The Schooner Ernestina – Crossing the Atlantic

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Schooner Ernestina - Effie M. Morrissey 1894

The schooner Ernestina (ex. Effie M. Morrissey) was used in the Cape Verde Packet trade that carried goods and Cape Verdeans from the islands and the United States.

The 1894 schooner Ernestina (ex. Effie M. Morrissey), the official sailing vessel of Massachusetts, had completed three major careers by the end of World War II. She had been a Grand Banks fishing schooner; an Arctic explorer under Captain Bob Bartlett; and a U. S. Government supply ship for airbases near the Arctic Circle. Her next career would seal her legacy as an international ambassador. She would sail across the Atlantic Ocean to the Cape (Cabo) Verde Islands, off the coast of western Africa, and return to New England.

The Schooner Effie M. Morrissey Prepares to Sail to the Cape Verde Islands

After World War II, the schooner Effie M. Morrissey was docked at the Flushing Boat Basin in New York when a fire started in the galley and caused considerable damage to the ship’s interior. In order to save her, she was deliberately sunk to extinguish the fire. The year was 1947 and she had just undergone $30,000 of modernization by her new owners for a cruise to Tahiti. Friends of former skipper, Captain Bob Bartlett, said that she “committed suicide” rather than allow herself to become a luxury cruise ship headed for the South Pacific. She was raised, sold to the Pequot Marine Corporation in New London for $500, and towed to Rowayton, Connecticut, where she was purchased by a woman whose father-in-law would sail the schooner across the Atlantic.

Henrique Mendes was a native Cape Verdean living in New Bedford. He used old schooners to sail from New Bedford to the islands, transporting goods and people between the various islands and back to New England. This was part of the Cape Verde Packet trade which was resuming now that World War II had ended. He had already made over fifty crossings but due to the perils of sailing in the North Atlantic, had lost four ships between the years of 1914 to 1935. He spent six months getting the schooner ready and sailed her to Cape Verde for the first time in 1948. In addition to her crew, she carried a cargo of 50 tons of food and clothing, and one passenger.

From Effie M. Morrissey to Ernestina – The Schooner’s New Name and New Life

When the schooner arrived in Cape Verde, she was still called Effie M. Morrissey. After her arrival, Captain Mendes registered her in Cape Verde and changed her name to Ernestina in honor of his daughter. From then on, the schooner would be known as Ernestina.

For the next twenty-five years, she would be used as both an inter-island and trans-Atlantic vessel. She carried goods for trade, transported students to the various islands, Cape Verdeans to their jobs, friends and families across the ocean, immigrants to the United States, and delivered Christmas presents from the U.S. to Cape Verde. Upon her return trips to the U.S., she would dock at the State Pier in Providence.

There were many stories to tell about the schooner and her crew. Ernestina endured rough seas, dangerous fog, and being dismasted at sea; she celebrated romances and weddings including that of Captain Mendes’ son; there were times when she ran out of fuel and risked drifting in strong currents; her passengers learned basic English phrases and the pledge of allegiance from Captain Mendes; and she was in various ports on both sides of the Atlantic, including New Bedford, for needed repairs.

She was showing signs of the wear and tear of sailing in the North Atlantic. The colonial government of the Cape Verde Islands had been purchasing several vessels. Ernestina was used less and less until her life as an inter-island packet ship was over. She stopped sailing in 1974.

Sailing Home to Distant Shores

Ernestina was invited to participate in OpSail 1976 for the United States’ Bicentennial. People worked twelve-hour shifts for weeks to get her ready, but she developed engine trouble shortly after setting sail. Then, high winds and stormy seas caused the foremast to crack. As it fell, it took the mainmast and the sails with it. No one was lost or injured but the schooner was in danger. Both masts were pounding against her side. In order to save her, all the rigging had to be cut off leaving the new sails in the ocean to sink.

It wouldn’t be until 1982 that Ernestina would make one last voyage across the Atlantic. Cape Verde was offering the schooner as a gift to the country of her birth. She would come home under sail power only, with crew from both sides of the ocean, docking first in Newport, Rhode Island, before going on to New Bedford. She would come home to cheering crowds, champagne receptions, and heart-felt emotions. She would come home, this time, to stay.

Source:

  1. Houston, Laura Pires and Michael K. H. Platzer, Ernestina / Effie M. Morrissey, Commemorative Edition, published by Friends of the Ernestina/Morrissey Committee, New York, 1982.