Sailing on the Old Time Schooner
Friendship Rose Sailing the Grenadines is a firsthand account of a sailing trip to the Tobacco cays in the Grenadines.
She Creeks and Rolls Over the Waves
The Friendship Rose, Caribbean Sailing Schooner, creeks as she rolls over the waves. She is heavy in the water, framed with solid Bequia white cedar and Guyana green, she is strong and sure. Norway pines, 80 feet tall as fat as two rugby players, brace the 600 yards of sail that power her. She is a working boat, a thoroughbred, the last of of the working wooden Caribbean Sailing schooners.
Sailing in the old time way on an old time wooden sailing schooner is hard work. Raising 600 yards of canvass and the upper boom, in a gusting wind, takes skill and muscle. There are no winches and powered gear as in a modern sailing boat. Manpower lifts the sail as winds wrestle the canvas and its rigging.
The sailing crew are agile, dancing with the wind and canvas, hanging on the sheets to lever the sails. It takes 4 men of good size to hoist the main sail of the Classic Caribbean Schooner; 100 feet of wood and sailing power.
One, two, three, and pull.
Tighten the grip and take up the slack,
Ley is falling on his back.
Tighten the grip and take up the slack.
Pull the sheet to set him back.
Tighten the grip and take up the slack,
hoist that sail before we tack.!.
It is a choreography of trust and power, a dance of daring. The captain of the Frienship Rose, old man Lewis, one of 4 that built her, watches the canvas rise and flutter.
“Steady as she goes”, he seems to say.
A sheet is snagged;
Ley jumps onto the boom and loosens it.
One, two, three and pull,
hoist that sail,
pull that sheet,
the crew are dancing to the beat,
with Captain Lewis on his feet…
“Steady as she goes”
Wind in the Sails of Friendship Rose
The Classic Caribbean sailing schooner heads off the wind and grips the sea.
The canvas fills,
the boom swings,
the sheets hold.
We sit on the wooden deck, on cushioned benches, in a strong wind, sailing the grenadines, rising and sliding over 5-foot swells. Her massive boom hugs the mast, a simple wishbone footing holding it perfectly in place, held there by nature.
Wood bearing on wood, creaking.
Wind on canvas, whooshing.
Memory of Bye-gone Days
She rolls on the swell, plowing through the waves as playful as a whale. The Friendship Rose, a classic wooden schooner, is one with the sea, a purposed part of it, a memory of bye-gone days, of working sailing ships and men. A part of the landscape, she blends with the sea and sky, sometimes silver under a cloud, or shinning like a diamond in the sun.
In the Distance Mustique, Canouan, Myreau, Union Island, Tobago Cays
Today we are schooner sailing to Tobago Cays. It is a full day sail starting with breakfast of freshly squeezed orange juice, pastries, fruit, coffee and tea on board at 7:30. Friendship Rose anchors in the Tobago Cays, Grenadines, just before midday. We snorkel, swim, and explore some of the 5 uninhabited islands, set amongst the crystal blue Caribbean waters and shallow walk-about reefs.
There are turtle and reef fish all around. Lunch is ginger chicken, savory rice, and vegetables served on china. We dine with French wine, sitting on the deck in the shade of the Canvas. A few take an after-lunch dip and dive off the bow of the schooner. We schooner sail home to the setting sun with tea and coconut fudge and the warm friendship of the Rose.
Built by Hand: Local Wood & Bequia Men
“40 years,” says captain Lewis, “40 years sailing. Took 3 years and 4 men to build her. Built strong she is. Searched Bequia’s tallest hills to find the right trees. Still strong she is, after 40 years of work. She was the Bequia – St Vincent ferry, the mail boat, a trading schooner when sail-powered boats as they did before diesel”.
“She was launched without an Engine”, he explains, “but after we drifted for eight days with no wind on a trip to St Lucia, we added the engine”.
It’s the last of a line. Wooden sailboats are replaced by steel diesel ships for trade and recreational sailors now want power rigging and sleek fiberglass that is far easier to maintain.
“We have to take her out of the water every 2 years and fix her hull,” says Captain Lewis. “Many a plank to replace, fiber is the modern way”.
A Short History of the Caribbean Sailing Schooner
Modern boats don’t move like the schooner, so named after the verb to scoon, or skip over the water.
She revolutionized marine trading in the early 1700s. The first record of the boat is traced to Boston in 1714, and thousands were built along the US and Canadian Maritime. It sailed along the American coast and down into the Caribbean and South America. Trading salt fish for rum and sugar. The Schooner became the standard trading ship of the Caribbean. It was also a perfect Pirates ship, prized for its speed, agility, and its ability to maneuver in shallow waters.
As we move on to a new age of powerboating, the old age of wood and sail lingers, with its distinctive romance: a feel, a sense, a sound and a memory. Sailing the Grenadines, I saw, amongst the smart and modern plastic catamarans, some modern wooden sailboats, looking majestic and proud. There are many who still appreciate the values of the schooner but the days of the 100-foot trading schooner have sadly gone.
Friendship Rose, remains, saved from being sold as a pirate ship, by its new owners Alan and Meg Whitaker, it lets us relive the days of old, skipping on the water with wind, skill, and brawn, in harmony with nature.
Making Wood Dingies & Replicas
Over 70 wooden vessels were built and launched in Bequia in 1920s. Its been a tradition introduced by the Scottish in the 1800s. The boats were vital to the whaling industry. Using simple hand tools the Sargent family now makes miniature models of the ancient ships using White Pine, Mahogany, and Gum wood.
Rogues Guide & Travelogue
A Memory of Friendship Rose Sailing the Grenadines! Story by Ian R. Clayton, author of Rogues in Paradise.
Please note that this trip was in 2015. Much may have changed and it’s best to check schedules and dates and to plan ahead.
Rogues Guide to Islands of the Caribbean
- Friendship Rose Sailing the Grenadines
- Bequia Travelogue Unwinding at the Speed of Light
- Bequia Island Grenadines– Its Culture And Attractions
- Rogues Reviews Videos Share Insights & Life Lesson of the Book
- St Vincent & The Grenadines: The Island – Its Culture And Attractions
- Montserrat: The Island – Its Culture And Attractions
- Trinidad and Tobago: The Islands Culture And Attractions
- Tortola: The Island – Its Culture And Attractions
- St. Thomas: The Island – Its Culture And Attractions
- St. Maarten: The Island – Its Culture And Attractions
- St. Lucia: The Island – Its Culture And Attractions
- St. Kitts: The Island – Its Culture And Attractions
- St. Croix: The Island – Its Culture And Attractions
- Post Cards Of The Caribbean
- Nevis: The Island – Its Culture And Attractions
- Grenada: The Island – Its Culture And Attractions
- Barbados The Island – Its Culture And Attractions
- Antigua The Island – Its Culture And Attractions
- Dominica: The Island – Its Culture And Attractions
- Guide to Anquilla: The Island – Its Culture And Attractions