O is for Oceanics- #AtoZChallenge

O” is for the Oceanics. That was such a fantastic experience! I’m so thankful I had that opportunity at such a young age. It really did change my life.

The Oceanics was a really special school. It was run by Chick and Stephanie Gallagher out of their apartment in New York City. They somehow managed to round up small groups of students and a few teachers and send them off on round the world adventures aboard various chartered square-rigged sailing ships.

I see a few organizations today trying to do something similar. Not the same tho, not gone long enough, not the right kind of ships, not the same atmosphere. I’m sure they’re still great experiences for anyone who is able to attend. I don’t think there’s any better way to create a confident, competent, creative, cooperative human being than the way they did it at the Oceanics.

Spending months at sea working together to sail the ship from point A to point B. Learning every aspect of how to do the job properly, we earned a sense of a job well done and self esteem. It takes a lot of teamwork and trust in each other to sail a square-rigged ship. Running up the ratlines to furl the sails in a squall with the wind howling and the ship rolling needs to be an immediate response with all hands on deck. Ask the worlds navies why they still use sailing ships as training vessels, they understand.

The ship was just one aspect of the Oceanics. Captain Jespersen was our sail training master. We spent time with him every day learning the names and functions of all the rigging and sails aboard. We sailed the ship from Pireaus, Greece across the Atlantic to Martinique. We spent our time aboard in school, taking regular classes in math, science (oceanology), world history, cultural studies, local languages (Greek, Spanish, Russian), literature, etc. We also learned seamanship, navigation, and how to take care of the ship.

We all stood watch when we weren’t in class. The traditional 4 hours on, 8 hours off. Standing lookout and tending the helm. In between, we kept busy sanding, varnishing, washing the decks, painting, tending to the rigging, splicing line, even helping the cook peel potatoes.

My favorite time aboard was standing lookout on the bow. Watching the dolphins play in the bow waves on a bright sunny day. Seeing flying fish popping out of a wave, to spread their ‘wings’ to fly across the waves before dropping back into the water. Picking out the constellations in a starry, starry night sky. 🙂

I can’t express how truly awesome it was.

And then, when we got to port we could go ashore once we were off watch. Or we might all go ashore together for an adventure. We spent a few days on the Greek island of Agistri hunting octopus for dinner and playing soccer on the beach. I spent a few days with a family in La Gomera (Canary Islands) improving my Spanish and learning more about the locals.

We sailed the schooner Ariadne across the Atlantic to Martinique. On arrival we had a well deserved break on the beach. A few of us hitched our way up the island to hike up Mt Pele. I still remember the deliciously sweet pineapples we had to snack on.



We left the Ariadne in Martinique to fly into Caracas and our South American adventure began. We had been studying Spanish since we left Italy. Now was the time to put it to use. Our plan was to travel from Venezuela to Bolivia, we would figure out the details along the way. We got into some really cool, out of the way places. 🙂

Plenty of the places we wound up had never seen anyone like us before. My red hair stood out like a torch, the locals would surround me and ask to feel it. Young Joe with his bright blond hair was extremely popular with the ladies. People didn’t know what to make of us.

We might show up in a group of 6-10 students (ages 14-21) and 1-2 teachers trying to keep us focused on our studies but also allowing us to get out on our own. We had lots of independent projects. I did one on comparing fairy tales in different cultures and another one identifying plankton I caught in a net on the way over to the Caribbean while we were still on the ship.

We made our way from Caracas through Venezuela to Cucuta, Columbia. From Bogata we headed to Ecuador. Quito, Otavalos, and Guyaquil. We took a boat out to the Galapagos to check out the wildlife and swim with the sea lions and iguanas. We made our way to the jungle and the rivers feeding the Amazon. We traveled down the Rio Napo to visit the indigenous shamans and learn about the plants and animals, (I had to try the ayuhuasca).

In Peru we made our way from Lima to Cuzco (fantastic) and took the train to Macchu Picchu. That was back before it was overrun by tourists. We stayed at the Banos (hot springs) alongside the river and soaked in the hot springs at night after hiking back down the mountain. Another experience I’ll never forget. That place was magical, I could feel it.

