38th Anniversary – Ernestina Arrives in New Bedford

The Repatriation Voyage of Ernestina ended in Newport, RI on August 24th where the vessel and crew could clear US Customs.  But Newport was not her final destination!  After dark on August 28 Ernestina entered her new homeport, New Bedford, Massachusetts.  We have no photos of this day. Perhaps one of you may know someone who was on that trip and perhaps photos could be shared.

The pilot for the trip from Newport to New Bedford, Captain Bruce B. Fisher  ( Northeast Marine Pilots, Ret. ) shared his memories of that trip with us.  (At the end you will see Massachusetts Maritime Academy has been part of Ernestina’s history since her return!)

25 August: While at Northeast Marine Pilot Office,, we received request from the group “Friends of Ernestina” regarding the transiting of Ernestina (onward piloting ) from Newport to New Bedford. I recommended maybe tow it to New Bedford (vessel had no engine). ….  that idea didn’t fly.                                                                                                                                                      We then suggested that maybe we sail the vessel over to New Bedford , get there ASAP and thereby avoid undue delay getting her over to New Bedford, provided we had proper wind, weather & visibility.  We would sail out of Newport and Narragansett Bay, across R.I. Sound, Buzzards Bay and inbound to New Bedford,  distance maybe 50/60 miles before it was over.

As a Captain and Master Mariner Unlimited Tonnage Ocean-going Vessels and Marine Pilot in these waters over thirty years, I am quite capable of handling seagoing vessels, including various Tall Ships both under sail & power, having handled most all of them over the years as pilot and certainly could sail a schooner such as Ernestina;

I’m also pilot for New Bedford Harbor (required, since  the vessel was still under foreign registry, also the approaches to New Bedford could prove rather tricky to strangers.)                                                                                                                                                  We would need a small tug for the undocking of the vessel from Fort Adams, as well as another to assist in through the New Bedford Hurricane Barrier and  to the dock once we arrived outside of New Bedford. —  Otherwise I would sail Ernestina to New Bedford…..So, it was agreed and that became the plan.

28 August 1982:   That morning the wind was favorable -  15 – 18 knts NWly;  Visibility 10+ miles. I boarded Ernestina that morning about 0900. The Tug Brenton came up and made up along the starboard quarter as before. I had a companion along with me, Capt. George Crowninshield, who I invited to accompany me in the trip over.   Otherwise, (Captain) Lopes and one, possibly two other of the Cape Verde crew were on board. None of the Americans nor the rest of The crew were to be found.   I asked Lopes “Where were the crew and how he  expected to sail without crew?”. — “They’re gone”, Says he with some hesitation, only Lopes and one guy aboard !     —- Plus me, Bruce Fisher ( Pilot ) and friend Geo. Crowninshield.  Well, I gave this some quick thought; the conditions were favourable; a schooner is generally not especially difficult to handle, although Ernestina seemed a little ungainly, but it was doable.  Could be a bit of a handful given much more of a breeze, but I expected it would shift SW’ly and drop-out  as the day wore on.                                                                                                                                                        A contingent of Cape Verde /New Bedford locals came aboard as riders – not crew- but to party- hardy as passengers. There would be plenty gleeful celebrating, singing, mandolin playing and wine passing round during the trip over as they brewed-up a stew and gathered around the cook house forward.

So, I said to Capt. Lopes, ” OK, we go” – He gave a grin, a clap of his hands & ..and …” OK,  we go.”

We got her underway, let go the mooring lines, (the tug) dragged the Ernestina (out of Fort Adams and) off Goat Island, (we) let go the tug Brenton. Then with a little help from a couple of the revelers, we heisted up the big Main S’l & Fore S’l,  topped the gaffs, then backed her around on her rudder and headed out past Fort Adams & Castle Hill. Put on the Stay S’l & Jib, sheeted-in and headed for New Bedford.               — ‘Haulin’ Lumber’, as the saying goes.      We essentially single handed Ernestina with no crew but for Lopes and one other all the way to New Bedford to a position off Brooklyn Rock near where the dredged  channel begins.   Being so short handed, she was rather a bear to handle,  ’jibe” in the fresh breeze and to “jack-ass’ around from one tack to the other.                                                                           Arriving sometime after dark some twelve hours later, and not about to attempt sailing Ernestina sans engine in through the Hurricane Barrier, we took the tug Flushing along side, then brought the vessel into New Bedford Harbor to the dock amid a large, gala reception.

Our job was done; We quietly departed Ernestina in the same quiet manner in which we had  come to the vessel;  no fanfare; no one really the wiser.


Captain Fisher contacted us when he read the account of that day.

( The fact of the matter is that indeed Sanchez Towing did not tow Ernestina from Newport to New Bedford on that day as purported; she was sailed over there by two Mass. Maritime Academy Grads,  one a U.S. Merchant Marine Captain/ First Class Pilot; the other a former U.S.Navy Captain ………..         ………  and it was all quite a ride.  )

So, that more or less accounts for the mystery how the Ernestina made the run from Newport over to New Bedford that day, 28 August 1982