Posted by: yachtcrewsing | May 8, 2012

Tall Ships: Foundations and Contrasts

Last weekend was the Savannah Tall Ship Challenge. Before we entered the channel into Savannah, Georgia, we were treated to the rare nautical parade of tall ships exiting the winding waterway into the city.

No matter which tall ship you look at, they all convey a quiet, understated sense of majesty and of timeless beauty. They are antiquated insomuch as sail maneuvering requires a veritable army on deck and sail technology is rudimentary at best. On a tall ship, every full hoist is a carefully choreographed show of strength, knowledge and teamwork between the crew.

I experienced this amazing and unique atmosphere when I worked for nearly a year on the beautiful S/V Concordia (a vessel tragically now in her final resting place at the bottom of the sea). There was 66 of us onboard of widely varying nationalities, ages and personalities, but when it came to sailing we quickly adopted the common physical language of kinship and understanding that never ceased to leave me incredulous. The sails were solely run on manpower; if a maneuver needed to be accomplish at 3am, then our entire crew were roused on deck to perform the necessary tasks- setting or dousing the 5 square sails, the 3 jibs and/or the 2 mizzen sails and topsails, climbing up the mast to tie or untie the sail gaskets.

Automated to the point where I and every other crew member save for one are obsolete in the process, the sleek, highly modernized yacht I now work on is a far cry from its tall ship progenitors.

I have now grown accustomed to the relative luxuries provided by a ‘yacht’ rather than a ‘ship.’ The yacht being only marginally smaller than the S/V Concordia, it nonetheless runs with a mere 8 crew in comparison to the tall ship’s 66. The yacht is built for ultimate luxury cruising and to showcase the pinnacle of modern sail technology where a tall ship is basic, containing only needs and not wants. Absent of lavish luxuries, a tall ship is built to accommodate the needs of the crew; a yacht is predominantly constructed to maximize guest space and comfort.

Objectively, neither is better than the other, but despite the common categorization of ‘sail boat,’ they could not be more different. Sailing together at the mouth of the Savannah River, they provided a complete dichotomy in function and aesthetics, the apparent simultaneous existence of the past and present; of my past and present.


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