Columbia

Thu, 08/12/2021 - 11:00pm

It is one thing to see a beautiful and sleek looking sailing vessel sitting in stillness at anchor; however, it’s an entirely different thing to see the same vessel loaded up with wind and moving the way she was intended to move. There is lots of applied math and science involved to make a sailing vessel move on any point of sail. Note well the following example: Recently the schooner Columbia was entering Narragansett Bay when a friend and I saw her passing Castle Hill. We decided to sail Reverie to an advantageous position off Jamestown so we could get a few pictures of the replica of this famous American schooner, which was flying most of the sail she can carry. Columbia was sailing straight down wind with her main and mizzen sail on each side of the boat. (In sailor’s parlance this is known as running “wing on wing.”) The wind was blowing 10 to 15 knots from the south southwest and we figured the schooner was moving at 10 to 12 knots. I’ve seen some extraordinary sailboats in my years sailing out of Newport Harbor but this ranks as the most impressive display of sailing skill I’ve ever witnessed. It was a memorable sight to behold.
After we tacked Reverie into a good position off Jamestown, we saw Columbia aiming toward the center span of the Pell Bridge, where we saw the captain and crew begin a series of maneuvers in order to reduce her speed in order to situate the schooner on a course to her anchoring ground just north of Goat Island. (The original Columbia was engineless and as a result, this type of skill was the standard of the level of seamanship that was required.) The first thing we noticed was that both the mainsail and mizzen sail - the aft sail - were now on the starboard side of the schooner. The captain jibed the mainsail to make this happen, then
we saw one of the three headsails, called jibs, was being lowered to begin powering down the schooner. Next, the captain began a slow turn to the west toward Jamestown in order to bring the ship into the wind, which would also help to slow her down even more. While making the turn into the wind, the mizzen topsail was also being lowered. The captain then tacked the schooner, and then fell off to a broad reach; a stern quarter wind, and sailed at a slower speed while lowering her two remaining headsails. Finally, the captain handily brought the vessel to her appointed ground just south of the Pell Bridge, where he brought the schooner again up into the southwest wind, and lowered the schooner’s main and mizzen sails. Finally, the crew proceeded to drop the anchor. This, to say the least, was very impressive and notable boat handling.

Brandon Carr hails from Great Island in Narragansett, Rhode island. He is a sailor and a commercial diver who has been messing around in boats since he was a young kid. He is a capable diver and has grown to be an experienced hand on a sailboat. Subsequently, these skills led him to a crew site on the schooner Columbia. He was part of the gang that recently brought the boat to Newport from Eastern Shipbuilding Group’s yard - where she was built in 2015 - in Panama City, Florida. “You can feel the power of Columbia everywhere you stand on deck,” says Carr, “and while under sail the taut rigging seems to emanate a demand for extreme care and finesse to keep everything moving safely and smoothly.” Brandon Carr speaks with admiration and respect of boat’s owner, captain, and crew. “Captain Seth Salzmann is an incredible sailor, he’s definitely ‘the schooner guy’ and is extremely capable, and a great leader,” says Carr. (Brandon was not on board the day I witnessed Columbia under sail, as he was diving in Newport Harbor.) It is very clear that sailing on the schooner has had a strong impact on Carr’s respect for professional sailing captains and crews.

The original Gloucester Fishing Schooner Columbia was launched in Essex, Massachusetts in 1923. She was built for fishing the Grand Banks, and for racing against the celebrated fishing schooner Bluenose, which was built in Nova Scotia. Unfortunately, only four years later she along with four other fishing schooners were lost with all hands in a gale while fishing off Sable Island. Twenty-five of the formidable schooner’s crew were lost at sea along with one hundred souls aboard the other boats. The building of the replica of Columbia was the childhood dream of Brian D’Isernia. Brian is the founder of Eastern Shipbuilding in
Panama City and as a high school student he had the dream of building a classic American fishing schooner. He chose Columbia, which was designed by a prodigious Bostonian yachtsman named Starling Burgess, who is an icon in yachting circles. (Google Burgess). D’Isernai chose Columbia for her speed and aesthetic beauty. In addition to taking on charters, Columbia participates in sailing races such as the Antigua Classic, Marblehead Classic, and the Candy Store Cup in Newport. The interior of the schooner is a stunning combination of wood, brass and stainless steel. She can be sailed with a crew of 11, along with a chef.

At the business end of sailing this beautiful schooner there is one noteworthy element. Unlike the original design the replica has hydraulics which can help the sailors in the raising and trimming of sails. (For some perspective, as stated earlier the original Columbia sailed with a crew of twenty-five.) Regardless of this modern hydraulic assist, the one constant in allowing this vessel to do what it was intended to do, is that it has, along with a great captain, capable hands on board. Furthermore, they must know precisely what they are doing because on any sailing vessel things can go sideways in an instant. Finally, according to Brandon Carr, “When Columbia is sailing close, hauled to the wind, the rush of water coming over the rail and out of the scuppers can take down
anyone not paying attention.” ‘Nuff said.