The Schooner: American Original

 

By: Tour Management Editor
May 26, 2016

Schooner

Almost from the moment of its founding to the modern day, Charleston has been a major American seaport. Today, it's the 8th busiest port in the US, and #4 on the East Coast.

But imagine a time when it wasn't massive container ships docking upriver in Wando, rather a fleet of wooden ships plainly visible from Downtown Charleston, their thousands of masts and sails silhouetted against the Mt. Pleasant sunrise. This was a time when maritime commerce and travel was a mainstay of everyday life and even the youngest child could likely differentiate between a frigate, corvette, cutter, galleon, clipper, or brigantine. (A child of today would say "boat.")

Schooner Speed, Versatility and Staying Power
Around the time of Charleston's founding, a new type of boat design was being born: the schooner, which would remain the dominant design for the remainder of the wind era, until steam came along.

The schooner is the quintessential American sailing vessel that traces its heritage to the shipyards of Massachusetts in the early 1700s. The name schooner is believed to derive form the Dutch word "schoener", which is a derivation of "beautiful." Originally the schooner was a smaller ship, between 50 and 100 tons, with two masts. Schooners grew in size over the decades: fifty tons became two or three thousand, and two masts grew to four, five and six.

Designed to catch the wind and built for speed, schooners naturally made good navy ships. The first armed American Navy vessel, USS Hannah, was a schooner, as was the USS Enterprise, which fought pirates in the Barbary War.

Otherwise, the schooner was primarily used for shipping and trade along the coast. So you can imagine that Charleston Harbor in the 18th and 19th century would have been jammed with schooners. Schooners carried cotton, rice, fish, timber, travelers and, unfortunately, African slaves.

The schooner was also popular in the windswept Great Lakes of the Upper Midwest, where American, British and Canadian merchants, fishermen and military operated over 2000 schooners. Fishing was the dominant enterprise of Newfoundland and the American Northeast, and the schooner was the vessel of choice there, as well.

Perhaps the most famous schooner is the America. America won the very first Isle of Wight yacht race in 1851. After that, the object of the perennial race was to win - you guessed it - The America's Cup. A replica of the 139 foot schooner America is now a whale watching and private charter boat in San Diego CA.

The Schooner Lives On
The age of the schooner lasted over 150 years. In that time those original Massachusetts shipyards produced over 4000 schooners, while another shipyard in Maine produced another 1300. Steam power was born in the mid-19th century and quickly replaced wind power, just as iron and steel replaced wooden ships. Today, there are few of the grand old schooners still around. Many that survive, along with replica ships, are tourist attractions in seaport cities.

One such ship is the Schooner Pride of Charleston SC. Schooner Pride is one of many tour boats that sail Charleston Harbor, but she is the only one that hoists the sail. And, unlike her diesel cousins who can tell you the precise minute when they will reach Rainbow Row or Fort Sumter, and the moment they pull back into the dock, Schooner Pride's tours follow the winds and the tides. Each tour is slightly different, which adds an Old World charm to the notion of a Charleston Harbor tour.

For more information about schooner tours of Charleston Harbor, contact Schooner Pride today!

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