The five-day festival of the Tall Ships was announced by a volley of fireworks last night. Nearly thirty of these giant swans from around the world have gathered in the Thames. Many will then take part in what is called the Rendez-Vous Tall Ships Regatta, racing by stages to Portugal, the Canary Islands, Bermuda, Boston, ports along the St. Lawrence, the Great Lakes, Quebec City, Halifax in Nova Scotia, and back across the Atlantic to Le Havre in Normandy.
I wondered whether one of them might be (I don’t think it is) the Sir Francis Drake of my 1998 cruise to see the eclipse in the Caribbean.
This morning we were taken out from Greenwich Pier in the Salient, a craft like a floating lounge,
to the tall ship that is lying directly out from us, the Santa Maria Manuelita, and we were brought alongside and on board.
Santa Maria Manuelita is a four-masted lugger, built at Lisbon in 1937 for the cod fishery. Partly because the Catholic church enjoined abstinence from meat on Fridays and-or in Lent (and there persists the strange notion that fish meat is not meat), Portugal had a heavy demand for cod. Santa Maria Manuelita used to sail in April for the shallow cod-teeming banks off Newfoundland, along with others of what the Newfoundlanders called the “White Fleet.” She worked there, or off Greenland, till September.
The men put out in dories, fishing for twelve hours, and when they returned to the ship there was still the stowing of the catch. The work was not only hard but dangerous: a dory could get crushed against the ship, or lost in fog. Some men stuck to it all their lives.
It came to an end in the late 1980s, because trawlers took over the fisheries, much as, a century earlier, tea clippers like the Cutty Sark were superseded by steamships. Santa Maria Manuelita nearly came to an end too, all her insides being scrapped. But in 2007 another Portuguese company bought this empty hull and started restoring it. In May 2011 she set sail once more for Newfoundland, and in 2016 began taking part in the Tall Ships festivals. She is now about to sail to Portugal, but not to take part in the full race.
She is used for one-day cruises, and longer training voyages for up to fifty people (there are at the moment fifteen), who work alongside the crew of twelve. They have, as our hostess Sandy emphasized, a great experience, testing themselves, making friends, and partying at the ports, though their training may not lead to nautical employment. I think that this and similar ships are now mainly hired for (though Sandy didn’t put it this way) “corporate team-building.”
We could walk from stem to stern on the Santa Maria Manuelita,
and admire the neat coils of rope on the deck (wish I’d taken a picture of some of those) but we couldn’t go below or of course up the shrouds.
This relatively modern steel ship, well – the Sir Francis Drake it isn’t. And I’m not totally sure that this, culled from the internet, is.
But I think it is. During that eclipse voyage, I and the children aboard used to go up to the “crow’s nest,” up and down the sides by footholds, or out on the “widow’s net” along the bowsprit. None of those on Santa Maria Manuelita.