Tall Ship Historian

Adventure and education on the 'HMS' Rose
By Stuart Markus
First published in The Long Island News & The Owl, June 24, 1993

          At 8:30 a.m., the sun rising over Cape Cod Bay had just begun taking the chill out of the 10-knot breeze. My buddies aned I stood by the capstan, a large winch powered by straining sailors, with which we had just raised the two ton anchor. (Perhaps this is whence the term "weighing anchor" derives, we mused. With anticipation and a bit of anxiety, we waited for the next order from first mate Pat Weakland.

          "Stow your capstan bars," he calmly shouted. Then, "hands aloft--loose the fore and main tops'ls and t'gallants!" And with that we sprang into action, throwing on our safety belts and gingerly scrambling up the ratlines, web-like rope latticeworks that both support the masts and provide a way up. Cautiously stepping out on the footrope, after yelling, "Laying on" to warn anyone already there, we moved out along the main topgallant yard, the highest crosspiece on the tallest mast, loosening the rope wrappings that kept the sail tightly furled.

          The 'HMS' Rose is a tall ship, the world's largest active wooden square-rigged sailing vessel, 179 feet long and 130 feet high. She is a replica of an 18th-century British warship of the same name (hence the 'HMS' even though she is of American registry.) The original Rose was a 24-gun frigate, rather small for the British Navy but powerful enough to put an end to the Rhode Island colonial smuggling trade and ironically enough to inspire the formation of the first American Navy.

          The current Rose, based in Bridgeport, Conn., is a sail training ship. As such, she officially does not carry passengers; all whho come aboard are known as sail trainees.

          Her mission is to be a floating bit of history, to teach about this country's maritime heritage, and to keep alive the art and the science of the ancient sailor. She is sponsored by the non-profit 'HMS' Rose Foundation, and mastered by Captain Richard Bailey, whose love of sailing and sense of humor set the tone of the ship.

          Of special interest, her 17 sails are made entirely of old soda bottles and car fenders which have been recycled into Dacron polyester by DuPont, making Rose a frequent guest at Earth Day and other ecologically minded events.

          Accompanying me on this trip were my brother-in-law Marc, an ex-sailor who loved the sea but hated the Navy, and my boyhood friend Bob, a lawyer in search of adventure. This trip, the ship carried only six trainees in addition to the crew of 18, but on my voyage of last year she had carried 30, ranging from a 14-year-old "mast monkey" to a 50-year-old teacher who was proving that he wasn't as old as his teenage daughters thought he was.

          The extremely patient and friendly crew spared no effort in explaining all parts of the ship's operation to the trainees, and placed no limit on the degree to which we could participate. Thus, we found ourselves taking our turns at bow lookout, helm, etc., helping out with shipboard maintenance, setting sails, and working aloft. (Safety is highly emphasized, from fire prevention to proper climbing procedure, and nobody has ever fallen from the Rose's rigging.)

          Each of the Rose's 17 sails is controlled by 11 to 15 lines (they are NEVER called ropes), yielding well over 200 lines which must be memorized (18th-century sailors were largely illiterate so labeling them would accomplish little.) At a command like "Hands to the main tops'l gear," those of us who literally learned the ropes would dash to one of the indicated lines, while those who hadn't would look confused until a crew member pointed out a line that needed manning. This is the patient and friendly part again.

          And so it went for our five-day voyage. We ate extremely well, slept extremely soundly, exercised muscles we'd long forgotten, and learned a new respect for the sea and the men and women who have challenged it. We also raised our self-confidence level a few hundred points, for after conquering a 130-foot mast, one can conquer anything. Along the way, we were told of what life was like for an 18th-century sailor and taught sail-craft, knots, and other interesting information. And nobody got seasick.

          As a summer vacation adventure, the Rose beats a typical pleasure cruise by a nautical mile — always plenty to do (a sailor's work is never finished), plenty of food and real camaraderie among the trainees, nobody to tip, and no extra charges for shore excursions. But be prepared to become a temporary celebrity at each port of call. As a sailing summer camp for teens, Rose rivals any for activity, education, social interaction and physical challenges.


Author's note: Since this article was fist published, the Rose went on to star as Russel Crowe's command in "Master and Commander -- the Far Side of the World". She is currently owned by Twentieth Century Fox Studios and makes her home at the San Francisco Maritime Museum.

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