Ships Are Meant to Go to Sea


Schooner BRILLIANT on one of her sail training cruises.

There was a saying that became popular around the Museum when we were preparing for the 38th Voyage of the Charles W. Morgan: “Ships are meant to go to sea.” That may sound a little odd from an institution entrusted with the stewardship of more than 500 historic watercraft. Don’t worry, we take that responsibility very seriously, but one of the best ways we fulfill our mission of creating an enduring connection with America’s maritime heritage is to take our show on the road, if you will.

I was reminded of that last month as I watched the parade that concludes our annual Antique & Classic Boat Rendezvous. What a collection of beautiful boats! Our featured class this year was the designs of Sparkman & Stephens, the naval architects behind many of the iconic boats of the last century. The procession down the Mystic River was a snapshot of their work over the years, and among them was our schooner Brilliant. Not only are S&S boats fast, they are invariably beautiful, and Brilliant is no exception. That boat looks great from any angle.

But what stands out for me is how we use her. Since the 1950s, Brilliant has been the sail training platform for more than 10,000 teenagers and adults. Participants are not passengers, they are crew, and under the leadership of Captain Nicholas Alley, they learn teamwork, leadership, stewardship, and traditional seamanship. It is a remarkable program.

ROANN on the Mystic River

ROANN on the Mystic River.

Likewise, we are expanding the role of Roann, our Eastern-rig dragger. Built in 1947 by Newbert & Wallace in Thomaston, ME, Roann fished for 50 years out of Martha’s Vineyard and later Point Judith, R.I. Once a common sight in New England waters, sadly very soon she could be the last of her kind. But just like the Morgan, she represents an important era of the American fishery and thanks to a thorough restoration by our talented shipwrights, she is as seaworthy as the day she slid down the ways for the first time 70 years ago. By sending her out to fishing communities, we are helping them connect with their past. Just last weekend Roann ventured to nearby Stonington for the 62nd annual Blessing of the Fleet, and later this month she will attend the Working Waterfront Festival on Martha’s Vineyard and be featured in an event in Woods Hole, MA. One of the best parts of a Roann port stop is meeting all of the people who know and remember her from her fishing days. As they share their stories, they pass them along to everyone present.

Of course, the epitome of this philosophy of preservation through use is our steamboat Sabino. A National Historic Landmark built in 1908, Sabino has been operating public cruises on the Mystic River since she arrived at the Museum in 1973. Many at the Museum and in the surrounding community have a special place for Sabino. She is an iconic presence on the river and the sound of her whistle as she passes through the raised bascule bridge downtown is a staple of summer. Her captain, David Childs, calls her “the heartbeat of Mystic Seaport.”

She has been in the Shipyard the last two years for a restoration, so we have not been hearing that whistle. But starting August 2, she returns to service. Equipped with a new boiler powering her J.H. Payne two-cylinder engine — the same engine that has propelled her since 1908 — she will once again enable her passengers to step back to the early 20th century and experience what it was like when a small steamboat was the best way for you to get where you were going.

See you out on the water!

Steve White




P.S. Don’t forget to check out the remaining Arts on the Quad performances this month! From the show tunes and arias of the Salt Marsh Opera to the Shakespeare of Flock Theatre to a Simon and Garfunckel experience, there is something for just about every taste. So pack your picnic baskets, blankets, and lawn chairs and join us!