Medieval minstrels composed songs about tall ships, waxing poetic beauty, power and charming hand-made ornamental figureheads.
Tall ships have sailed uncharted waters since 1,600 B.C. These majestic ladies have graced the seven seas with graceless crews conscripted or shanghaied by crimps who drugged and rolled them for long voyages against their will.
Dr. Ray Ashley, president and CEO Maritime Museum of San Diego, (MMSD) said tall ships transcend time.
“The ship,” he said, “Is the conveyance of our history from the time of the first water-borne vessel moving along the Nile as early as 4,000 B.C.E., to the establishments of maritime trade routes with Athens as the center [circa 700 B.C.E.]to Ptolemaic mariners from Egypt [circa100 B.C.E.] learning from Indian and Arab seamen how to use the monsoonal winds to drive their ships across the Indian Ocean along the trade routes.”
Author Henry Culver stated in his book, “The Book of Old Ships,” that the Nile region inspired the imagination of the Greeks and Romans who saw whole fleets of galley ships on the walls of the temple Deir el Bahari near Thebes. Egyptian galleys returned to Thebes filled with precious woods, incense, gold, silver, animals and slaves who manned the galley’s oars. Egyptian and Greek galleys and the Roman triremes used a large sail and oarsmen’s labor for propulsion across the Mediterranean as late as the 15th century.
Ancient Viking war vessels were called “dragons” of the galley style. By the middle of the 16th century large galleys were involved in great naval combats. In 1571 the galleasses participated in the battle of Lepanto, which contributed to the western European nations defeat of the Turks. England and Spain used galleasses during the 1588 Invincible Armada battle
“Until the end of the 18th century, quite large vessels, such as ship-rigged sloops of war and small frigates, as well as brigs, brigantines, and schooners, were often equipped with oars,” said Culver.
Round ships were passenger and cargo carriers during ancient and Middle Ages eras. The Roman Empire used these merchantmen vessels to bring back captured artistic treasures. During the early part of the 15th century Portugal became a key player in the Age of Discovery in Spain. In 1493 Pope Alexander VI divided the New Word between Spain and Portugal by the Papal Bull, Inter Caetera.
Columbus called the Santa Maria a nao, a term applied to nearly all larger types of sailing vessels. His vessels structurally belong to the family of round ships, but were capable of maneuverability and speed. Columbus’ Santa Maria was square-rigged on the foremast and mainmast. Columbus’ voyages traveling westward to reach the Indies played an important part in the naval architectural history in the development of tall sailing ships.
Legendary English explorer Sir Francis Drake died in 1596 on the Defiance. Romantic literature has featured the galleon, a type of ancient war vessel captained by Drake.
Maritime Museum of San Diego has built a replica of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo’s Spanish
galleon the San Salvador. Cabrillo was a boatwright and built the San Salvador in what is now Guatemala. He landed in San Diego’s harbor in September 28, 1542. Cabrillo
was directed to capture more land for Spain. His mission was to find the mythical Strait of Anián.
Christopher Jones, master and part owner of the Pilgrims’ ship the Mayflower, sailed into Massachusetts Bay in late 1620. Records show that the Mayflower was an older vessel which participated in the anti-Armada fleet of 1588.
Dutch West Indies Company owned the Half Moon, commanded by English explorer Henry Hudson. On Sept. 3, 1609 he sailed into New York harbor. The Dutch owe much of their wealth and property to their maritime commerce. Holland, a land of round-sterned vessels called flutes, had guns on their upper and lower decks that were used to store goods, horses andtroops. Holland’s flutes crossed to America and were important in the development of the Dutch colonies in the New World.
During the 16th and 17th centuries writers referred to tall ships called luggers which were used for piracy, smuggling and deeds of violence.
MMSD has a frigate named HMS Surprise. Frigates were smaller types of warships having 24 to 50 cannons. French naval architects led the world in the later years of the 18th century.
