to see a magnificent sunrise. A sky filled with a mix of red, gold, green, brilliant blues and rich lavender reflected off the River. The Tall Ships lined up along the dock created an impressive image in the dawning light. Cleaning took on special significance this day. Company is coming. We moved up to a position under the bowsprit of KRUZENSTERN to take on passengers. The A. J. MEERWALD tied up along side to receive passengers as well. We welcomed Ernestina Op Sail 2000 sponsor, Yankee Magazine, around 9:30 a.m. Other guest came later. A half hour after noontime, the Parade of Sail began. It turned out to be beautiful day for sailing with a fine breeze. As we followed the Russian ship MIR into the Delaware, we set sails. First the mainsail, then the foresail followed by the jumbo and the jib. We were not the largest vessel in the parade, but I am convinced there was not a prettier sight on the river. Turning back at New Castle and heading north the end of a perfect sail came all too soon.
My residency on the ERNESTINA was at an end. The passengers are gone, as well as the artist. I could now use the remaining time with the ERNESTINA to collect my thoughts and decide how I would express my experiences of the past week. It was a hard week, but one filled with ebullience and pleasure. I was pleased to know that I could do my part and pull my weight much like the sailors of old on the ERNESTINA. Cognizant that one of my own family members had crossed the Atlantic in this ship made this a profound experience for me. As an American-Capeverdean it makes me proud to know that the independent Republic of Cape Verde was responsible for making it possible for me and thousands of other Americans, young and old, to enjoy and learn from the programs that the Massachusetts Ernestina Commission provides. The memories will linger in this narrative, the sketches drawn and the hundreds of images recorded in video tape, camera and fixed in my mind.
I hope that many more Capeverdeans and Americans generally, will get involved in supporting and participating in the Schooner ERNESTINA and its programs. The State of Massachusetts should be proud to be the custodian of an Americanlegacy, a gift that symbolizes the Soul and Spirit of the People of the Republic of Cabo Verde.
Vasco R. A. Pires - Visual Artist/ Poet/ Author of "A Fraction of Me:
Prose and Poetry for the New Century," AuthorHouse, 2003.