Daniel Parrott, captain of the replica topsail schooner Pride of Baltimore II, analyzed the loss of five traditional sailing vessels, Pamir, Albatross, Marques, Pride of Baltimore and Maria Asumpta, casualties that resulted in the deaths of 112 people between 1957 and 1995. The loss of the ships varied, due to the explosive effects of weather, poor design or bad judgment on the part of the crew. He approached each event with the eye of an unbiased professional, fairly judging those involved in the context of the circumstances. Parrott pored over testimony, logbooks and survivors’ accounts, and conducted his own interviews. (Interestingly, in three of the cases, Parrott had personal connections to the vessels involved, having served on traditional vessels for 20 years.)
Since the end of the age of sail more than 100 years ago, Parrott argues that the sail-training industry has suffered from a lack of seasoned mariners, people who understand the peculiarities — and limits — of operating such vessels in the unforgiving marine environment. He said that while mariners today often gain as much experience as they can, they lack the intense training and broad experience of those officers of the 19th century who were trained in a time when there were hundreds of thousands of working sailing vessels. In each case, the crew made the most of their handicaps, yet, as Parrott points out, circumstances conspired against the crews and the vessels, and the sea found the weakness, wherever it was. Sailing ships today, deprived of the stream of revenue available to commercial sailing vessels during the last century, are forced to sell themselves however possible, including television and movie productions or promotional activities. In many cases, involvement in these endeavors has contributed to deleterious changes to the vessels’ rigs and hulls.
The tragic stories are carefully written and the effect is an engaging — and heart-rending — book.
International Marine, Camden, Maine; 336 pages; $24.95.