Press Center : Article
Amistad a floating classroom for teens
CT Post | July 23, 2017
Members of Amistad's student crew pose on the deck of the schooner while moored at Captain's Cove in Bridgeport, Conn., on July 22, 2017.
BRIDGEPORT — All the tall ships that visit Captain’s Cove have long stories to tell, and the Amistad is no different. The Baltimore schooner, launched in 2000, is a recreation of the original Amistad, a slave ship that in 1839 was taken over by its human cargo of 53 captives from Sierra Leone.
“What they did was really quite astonishing,” said Capt. Rose Witte, captain of the Amistad. “Sailing a tall ship is not easy — especially for people who were farmers and had no experience whatsoever with boats. It had to be frightening for them, and they did manage to figure a lot of that out.”
The Cove hosted the Amistad Friday and Saturday; it’s one of three home ports for the educational vessel, the others being New Haven and New London. In September, she will visit Captain’s Cove again for a two-week stay.
The crew includes of about eight high school students who — after a crash course on how sailing ships work — remain with the Amistad for two weeks. The current crew is mostly from the Bridgeport Military Academy magnet school and the Aquaculture School, also in Bridgeport.
“When we first got on board, the captain sent us out — with a harness — out on the bowsprit to build up our confidence,” said Facundo Cremel, 17, of Bridgeport. “We were more than inspired after that. That prepared us for everything else that we have to do.”
Margolis said the idea is to not only build teamwork skills, but also to get students ready for college.
“They’re also getting a firsthand lesson on American history,” she said. “So many things happen on board a tall ship that happen nowhere else.”
Capt. Witte agreed. “It takes six sailors to haul up that mainsail,” she said.
“It’s awesome,” said Judene Freematle, also a student at BMA. “I would definitely do it again — it’s definitely going to the top of my resume.”
The schooner is owned and operated by the nonprofit organization Discovering Amistad, which took over the operation in mid-2015 from its previous owner-operator, Amistad America Inc.
Witte, the former skipper of the schooner Soundwaters, has been with the Amistad since 2000.
“The Amistad and its story is something that’s near and dear to my heart,” she said.
Today the 136-ton, 129-foot schooner is as neat and tidy as can be, likely a far cry from its predecessor’s slave transport days.
“Keeping up a tall ship like this is not cheap,” Witte said. “But one thing in her favor is that she’s about as well-built as any tall ship can be.”
Three weeks ago, Captain’s Cove hosted two other tall ships that also played roles in critical chapters of U.S. history, replicas of the Niña and the Pinta, two of the three ships famously used by Christopher Columbus in his voyage to find the New World.
There’s always an undercurrent of gallows humor on today’s tall ships, recalling the unforgiving conditions and brutal discipline seen on the sailing ships of yore.
“We saw the movie ‘Master and Commander’ last night,” Witte said. Then she called out to her crew: “The floggings will continue until morale improves!”