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Ernestina: Symbol and Real

May 2, 2013
Laura Pires-Hester, Ph. D.

Chairperson, MA Schooner Ernestina Commission

In 1978, the newly-independent Republic of Cape Verde made an extraordinary gift to the “people of the United States”, the Schooner Ernestina. This historic ship had been headed to the United States to participate in New York’s Tall Ships Parade of Sail up the Hudson River
in 1976, but was dismasted a few miles out of Mindelo. This led to a 6-year international campaign led by National Friends of Ernestina/ Morrissey to return and repatriate her, and Cape Verde invested significant resources on the res- toration. In 1982 she made the 41-day transat- lantic voyage, under sail, landing at Newport RI, then to New Bedford MA, her home port. The crew was made up of 8 Cape Verdeans and 6 Americans, including 1 woman, and the Captain was Marcus Nascimento Lopes. From 1986 to 2004, Ernestina’s new life was as an educa- tional vessel, engaging thousands of children, young people, and adults in day sails; onboard visits; orientation to maritime history, Cape Verdean immigration, and environmental issues; classes connected to in-school programs; trips to other U.S. ports; and she participated in hundreds of cultural and ethnic festivals. Since that time, the MA Department of Conservation and Recreation, the Schooner Ernestina Com- mission, and the Schooner Ernestina-Morrissey Association have been working closely together to raise funds to complete much-needed resto- ration.

Launched nearly 120 years ago on February 1, 1894, in Essex MA, Ernestina-ex Effie M. Mor- rissey has an unusually rich global history. She has lived at least five lives, crossing geographic, ethnic, and generational boundaries, and con- nects at least three continents: United States, Canada, and Cape Verde. She is the oldest surviving Grand Banks fishing Schooner. As
an Arctic explorer, Effie M. Morrissey reached within 578 miles of the North Pole, captained by the famous “Ice Captain” Bob Bartlett. several expeditions were sponsored by museums, foundations, and zoos. During World War II the Morrissey was commissioned for supply, survey, and reconnaissance trips in the northern re- gions.
After Bartlett’s death, Effie M. Morrissey was sold to two New York lawyers and refitted
as a luxury cruise ship for the South Pacific. However, a mysterious fire forced her to be sunk and raised again.

This unexpected episode began Effie M. Mor- rissey’s next career. In 1947, she was pur- chased by Louisa Mendes for her father-in-law, Henrique Mendes, to be used for trans-Atlantic voyages carrying people and cargo between United States and Cape Verde Islands. This was not so unusual because Cape Verdeanentrepreneurs and captains had been purchas-
ing old vessels for what became known as the “packet trade” as far back as the 1860’s. Captain
Mendes himself had owned several similar vessels. After Ernestina’s first trip back to Cape Verde
in 1948, Captain Mendes renamed the Effie M. Morrissey after his daughter Ernes-
tina, just as the ship’s first owner had named her after his own daughter, Effie M. Morrissey.
Ernestina made about a dozen trips back and forth. Her last voyage was in 1965, after which she was used in interisland transport.

Crossing the Atlantic Ocean was not the same as going up to the Arctic. But there is no other ship that has had this diverse and unique his- tory. Ernestina is the Official Vessel of MA and a National Historic Landmark. We need to bring her back to what she does best: sail, teach, and