Tall ship requires tow to Key West


Flexibility and improvisation are crucial during any long sailing voyage. Students aboard the training ship Pelican of London recently learned that lesson for themselves.

The 149-foot, steel-hulled tall ship was underway off Santa Lucia, Cuba, in late February with 42 people aboard when its engine began acting up. When the winds stopped cooperating, crew aboard the United Kingdom-flagged ship contacted the U.S. Coast Guard.

Crew and students aboard the vessel are documenting the voyage in a series of blog articles. One post captured the decision to seek help, and the excitement that followed.

“After a few days struggling with the engine, and the wind not really in our favor, the decision of getting help from the Coast Guard was taken,” according to a post from Feb. 28.

“So, everything is fine on board the Pelican, school and watch routine continues while we’re being assisted to get to Florida,” the blog continued.

After tailing the square-rigger through the night, crew from the cutter Charles David Jr. examined the engines and opted to bring the square-rigger under tow. The engine trouble reportedly stemmed from an electrical issue, and the alternator was replaced while moored up near Key West.

Seaman Erik Villa Rodriguez

Getting there turned out to be something of an adventure, at least according to some of the students on board, who likened the incident to something from the movies. Others seemed excited about the story they’d have to tell.

The cutter towed the ship for 24 hours until it approached Key West on March 1, at which point a commercial salvage vessel brought the ship into port. For reasons that were never fully clear, crew aboard Pelican of London were not allowed to disembark in Key West.

In any case, they kept busy with maintenance, seamanship and other courses. They barbecued on deck and held an impromptu “pool party” off the deck, according to a blog post from March 3. Three days later, the vessel set sail for Bermuda.

The British nonprofit Adventure Under Sail operates the vessel as a sail-training and education ship for students and young people. Pelican of London began its life in 1948 as a fishing trawler and later was used for coastal trading operations. Retired Commander Graham Neilson spent nearly 12 years restoring the ship, which took its maiden training voyage as Pelican of London in 2007.

If there is one lesson to learn from the incident, it’s that life under sail does not always go according to plan.

By Ocean Navigator