Mutiny Ship

By David Abel  |  Globe Staff  |  6/11/2006

In 1925, when the 260-ton vessel from Essex joined a fleet of Grand Banks schooners, the Roseway sailed as a fishing yacht, designed to compete in races against similar tall ships from Nova Scotia.

A year later, it earned the moniker "mutiny ship" after a 15-day voyage from Georgetown, S.C., left the crew "suffering from want of food [and] terrific seas that nearly capsized the lumber-laden vessel," according to a Globe account.

In 1934, the Roseway set a record of 74 swordfish caught in one day, and during World War II, the Navy fitted the boat with a .50-caliber machine gun and assigned it to help guide ships through the minefields and antisubmarine netting protecting Boston Harbor, where it served until 1973 as the nation's last pilot schooner.

Now, after years of ferrying tourists along the Maine coast, serving as a prop in a television remake of Rudyard Kipling's "Captains Courageous," and a purgatory that at one point left it dismasted and slated for a scrapheap, the Roseway has returned to Boston, rebuilt and rechristened for a new mission.

With $1.3 million of new sails, booms, masts, and a host of other physical and technological improvements, the sleek, 137-foot ship will now offer two-hour sails around the harbor and charter cruises and serve as a classroom in Boston Harbor, according to its new owners, the World Ocean School, a nonprofit sailing school from Camden, Maine.

"We felt she had an incredible history that we wanted to preserve," said Abby Kidder, executive director of the World Ocean School, adding that it was less expensive to rebuild the old schooner than build a new one. "We thought Boston was the most appropriate spot for her."

Earlier this month, the Roseway docked at a pier on Rowes Wharf, and Kidder invited some of the ship's former crew to take a look at the spruce masts, pine floors, and cedar walls, which for many of them was home for as much as six months a year.

When Ron Emery climbed aboard, the 68-year-old retired pilot looked at the bow and saw it was no longer blunt. The two masts rose higher than they did years before. The cabins were larger, the store rooms no longer reeked of rotting fish, and the floors looked nicely finished.
He had a hard time believing it was the same battered ship he served on between 1958 and 1969.

"I wouldn't recognize it," said Emery, who saw the ship several years ago, when it appeared close to being recycled for parts.

"I don't know how they kept her afloat," he said. "It looked like a lost cause. But it's a pleasure to have her back and for a long time."

Richard Cushman, 69, walked along the deck and admired the cleanliness of a ship on which he served between 1954 and 1963 as a pilot and a pilot's apprentice.

Returning to the Roseway flooded the old sailor with nostalgia. He and others remember using a large mallet in the winter to beat the ice that built up on the sails. The boat had a large No. 2 written on the mainsail, distinguishing the Roseway from its sister ship, the Pilot, the No. 1 pilot boat.

They remembered lugging coal on and off the ship. They remembered lowering the rowboats off the side of the vessel and having apprentices row them to the side of approaching ships, where nearly every day at sea the pilots climbed ladders and guided ships into or out of the harbor.

"It's definitely a trip back," Cushman said as he took stock of all the changes. "She's totally different down below, but you can't change the hull. We had good memories here."

Larry Cannon, 67, a former president of the Boston Harbor Pilots, remembered one cold night in 1955 when one of their rowboats capsized in heavy seas and the pilots lost three men.

"It could be right miserable in the winter," said Cannon, who served on the Roseway for nearly four years.

He described how the schooner, which every other week stayed about 13 miles out to sea, worked as a pilot boat, under sail.

The Roseway, which spent a week in port while The Pilot worked the seas, would approach the stern of an incoming or outgoing ship, and when it reached about 30 or 40 yards away, the apprentices dropped a 16-foot dinghy over the side. Then a pilot and two apprentices would row hard to the ship. The pilot would take great risks climbing up the ladder, and the two apprentices would row back to the schooner, after the pilot was safely aboard.

"The advantages of working on a schooner were that you really got to learn the ins and outs of the harbor," Cannon said. "You really had to know how to maneuver, and with all the time out there, you got to understand things."

Now, with the Roseway back in form and back in town, he said it's like a family reunion for him and many of the other pilots. "It's like having one of your own away for a long time, and all of a sudden, they reappear," he said.

In addition to offering charter cruises, the Roseway will serve as a classroom for students attending the Willauer School on Thompson Island.

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David Abel can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @davabel.