We made our way across Lake Titicaca to La Paz, Bolivia to finish up the semester. We were all sad to leave. I didn’t want to go home.

I returned to meet the Ariadne in Martinique a month later. I had another semester to finish high school. We sailed the Ariadne from Martinique to her home port in Hamburg, Germany. Our crossing was fine sailing. We even stopped for a swim in the mid-Atlantic ocean. 🙂

I was sent ahead with a small group to prepare our next vessel in Denmark. The Irish brigantine “Phoenix” was our home for the rest of our voyage. We spent months sailing around the Baltic, around the top of Denmark, to Sweden, Finland, and even spent a couple of weeks exploring the USSR from Leningrad (St Petersburg).

Our graduation ceremony was on the pier side in Copenhagen.  After another semester of overseas adventures at sea and ashore. It got in my blood and I’m sure I’ll never get over it.

I sure wish I had a better camera back then. Take a look here for some photos collected by Brian who was along for the trip with me and Tom. (who met me in Nicaragua). You can see me in a couple of the photos (in the yellow foul weather jacket by the cannon). 😉


Ships Rigs: Schooner

I wrote an earlier post about how sailing ships are rigged. I figured I would start with the biggest and most unusual to see today, and work my way down to the more common types you’ll see around you every day.

So the first post was about a ‘ship’ rig. Today’s post will be about a ‘schooner’ rig. I mentioned before that sailing ships rigs are first classified by how the sails are set. Either fore-and-aft or square rigged. A ‘ship’ is set with square rigged sails, a ‘schooner’ is set with fore-and-aft rigged sails.

I saw a nice one in the news the other day. The Juan Sebastian de Elcano was in Pensacola a couple of weeks ago and was open for tours by the locals. She’s in Charleston now. Check it out if you can. Here’s a picture of her. She’s a real beauty!


She’s got 4 masts, all rigged fore-and-aft and also square rigged on the foremast. So technically, she’s a brig-schooner. Or she could be called a topsail schooner. Whatever you call her, she’s a beautiful ship and I imagine must be a dream to sail on. 🙂

She’s very similar to the Ariadne. The ship I was privileged to sail on during my younger days. The difference is that the Ariadne was a little smaller, only had 3 masts and didn’t have the square sails. I actually got to go to high school aboard the Ariadne and the brigantine Phoenix! I was SO lucky! That experience definitely changed my life for the better. Here’s a picture of her.

The Ariadne was a true schooner. She had 3 masts, all fore-and-aft rigged. The Juan Sebastian de Elcano is a brig-schooner which means she has square sails on her fore mast. There are all kinds of variations to the main 2 types of sail plans (fore-and-aft or square rigged). There are ships, schooner, brigs, brigantines, barques, barquentines, in the larger class of vessels and then a few more in the smaller class. I’ll write more about them later. 🙂

Ships Rigs

I got some feedback that my recent posts on square riggers have been appreciated. 🙂 I think some people would like to learn more about the different types of sailing ships, so I’ll go ahead and try to explain at least a few of the more common types around. I’ll start out with the ‘ship’ rig and if you like it I’ll continue on with some of the others. 🙂

There aren’t many of ANY type of sailing ships any more. It’s hard for them to compete when everyone wants immediate gratification now a days. There are still a few around, they’re mostly being used for educational purposes (which they are fantastic for), or for cruise vacations. I do know of a couple that are trying to make a go of sail cargo operations again, but they’re in a tough spot and trying to find a niche market. Here’s a link to a post I wrote a while ago, and here’s another link to a more recent list by Sailing Dog.

The main way to categorize sailing vessels is whether they’re rigged fore-and-aft (the sail is rigged along the centerline of the vessel) or square rigged (the sail is rigged to lie across the centerline of the vessel). A sailing “ship” is one with at least 3 masts, and all masts are rigged with square sails. They will probably also have fore-and-aft sails set between the masts and on the bow.

