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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A New Age of Sail? Part 1

The privateer "Lynx" rests before me at the shipyard, tied at the pier waiting to set sail again in a few days. Gentle swells lap at her black, wooden sides. She's quiet for the evening - sails gathered and secured, the US flag flying over her stern, her two tall masts and seeming tangle of lines stand in contrast to the apricot colored evening sky  behind her.

I sit on the edge of a tall concrete embankment with my feet hanging out over the water and next to the Boothbay Shipyard where Lynx is moored. In this area of Maine the first ships were built in the early 1600s and was the start of the local ship and boatbuilding tradition. Maine has a long shipbuilding history that continues to today here in Boothbay, and in Rockport, Rockland, Thomaston, and even in Bath where US Navy ships are still constructed.

The Lynx is a young ship. Launched in Rockport, Maine, in 2001, she sails the oceans as a sail training ship. She's an 1812 version of a Baltimore Clipper Schooner, built for Woodson K Woods by Rockport Marine, and designed by Melbourne Smith. At 72 feet at the waterline, she's somewhat on the small side as tall ships go, but small doesn't keep her from being a beauty.

Something about tall ships has always enchanted me. From the time I was a little girl I dreamed of sailing a tea clipper like the Cutty Sark, full with a load of precious cargo with only the wind as a source of power. Nope, I wasn't enchanted with with the life of a pirate like a lot of kids might be, I just wanted to sail a clipper. Alas, I was born much too late and the wrong gender to make that my life's work :)

The fleets of schooners and tall ships that sail today are typically used as private yachts, cruise vessels, or sail-training ships like the Lynx. Maine has a fair contingent of schooners, relatively small, two to 3 masted sailing ships built sleekly, typically to carry passengers in short voyages along the coast of New England. No one here in the US, at least as far as I've been able to find out, is still using sailing ships to carry legal cargo (I'll leave contraband out of the mix for now).

As I sit here and stare with awe at the Lynx, I wonder if perhaps a new age of sail might just be over the horizon? Commercial shipping accounts for 4.5% of global CO2 emissions by last count. Using the wind exclusively causes no emissions. I wonder...why can't we clever humans design and build a new breed of merchant sailing ships to carry goods across the oceans?

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