“Josiah Humphreys designed the first three American frigates, Constitution,
Constellation and the United States which were launched in 1797 following the best French Method,” said Culver.
In 1812 the U.S. Congress declared war on England.
“Frigates were the scout-cruisers of their day,” said Culver. “Frigates greatest service was commerce destroyers,” he said.
Two U.S. Navy frigates were victorious in the early part of the War of 1812 by the Constitution’s defeat of HMS Guerriere and the capture of HMS Macedonian.
The War of 1812 catapulted the United States into expanding trade into China, the East Indies and worldwide whale oil production by the 1830s.
After the War of 1812, England and the United States improved their commercial relations including the tall sailing ships that brought Irish emigrants to America.
New Bedford, Massachusetts whaling barks were prosperous up until the American Civil War. Confederacy cruisers captured these barks and scuttled them in Southern harbors bolstering their defenses.
Long, narrow hulled ships which were fast clipping rather than ploughing through the waves were called clipper ships dating from 1810. Tall sailing ships were key trade players up until World War I. In the late 19th century Portland, Oregon became a famous port, shipping wheat and lumber. Foreign windships hauled transoceanic cargoes. American West Coast ship yards constructed windjammers which delivered cargoes up and down the Western United States. In 1893, the Alaska Packers Association of San Francisco was formed by merging small Alaskan salmon canneries.
Jim Gibbs, author of “Pacific Square-Riggers,” said these ships were huge.
“Salmon packers were like floating warehouses,” he said. “A good-sized fleet of iron and steel ships became eligible for the Alaska Packers trade including the small ship Euterpe which was the first of 19 iron and steel square-riggers to fly their swallowtail house flag.”
Euterpe was built on the Isle of Man in 1863. She is the oldest working square-rigged
windjammer. Alaska packers renamed all their square-riggers as “stars” for publicity. Euterpe was renamed the Star of India and has been a floating iconic monumental member of the MMSD since 1926.
Author Olaf T. Engvig said the Star of India is unique.
“Euterpe/Star of India may well be the most “original” iron merchant ship in existence,” he said.
MMSD’s Festival of Sail attracted thousands including Adrian Dilg, 36, a Southwestern College graphic design major, who took her children to see the windjammers.
“Some tall ships had figureheads and abstract details,” she said. “I spoke with members of the sail crews who explained their ships’ mechanical ship functions.”
Another Festival of Sail visitor, Miriam Figueroa, 40, a SWC photography and web design major, took her family.
“It was quite ridiculous to destroy those beautiful sailing ships by pirates,” she said. “My father, Alberto Espinoza, built his own 38-foot sail boat. He enjoyed seeing the tall ships.”
Gloria Estrada, 67, a floral design and landscape technology major, said she appreciated the ship’s detail.
“Just looking at those tall ships showed much knowledge and ability,” she said. “I am into seeing great detailed work. Those were not just shipbuilders. They were craftsmen.”
Sally Braden, 59, a volunteer on the tall ship Irving Johnson and Grace Malolepszy, 67, a retired Los Angeles schools special ed aide and a volunteer on the Exy Johnson, referred to the Johnsons’ as almost twin tall ships.
“Both Johnsons are from the Los Angeles Maritime Institute which helps at risk
youth from Los Angeles Unified School District,” she said. “Middle school students ages 12-14 participate in a ten day program. There are five one day sails during the school year and a five day summer sail to Catalina Island.”
Irving and Exy Johnson provide a learning respectful environment involving teamwork and a journey learning about life. LAUSD pays for the at risk students.
Simon Winchester said literature imitates the ocean.
“Until the late 15th century, residents of Europe were terrified of the unknown ocean,” he said. “Their poetry and art were full of monsters they believed to reside there. Once people realized it was not full of monsters, we started to have a much more lyrical appreciation of the sea.”
San Salvador will be sailing in the 2015 Festival of Sail regatta’s seafaring legacy enabling people of all ages to be respectful of the past that never ends.