For two weeks, I briefly hung up my quills to serve as Chief Mate aboard the Barque Elissa. Launched in 1877, this 205 foot iron-hulled ship sails out of Galveston as the official Tall Ship of Texas, but only for two weeks a year. The remaining 50 weeks, she’s alongside as an exhibit of the Texas Seaport Museum, tended to by a Boatswain and an extensive volunteer core who are trained as her sailing crew. To fulfill Coast Guard requirements and manage ship and crew, Elissa’s sailing officers are selected from around the fleet based on three criteria—license of the right tonnage, experience with square-rigged ships, and (most importantly) the appropriate temperament to both conduct and appreciate a dedicated volunteer crew.
Being invited to sail as an officer of Elissa is a tremendous honor. We might be brought aboard for our skills and seamanship, but I feel the officers learn as much from the volunteers as we teach. Even though the sailing is over a brief time-frame, everyone involved is enriched by a sense of extended community.
That community now includes BMC and Porcupine. As officers for Elissa, we try to share our experiences with the volunteers. To this end, I introduced the Porcupine Project on April 15th, a year from our planned launch date. As I tailored the presentation for Elissa’s crew, interesting tie-ins emerged—when the original Porcupine’s career ended in 1873, Elissa was just four years from being launched; when the Galveston Historic Foundation located and began restoring Elissa in the late 1970s, the Palmertons were starting to build the hull that would become our Porcupine.
These coincidental histories help all of us realize that, in our different ships and geographies, we share a common goal of carrying America’s maritime history to the next generation. Like ships at sea, it is easy to feel isolated and alone in these missions until we share them with like-minded sailors. So eleven and a half months before her anticipated launch, word of Porcupine now has now reached the Gulf Coast, where the Elissa crew is a considerable new fan club.
All best from Captain Jamie Trost, Team Porcupine, and the BMC staff