Antique tall ship Ernestina-Morrissey finds new home at Cape Cod school. Here's her story.




20 DIC 2022


BUZZARDS BAY — Time was when a mariner's dream was as simple as this: A tall ship and a star to steer her by.

There were no automated steering or computerized helm control, no global positioning systems, satellite phones or Wi-Fi, no Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons or outboard engines or backup power cells — and there were few creature comforts.

It was just the sailors, the rigging, the sheets, the wheeling stars, the coursing currents and winds — and the moody elements.

At Massachusetts Maritime Academy that old simplicity is making a return to the program in the shape of the schooner Ernestina-Morrissey, a newly refurbished, two-masted tall ship with eight white sails ready to capture the wind and propel the vessel over the crests and troughs of the ocean.

NEW BEDFORD 12/17/22 Captain Tiffany Krihwan at the helm Ernestina-Morrissey  during a homecoming celebration for the tall ship at the State Pier in New Bedford on Saturday. Steve Heaslip/Cape Cod Times
Capt. Tiffany Krihwan stands at the helm of the Ernestina-Morrissey during a homecoming celebration for the tall ship at the State Pier in New Bedford … Mostrar más   

The gaff-rigged, antique vessel, which at one time transported immigrants from Cape Verde off the coast of west Africa to Cape Cod and other regions in the United States, recently arrived at her new berth at New Bedford State Pier to undertake her newest commission — to serve as a sailing school vessel on which Massachusetts Maritime Academy students will get to experience sailing as it once was. And gain sailing and navigation skills.


The Ernestina-Morrissey was built in 1894 at the James and Tarr Shipyard, originally for the Gloucester fishing fleet. So her return to Massachusetts waters is a homecoming. And Rear Adm. Francis X. McDonald, president of the academy, said it is with "amazing excitement" the academy is greeting the vessel's addition to its fleet.

"To see her return to the commonwealth, and to the great city of New Bedford, and to think about the previous lives touched and future lives to be touched, is pretty powerful," he said.


Ernestina-Morrissey's new captain is a woman

Equally enthusiastic, if not more so, is Ernestina-Morrissey's captain, Tiffany Krihwan. She was given command of the vessel last year but hasn't had the opportunity yet to ride the winds with her, something she is itching to do.

"I haven't had a chance to sail a tall ship since 2019," said Krihwan on Thursday afternoon while taking a break from ongoing work to get the Ernestina-Morrissey ready for students to come aboard, hopefully as soon as this spring.

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A celebration of the Ernestina-Morrissey's homecoming was held Saturday at the pier she is berthed at, attended by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, Cape Verde Prime Minister José Ulisses de Pina Correia e Silva, and representatives of the academy, Massachusetts Dept. of Conservation and Recreation, the city of New Bedford, and other state and local officials.

Ernestina-Morrissey is an old ship with an illustrious past

The Ernestina-Morrissey has seen a lot of action since she first left the Gloucester shipyard where she was built, including sailing within 600 miles of the North Pole.

Originally named the Effie M. Morrissey after the daughter of her first owner, Capt. William Morrissey, the 156-foot ship was built in just four months for $16,000. She was launched on Feb. 1, 1894, and soon carried fishermen from Gloucester to the Grand Banks, Labrador, Nova Scotia, and New Foundland. She also carried freight. The ship was later taken over by Morrissey's son, Capt. Clayton E. Morrissey, who was the inspiration for the famed, oilskin-clad Gloucester fisherman statue.

NEW BEDFORD 12/17/22 Captain Tiffany Krihwan, left, heads up the gangway beside the tall ship Ernestina-Morrissey during a homecoming celebration for the tall ship at the State Pier in New Bedford on Saturday. Steve Heaslip/Cape Cod Times
Capt. Tiffany Krihwan, left, heads up the gangway beside the tall ship Ernestina-Morrissey during a homecoming celebration for the tall ship at the State Pier … Mostrar más   

In 1926, she was purchased by Arctic explorer Capt. Robert A. Bartlett, an associate of Robert E. Peary, who claimed to be the first to reach the geographic North Pole. During this time, the ship carried students and scientists on 20 voyages to the north, documenting flora and fauna for institutions such as the Smithsonian and the National Geographic Society, among others.


In 1948, Ernestina-Morrissey came into the hands of Capt. Henrique Mendes, who renamed her after his daughter and put the ship into service carrying immigrants and goods between Cape Verde and the U.S. By 1972, her mission kept her busy with transportation and communication among the Cape Verde islands.

Ernestina-Morrissey the oldest and newest vessel at Mass. Maritime

In 1982, the ship was returned to the U.S. as a gift by the newly independent Cape Verde government. Massachusetts accepted the vessel since it was where she originated. She then sailed as an educational vessel until 2005 under the care of the state Department of Conservation and Recreation. After sitting dormant for a number of years, she was finally sent off to Maine for renovation, and a plan was ultimately made to transfer the Ernestina-Morrissey to the maritime academy.

"We had some connections with, and familiarity of, the vessel prior to the transfer," said McDonald. "One example was with our Environmental Symposium program, where we connected high school students to marine science and marine transportation. That program, which ran for over a decade, shuttled participants from the academy to New Bedford for programming on Ernestina-Morrissey."

