Mariners who have been to the movies recently have seen moving performances by a couple of working schooners. The city of Baltimore’s ambassador vessel Pride of Baltimore II and the West Coast-based training schooner Californian stood in for the slave-carrying schooner La Amistad in director Steven Spielberg’s film of a slave mutiny at sea and its repercussions.
Meanwhile, for Titanic, the other maritime movie in recent release, there weren’t any working ocean liners to tap, so filmmakers were forced to build their own.
Why the story of a slave revolt on a schooner in 1839 is suddenly capturing the world’s collective attention is anybody’s guess, but for those of us fascinated with sailing ships, modern or historical, the movie Amistad offers at least glimpse of sailing.
The drama that took place aboard Amistad was too much for movie-makers to pass up, especially since two modern replicas, Pride of Baltimore II and Californian, closely resemble the rakish La Amistad. For filming on the East Coast, Pride of Baltimore II was delivered by Capt. Jan Miles to Mystic, Conn., which represents New Haven in thefilm,andgiven thelookofaderelict.
“They bought some old sails from Californian and really trashed the sails using belt sanders,” said Miles. A tattered foresail and staysail were bent onto Pride’s spars. “In a 12-knot breeze we were sure that the whole sail was going to go over the side, but they worked for the purposes of the movie.”
One scene in the film Amistad features the West-Coast-based brig Pilgrim, which stands in as Tecorathe vessel that carried the slaves from Africa to Cuba. The brig is seen, obviously under power, driving straight into the wind with sails aback. Perhaps it is scenes like these that are the most entertaining for sailors who know better, since they offer the chance to snicker with superiority.Even though Pride of Baltimore II and Californian crews would no doubt have been happy to let their vessel stand in for the 882-foot White Star liner Titanic, director James Cameron chose to build a replica of the vessel, a 90%-scale ship that was assembled in Rosarito, Mexico.