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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Ship Sighting: STV UNICORN

STV UNICORN anchored in front of the Sheffield Island Light, Norwalk, CT
Tonight, as the Scotch Flyer crew was motoring out to the Norwalk Yacht Club race, we noticed a tall ship anchored out near the Sheffield Island light.  As the angle opened, we could make out the rig: a topsail schooner.

We were still too far aft of the schooner to make out the rake of the masts, but I knew that this couldn't be Amistad, as she's still tied up to a dock in Mystic.  Pride of Baltimore II was just in NYC recently, but was supposed to be in Boston.  Lynx is somewhere on the Saint Lawrence after being in our neighborhood last summer.  I had no idea what vessel this could be.

She turned out to be the STV UNICORN, a fine looking vessel of which I was not previously aware, apparently homeported in Clinton, NJ.  When I got home, I did the Google and found out that this steel-hulled schooner was originally built in the Netherlands in 1947 as a fishing boat, using steel taken from German U-Boats, facts which impressed me.  Unicorn  purports to be the world's only all-female-crewed tall ship and does sail training exclusively for women and girls.  I've sailed with plenty women over the years and have found almost all of them to be extremely capable officers and sailors, so I began to mentally crew Unicorn with the ladies with whom I've sailed.  Then I checked out their website and started looking at the below deck photos.

I quickly had to reassess my idea, as Unicorn's "staterooms" (cough, cough) are paneled in maple and teak, with cabin soles made of holly.  There are queen sized beds, a shower, and a head in every cabin.  The galley has lovely kitchen cabinets and there are upholstered settees in the salon.  There appear to be throw pillows everywhere.  This looks to be one "girly" boat that caters to female business executives from New York City who want to learn to sail but who also want to have fresh flowers on their nightstand while they do it.  I couldn't imagine the captains, mates, engineers and deckhands that I know - hard working women, sweaty, three days unshowered, with grease under their closely-trimmed fingernails and a smear of paint or mast slush on their faces - dropping down through the hatchway, hanging their grubby, salt-caked foulies on a hook, and being welcome to sit on the settee.

But, maybe, that's okay.  Maybe there's value in doing sail training on a schooner that is more of a yacht than a working vessel.  After all, yachts have their place.  The lessons of sailing and the sea, of teamwork and planning, of learning to climbing aloft and handle sail despite your fear of heights, are valuable ones, even if they are learned on a boat that probably smells a lot more of lavender than it does of bilgewater.  Maybe, but my taste runs to vessels that work hard, look like they work hard, and that provide a comfortable and functional home for people who work hard.

Still, here's to STV UNICORN.  It was good to see you in my home waters.  Fair winds and following seas.  And try not to get any grease from the diesels on your settee; the stain would be really hard to get out of the upholstery.

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