A full rigged ship is a beautiful sight to see. They were the largest and some of the fastest ships around during the age of sail. Check out this video for a little history of some of the ships of the Flying P Line. The Peking is still afloat and is lying at the South Street Seaport in New York City. I spent a few hours exploring there a while back. Too bad she’s no longer sailing. 😦

The Sorlandet is an example of one of these ships that is still sailing about. She’s used as a sail training vessel and it’s possible to get aboard if you want to spend the time (and money) to learn. 🙂

The Royal Clipper is one of a few newbuilt vessels. She was built in modern times as a cruise vessel for Star Clippers. You can sign on and take a cruise any time you want. I’m planning to do it myself soon.

So, that should give you a pretty good idea of what a sailing “ship” is. If you like this kind of thing, please check out the links and some of the other websites they lead to. Let me know what you think. 🙂

Share Your World- Week 4

Here’s another one of Cee’s Share Your World challenges. She always has such interesting stuff on her blog. Not only these Share Your World challenges, but lots of different photography challenges and other interesting stuff. Here are my answers to this weeks questions…

Where did you live at age five?  Is it the same place or town you live now? I don’t remember exactly where we lived when I was 5. I remember we moved around a lot back then. My dad was doing contract work as an engineer for different companies. He would travel around from job to job. We lived in a cab-over camper on the back of a pickup truck. My mom, my dad, my brother, me, our dog and our cat. 🙂 We lived in lots of different places, all around the country (New York, Arizona, California, Iowa, etc). We didn’t settle down until I was about 6. That was in Florida, West Coast, near St-Pete/Clearwater.

No, it’s not the same place I live now. I moved here to Texas (Lake Jackson) when I was just barely 17. I wanted to go to school to get my USCG licenses so I could become a ship captain. This town had one of only 3 programs in the country at that time that you could go for only 2 years and come out with something really useful. I didn’t have the money for a 4 year program and wasn’t really into spending that much time in school anyway. Turns out, I did spend that much time in school, and more. It took me 5 years to finish the 2 year program. At least I was able to work after the 1st year! That wouldn’t have been the case if I had gone to the 4 year schools. Now, there are a few other programs around the country. They offer pretty much the same thing I went through, but you come out in MUCH better shape! They give you a LICENSE now instead of just an AB ticket!!

You are invited to a party that will be attended by many fascinating people you never met.  Would you attend this party if you were to go by yourself? Yes, of course I would!

Did you grow up in a small or big town? Did you like it? I grew up in a medium size town, tho it felt small. I grew up in Madeira Beach, FL. Johns Pass to be specific. It was part of the Tampa-St Petersburg area, all of the towns ran together so it was really one large town or small city. Johns Pass was very much like a small town in itself. We had a real community. Everybody knew everybody and all their business. Everything you needed was there. We had a grocery store, hardware store, a 5 and dime, a few tourist shops, a few mom and pop motels on the beach, a laundromat, a few restaurants, quite a few bars, the Charter Boat center where a lot of people worked, the party boat docks, a couple of ice houses, and fuel docks for the fishermen, even an aquarium with dolphins and sharks until they tore the old bridge down and ‘remodeled’ the whole place.

my dads house was on the 1st finger bay, straight line from the bridge and a little to the right

my dads house was on the 1st finger bay, straight line from the bridge and a little to the right

the Old Johns Pass Bridge

the Old Johns Pass Bridge

Everything was within walking distance. School was about 3 miles away and there was another shopping center over there. If you needed anything else, you could catch the city bus and it would take you anywhere you needed to go. Yes, I really did like it, I miss how it was then, it’s changed a lot. It’s really nothing but a tourist attraction now. Just condos and tourist shops. They destroyed the entire community when they built that new bridge and replaced all the fisherman’s homes with shops selling cheap trinkets. I don’t like it at all, what it has become. It’s a real shame. 😦

The New Johns Pass, "#1 tourist attraction in Pinellas County."

The New Johns Pass, “#1 tourist attraction in Pinellas County.”

We lived across from Dons Dock on the finger bay.

We lived across from Dons Dock on the finger bay.