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The vessel spent the last seven years undergoing a major renovation. The admiral explained that the major donor for the restoration thought the best path forward for the Ernestina-Morrissey was to have her at the maritime academy, where she could once again be used to teach young mariners how to ride the sea on wind and muscle power.


"As we looked into the possibilities and the responsibilities, and talked with the New Bedford community, we came to the conclusion that the possibilities far outweighed the downside and agreed to accept the vessel from the Department of Conservation and Recreation," McDonald said.Restoration work on the ship, which cost about $10 million, includes a full hull, interior, rig and fit-out rebuild and renovation, he said. The vast majority of the funding came from private donations.

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At the moment, the Ernestina-Morrissey, with a hull and frames made of white oak planks and decks of pine and Douglas fir, has the distinction of simultaneously being Mass. Maritime's oldest and newest vessel, a position that will be displaced when another, newer vessel — a National Security Multi-Mission Vessel also meant for training — is added to the fleet sometime next year. Speaking of displacement, hers is over 400,000 pounds.

She's not the first tall ship to be employed by the school for training new mariners. During the first years of the academy, founded in 1891, the tall ship Enterprise served as a school ship. The former U.S. Navy barque-rigged (three or more masts) screw sloop-of-war was employed to train engineering students from 1892 to 1909, making the school the first maritime academy to offer such training.

NEW BEDFORD 12/17/22 Dignitaries wait the start of a program dockside at a homecoming celebration for the SSV Ernestina-Morrissey at the State Pier in New Bedford. Steve Heaslip/Cape Cod Times
Dignitaries wait the start of a program dockside at a homecoming celebration for the SSV Ernestina-Morrissey at the State Pier in New Bedford.  

The Nantucket followed, from 1918 to 1941, and was the last tall ship included in Mass. Maritime's fleet.

Ernestina-Morrissey's captain a tall ships veteran

Ernestina-Morrissey's newest captain grew up plying the waters of the Great Lakes on tall ships. She has "the sea fever" without a doubt, she said — the one in which the mariner yearns for "the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sails shaking … the flung spray and the blown spume," as described in the famous John Mansfield poem "Sea-Fever."


"It is a calling for sure," said Krihwan, who is originally from Erie, Pennsylvania.

It is difficult to describe the feeling of being able to move a vessel weighing in excess of 400,000 pounds using just the wind, she said, and especially humbling to do so in stormy waters.

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It is her task, as captain, to teach that skill to young mariners. And she is able to do it, having mastered the challenges of sailing both the Great Lakes, with their fast-rising and high-frequency waves — like waters sloshing in a bathtub — and the sea, with its constantly rising and falling swells and fierce tempests.

"Most of my career has been on tall ships," she said.

While she has worked on some private yachts, and modern, computerized vessels, she prefers the old-world sailing vessels, even with all the challenges of navigating through turbulence amidst high winds, high waters and lightning strikes. And she has a passion for teaching new, young sailors the old sailing ways.

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Ernestina-Morrissey will be the hands-on classroom where students will learn to manipulate the sheets by hand, with simple pulleys and cranks, the captain said.

"She's a great platform for learning about simple machines. The main boom alone weighs about 6,000 to 7,000 pounds," Krihwan said, explaining the students will learn how to leverage the simple, non-automated rigging systems to manipulate that kind of mass quickly in order to harness the winds and move the ship.

Students at the Buzzards Bay-based institution will also use old-fashioned sextants, compasses and paper charts, and will navigate with the stars as guides.

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"The students at the academy are required to learn celestial navigation in class. On the vessel, they will all have the opportunity to actually do it in real life," Krihwan said.

A lot of calculating will get done as well, she said, explaining that navigating a tall ship in the old way requires "quite a bit of math." And not simple math. More on the level of calculus.

Learning the old ways of sailing, even in an age of automation and computers, is "very, very important," McDonald said, adding that the skills create the most well-rounded and prepared mariners.

"Lessons taught at sea, including leadership, teamwork, attention to detail, ability to adapt, prioritizing safety can be used in just about every aspect of work and in life," he said.

Ernestina-Morrissey won't be completely cut off from modern world

While the focus will be on traditional skills, Ernestina-Morrissey's student crew and their captain won't be completely cut off from the modern world when they are out at sea.

"We have an auxiliary engine," Krihwan said, explaining the engine will make it more efficient to get in and out of port, and offer a back up in case of emergencies.

They will also have electronic navigation available, in addition to a comfort unheard of in the old days: refrigeration in the galley.

For the most part, students assigned to the Ernestina-Morrissey will live on board during the course, Krihwan said, though the details of the course are still being developed.

"We're still trying to figure out how to integrate the ship into the curriculum," she said.

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Besides lessons in tall ship sailing, undergraduates will also undertake scientific work. The ship, said Krihwan, has water sampling equipment for students to monitor and test the water as part of programming in coordination with the academy's science department. Leadership training for cadets will take place, too, and the academy will offer K-12 STEM programming on the ship, in addition to making the vessel available for community outreach.

Some long voyages may be in the Ernestina-Morrissey's near future, as well.

"This next year, provided we get the vessel completely done in time, we are planning on participating in the Gulf Coast tall ship tour," which will mean navigating the ship down south, Krihwan said.

And in 2025, it is hoped Ernestina-Morrissey can sail again to Cape Verde, to be part of the island nation's celebration of 50 years of independence.

Contact Heather McCarron at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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