September / October 2019

A Schooner for the Ages

The six charmed lives of ERNESTINA-MORRISSEY, Part 1: Fisherman, Arctic explorer, warrior

The EFFIE M. MORRISSEY is seen here on sea trials soon after her launching in 1894 from the James & Tarr Shipyard of Essex, Massachusetts. After a successful career fishing the Grand Banks, the schooner operated as an Arctic exploration vessel. She would later serve as a supply vessel in World War II, and as a transatlantic packet ship. She is currently undergoing a massive reconstruction, and will then continue her current educational career.

Fast and able.” That’s the term the fishermen of Gloucester, Massachusetts, have used for more than 150 years to describe their vision of the perfect Grand Banks fishing schooner. And “fast and able” is how fishermen, an Arctic explorer, a Cape Verdean packet skipper, and contemporary sail-trainers describe the schooner ERNESTINA-MORRISSEY (ex-EFFIE M. MORRISSEY, ex-ERNESTINA).

But, really, nobody would have known in the winter of 1893–94 as the ship came together in the James & Tarr Shipyard at Essex, Massachusetts, that this plain, black fishing schooner would have six distinct working lives spanning three different centuries. Nobody could have predicted that she would come to symbolize not just a high point in American wooden ship design and construction but also the bravura of offshore fishermen, Arctic explorers, transatlantic immigrants, and anyone who has ever dreamed of stepping aboard the schooner WE’RE HERE in Rudyard Kipling’s novel Captains Courageous. None could imagine that of the hundreds of large Essex-built fishing schooners, she would be one of only five to survive until today…and, in the minds of many waterfront observers, the most legendary of them all. But over 125 years the Morrissey has not only proven herself to be fast and able. She has proven herself to be charmed.

As Justin Demetri, staff historian of the Essex Historical Society and Shipbuilding Museum, says about ERNESTINA-MORRISSEY, “This is the one that transcends the Gloucester fisherman’s story and really embraces the broader maritime history of America.”

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