From a small northwestern observatory…

Finance and economics generally focused on real estate

Cuba, part 2

We sailed the Wolf, a traditionally American rigged (“gaff rigged”) topsail schooner (as opposed to a British rigged, which I now know is different….).  The story of the Schooner Wolf is as interesting as the voyage itself.  I’ll also note that Matt Dean Films was on-board for the voyage making a film about the Wolf and her skipper, Captain Finbar Gittleman, which will hopefully be available on the Discovery Channel (or such) later this year or early next year.   Hence, anything I have to say may pale compared to this forthcoming documentary.

But back to the Wolf.  She was built in 1982-83 in Panama City, Fl, by a team of owners, including Captain Fin.  The specific design was honed by Merritt Walter, and built by master boat builder Willis Ray.  Wolf is a steel-hulled schooner, 74 feet overall, with 49 feet at the waterline, a beam of 15 feet, draws 7.5 feet fully loaded with a gross displacement of 37 tonnes.  Under sail, with the right winds, she can make 10 knots, but also carries a 216 HP Detroit Diesel capable of making 8.5 knots in still water.

So, what makes her a schooner?  A schooner has two or more masts (usually two) with the fore-mast shorter than the main and no taller than the mizzen mast (the stern-most mast, if there are three).  While schooners have been built with up to 7 masts, nearly all schooners have only two.  Schooners were first used by the Dutch in the 15oo’s, but really evolved in the 1600’s.  When William of Orange became King of England, his royal yacht was a schooner built in 1695.  Schooners were noted for their speed and ease of handling, and caught on with the North American trade quite quickly.  There is some disagreement as to the name “schooner”.  It is alleged that a Massachusetts boat builder launched one in the early 1700’s and used the Scottish word “scone”, meaning “to skip along the surface of the water.”  An alternate explanation to the name comes from the Dutch word “schoone” which means “nice, good looking” and may have been used to describe the ornate riggings.  A “gaff rigged” schooner, such as the Wolf, has a trapezoidal sail on the foremast, and may have a topsail rigged above this sail.  Alternatively, a Bermuda rigged schooner has a triangular sale on the foremast.

Typically, a schooner will be a fairly large boat — bigger than, say, 50 feet in length.  Smaller boats simply don’t require the additional sail area.  Schooners were decidedly built to haul cargo and for the fishing trade, and as such the need for speed is balanced by efficiency in crew.  Flat-bottomed schooners (called “scow schooners”) were also built for the river trade.  Shorter two-masted sailboats tend to be either ketches or yawls.  A ketch typically has a rear mast about 2/3 the height of the main mast, and located in front of the rudder post.  The rear mast on a yawl is typically about 1/3 the height of the main mast, and located to the rear of the rudder post.  Despite the similarity to schooners, yawls and ketches have very different reasons for a second mast.  For a ketch, the added sail adds drive when sailing off the wind, but only adds drag when sailing on the wind.  For that reason, the stern-most ketch sail will usually be dropped when sailing on the wind, and the boat then becomes an under-powered sloop.  For a yawl, the small stern sail is for stability when frequently tacking (crossing back and forth with the wind).  Thus, for long-haul sailing on the wind, the schooner is the preferable multi-masted rig.

The Wolf is best known as a charter vessel based out of Safe Harbor, on Stock Island next to Key West (technically part of the City of Key West, but a separate island to the east).  In addition, the Wolf has traveled to festivals in the Bahamas (2006 & 2007), Cayman Islands (2000 & 2003), Jamaica (2002), and various ports in the U.S.  Wolf also participates in humanitarian trips, having ferried donated relief supplies to Port Antonio, Jamaica (1987), Guanaja, Honduras (1998), Hope Town, Abaco Bahamas (2004), West End, Grand Bahama (2005), and La Gonave, Haiti (2010).  For those who don’t think a sailing cargo ship still has use in the 21st century, note that many of these small harbors don’t have support for power vessels, particularly right after humanitarian disasters, but can easily off-load supplies from a sailing vessel that doesn’t require re-fueling.


Written by johnkilpatrick

February 19, 2016 at 9:32 am

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