For the first time in history, Tall Ships America® will bring its TALL SHIPS CHALLENGE® Series of Tall Ships® races and port festivals to the Gulf of Mexico. Pensacola is one of only three host ports, and the only Florida port, included in the Tall Ships® Gulf Coast series.
While the festival will feature many components, the ships are at the epicenter of the weekend. We sat down with the captains of these magnificent vessels to give you an inside look at what to expect and what it’s like working in the sailing industry.
The Picton Castle is an age of sail sailing ship and a certified and inspected sail training ship. Constructed for long voyages, it is traditional and conventional in design and carries young trainees learning seamanship around the world.
Dan Moreland has been Captain of the Picton Castle since 1979, that’s over 25 years! Moreland grew up in the West Indies when Tall Ship sailing vessels were still common in use.
“I thought that these West Indian sailors were quite inspirational to me and the community around the ships in the ports and the schooners,” he explained. “As a little boy you could eat mangos and coconuts and the ship would sail and then come back with a bunch of rice. I thought it was the coolest thing on earth and I thought these guys were gods and so I wanted to be among them.” The rest is history.
Captain Moreland has completed seven around the world tours and notes that being a captain of the sea is one of his greatest joys. "I find myself in a position to hold a door open to something that is pretty cool. I get to help people discover the world.”
During the sailing excursions, the crew has a variety of tasks to complete before the fun can begin. The ship sails 24 hours a day with three watch groups. Each group is on duty for four hours and off duty for at. During the day, maintenance and housekeeping take place which includes scrubbing dishes, swabbing the deck and trimming the sails. At night, the crew keeps watch and watch the stars go by.
Along the way, the vessel tries to deliver school supplies and hosts medical clinics with the onboard doctor. Moreland explained that coming to port is quite a bit of fun. "When we come to port that's exciting, we run around different islands and ashore and that's very-opening."
John Sevedsen has been a Captain for 17 years, but that was only after some arm twisting. “I was a dive instructor in Hawaii and wanted to stay underwater, I resisted getting my captains license for as long as I could and finally broke,” Sevedsen explained. He began working in the South Pacific and was introduced to traditional sailing which inspired him to volunteer at the Sand Diego Maritime Museum to upgrade his captains license. Since becoming a captain, he says it’s the people that he enjoys most.
“Ships are amazing and can be beautiful and the destinations can be exceptional. I've been lucky enough to circumnavigate the globe and go to all kinds of locations in six different continents but it's really the people that make the difference because it’s the people that bring the ship to life and It's those people that cherish a forgotten skill.”
For the festival, Elissa will be recreating a voyage it completed in 1886. When asked what it meant to him to be a part of this historic excursion, he said, “For me I love history and it's an honor to recreate the sail." When it arrives, the ship will be open for deck tours. Guests can expect an interactive environment with the volunteers to tell stories about their sailing the ship and about the history as well. If you’re lucky, Captain Sevedsen might just tell you about his favorite voyage to St. Helena where he saw a herd of whale sharks!
Oliver Hazard Perry
Captain Tony Davis has been a member of the Tall Ship community since 1985. Originally from California, he had never set foot on a boat in his life until a trip to the East Coast.
“My father signed he and myself up for this apprenticeship on a schooner that was doing passenger carrying out of Annapolis, Maryland. We went and sailed with them for a week and while most of the people onboard were passengers, we were an apprentice crew is what it came down to and I really liked it so I bugged that captain over the winter time for a job the next year and I kept bugging him until he gave me one.”
After learning the ropes, Davis noticed that the ships doing educational trips were traveling to destinations he yearned to discover. He agreed to a position on the HMS Rose as a deckhand for little money which exposed him to the Tall Ship community that changed his life forever.
“When I saw the power of the education program, the experiential education where we immerse people in the culture and how transformative it was for me and for the people that came on the boat, I developed a passion for it and the community.”
After putting in years of hard work, he eventually landed on the Oliver Hazard Perry. The OHPI is an unrestricted ocean vessel which means it can go anywhere in the world, but it also means the crew has to have a pretty high degree of technical skills. “We’re compelled to look after each other when we go offshore. It's a potentially dangerous situation and if people aren't doing their jobs it becomes very unsafe and very dangerous. If people are doing their job, it can work really wonderfully, and I just found that community really valuable.”
Originally built in 1917 as a cargo sailor, Oosterschelde has existed under many circumstances. Captain Maarten De Jong has been with the ship now for 10 years beginning as a mechanic and climbing the ladder to become captain.
"She was built in 1917 as a cargo sailor and she would take about 500 tons of cargo, mainly between Scandinavia and Northern Africa. Later she was sold to Danish owners and they sailed it for a while, then it was sold to the Swedish and they took the mast off and they sailed with it like a normal coaster. After a while, she was put in a harbor to fade away and then a Dutch guy came along and saw it and said, 'hey, if you look at those lines, that must be one of those old Dutch schooners,’ and he researched it, and bought it and restored it and brought it to Holland. The rest is history.”
Now, Oosterschelde sails 11 months out of the year and instead of cargo, it carries up to 24 passengers. De Jong says that sailing is unlike anything else in the world. “You never know exactly what is going to happen out there, you plan for everything, but you never know what's going to break, what kind of weather, what kind of people, you never know what the day is going to be like, I like that."
In coming to Pensacola, he says guests can expect some “real Dutch sailors,” we’ll leave that up to you to find out.
For more information on the Tall Ships® Pensacola Festival, click here.