The MaineSail Journal
By Doug Mills
Fall brings many surprises to the coast of Maine. A very pleasant surprise was to find Captain Sean Bercaw of Freedom Schooner Amistad, awaiting customs clearance after returning from Nova Scotia. Amistad is a ship with a mission. A reminder of a dark time in history when people were stolen from their homes and carried off to a far away land where no one spoke their language and they were forced into a life of slavery. Her namesake La Amistad was transporting 53 slaves to Cuba to be used as labor in the sugar cane fields when she was forced to change course and this eventually helped to change the course of this nation. During to voyage to Cuba one of the slaves was able to free himself and also the others who were on board. Armed with sugar cane knives the managed to take the ship. They ordered the crew to sail west, which they did during the day but at night they would sail north east in hope of running across another vessel to free them from the slaves who held the ship. Off Long Island New York the U S Navy ship USS Washington found them and took the slaves into custody and took possession of La Amistad.
The court case that followed was instrumental in bringing the blight of slavery into the public eye in the United States. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court who freed the those who had been involved in the taking of La Amistad. They eventually were able to return to their home but things had changed forever in the United States due to the actions of these former slaves.
“The impetus for building the Amistad came from Warren Q. Marr II, former editor of the NAACP’s The Crisis magazine. Marr’s inspiration for the replica emerged during New York’s operation sail 1976, a spectacular parade of the world’s tall ships. Participating in that event was a representation of the historic 19th century schooner, La Amistad. It was actually the schooner Western Union with its name temporarily hidden under signs proclaiming her La Amistad. Marr wanted the story of the African captives’ fight for freedom on the seas, in a New Haven court, and in a landmark United States Supreme Court case to be told. Marr’s goal was to design the re-created vessel as a floating exhibit, assemble a crew, and sail her from port to port teaching the history of the Amistad Incident of 1839. Marr believed the Amistad story could foster unity among people of diverse backgrounds and help improve race relations.”
“The reproduction was built in Mystic Seaport’s Henry B. DuPont Preservation Shipyard. It was built using traditional construction techniques. Some of the tools used to construct the Freedom Schooner Amistad were those that may have been used in 19th century construction. Others were electric tools. The reconstruction, while based on the appearance of La Amistad was about 10 feet longer than the original to accommodate an engine room. It also had bronze bolts in use as fastenings throughout the ship and an external ballast made of lead. None of these features would have been available on the original Amistad.”
The dimensions of the Amistad are as follows:1. Length from bowsprit to stern: 129 ft (39.4 m)
2. Length Over Rail: 85 ft (26 m)
3. Length On Deck: 81 ft (24.7 m)
4. Maximum Beam (Width): 23 ft (7.01 m)
5. Length at Waterline: 78 ft (23.8 m)
6. Draft (depth): 10.5 ft (3.3 m)
7. Height of masts: 100 ft (30.5 m)
[AAI Staff. "Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)." AMISTAD America. AMISTAD America Inc, 14 Jan. 2008. Web. 7 May 2009..]