As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? I used to want to be a doctor (I think I was influenced by my grandmother- she was a pharmacist). Then, I figured out that I really don’t like sick people all that much, so I decided to be a veterinarian. That lasted until I was shipped off to high school to sail around the world on the traditional square-rigged sailing ships. That did it, I decided to become a ship captain. I wanted to sail around the world and get paid for it. I’ve been sailing ever since and FINALLY got my Master Mariners ticket only a couple of years ago. 🙂

Ariadne, one of the ships I got to sail on for high school

Ariadne, one of the ships I got to sail on for high school

Bonus question:  What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up? I’m grateful that I got to spend some good quality time with my best friend. I brought over a pot of stew and we had a couple of hours of good conversation. 🙂 I’m looking forward to one more Icicle Race on this coming Saturday!

The Vermont Sail Freight Project: Alternative Sail

The Vermont Sail Freight Project.

I think it’s really wonderful that this group is trying to bring back commercial sail in the US. They’re also working in another area I like which is good food. The sailing barge Ceres is working with a great project bringing farm fresh food down to New York City.

I think there is a definite place for sailing ships even in these modern times. With all the attention being focused now on the environment, climate change, the high price of fossil fuels, etc., we should be taking a new look at sail (traditional or new improved models).

I’ve been keeping my eye on the Tres Hombres (Netherlands) which has been sailing since 2009. She’s a beautiful brigantine and sails between Europe and the Caribbean. She carries cargo that is not as dependent on a fast delivery time. She only carries about 35 tons so she makes it count with high value cargo such as rum and chocolate (yum). 😉

She can also carry trainees who will pay a fee in return for the adventure of a lifetime and a certificate to boot! With just a quick look at their website, I see that they will give you certificates all the way up from ordinary seaman to captain! Too bad they’re not recognized by any government. 😦

Sailing General Cargo Schoenerbrik Tres Hombres

Even so, I’m sure the training you would get on board a ship like that would serve you well in any other. You’ll be better off then just going to work on any power vessel. You’ll also get an interesting, fun adventure, which is all but eliminated from the merchant fleet these days (at least in America). 😦

I’d love to make a voyage on her myself. Or any of the other similar ships around the world. There are a few of them now, the Bessy Ellen and the Tres Hombres (both with Fairtransport) which are truly cargo ships along with the Ceres of Vermont Sail Freight Project.

The barque Picton Castle (home port Nova Scotia) is primarily a sail training vessel but also does some cargo work. She sails worldwide and is presently making her way across the Pacific.

New designs show promise as not only for pure sailing vessels, but as additions to the usual container and other modern ship types. The addition of sails or kites should help fuel consumption at least. Here’s a link to the Skysails website where you can learn more about that idea and how it works…


Others are working on more new designs to take advantage of the wind. I posted previously about one of them, the ‘Vind’…


I’m really looking forward to seeing more of these ships in the future. I hope one day I will be able to take the time to sail on one of them again. There really is nothing like sailing on a real tall ship. Spending a day is just a small taste of what it’s really like. Get that taste and you WILL want more! 🙂 

Falado of Rhodes Sunk Yesterday in the Vicinity of Iceland

Iceland Review Online: Daily News from Iceland, Current Affairs, Business, Politics, Sports, Culture.

I found this on a discussion in the traditional sail professionals group on http://www.linkedin.com.  I am sad to see yet another tall ship go down. I love these old ships and I’m sorry to see the level of seamanship is nowhere near the traditional skill levels.

I was lucky enough to start out under sail-training with Captain Jespersen of Denmark who was a real traditional sailor. He was sail-training master of the Danish ship Danmark. He was a fantastic teacher. I’ll never forget the time I was sailing on the Ariadne (3- masted schooner- German flag) and the Phoenix (brigantine- Irish flag) as a student with the Oceanics School. I spent a total of about 8 months on those ships and those lessons have sunk into my bones. The lessons I learned then have come in handy many times over the years. Traditional sail takes a long time under “mentors” (or a good bosun!) to learn it properly. I don’t see people getting trained in any useful way today.

Yeah, the companies I work for send you to USCG/IMO (STCW) required BST (Basic Safety Training) now. You MUST go to this class now before you can go to sea on anything other than inland or under 100 GT. IMHO, that class is a total joke. They send you there and then you’re on your own. After all, you’ve been “trained” now. You already know everything you need to know. Yeah, riiiighht.