A Blast from the Past

Photography by Stacy A. Niedzwiecki
Tall Ships
Photography by Stacy A. Niedzwiecki

Sixteen ports participated in the Pan Provincial TALL SHIPS® 1812 Tour to commemorate the bicentennial of the War of 1812. The first historical re-enactment of several staged on July 17, 2012 featured South Haven’s Friends Good Will exchanging gunfire with Fort Mackinac and surrendering to the British flag.

In August 2013, the 1810 fine replica sloop departed for a seven-week commemorative voyage. Her crew — including for a duration West Michigan photographer Stacy Niedzwiecki — made multiple historic ports of call from Chicago to Erie, Penn., punctuated midway in
Put-in-Bay, Ohio by a grand re-enactment of the Battle of 1812.

The scene was breathtaking: a fleet of tall ships gathered in one place on Lake Erie, the majesty of their masts soaring into the blue sky and speckling the horizon. Miles from home, my ears ringing from the reverberation of gunfire and vision literally shrouded by clouds of billowing smoke, I was in the midst of an authentic recreation of the Battle of Lake Erie.

Hundreds had trained for this maritime adventure — and I was thrilled to call myself one of them.

Two hundred years after Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry and his company of 557 patriots triumphed over the British fleet, an entire flotilla of tall ships departed from nine ports on Sept. 10, 2013. Among them was the Friends Good Will of South Haven, which had become my beautiful home on these freshwater seas. Gathering at the original battle site approximately eight miles from Put-in-Bay, Ohio, we participants echoed a profound piece of naval history to the cries of, “Don’t give up the ship!”

Friends Good Will (a.k.a. the British Little Belt) fired the first shot of the spectacular Bicentennial Battle of Lake Erie. In the span of roughly three hours, strategic maneuvers were negotiated and the Americans, once again, emerged victorious.

Jim Strebeck
With deckhand Jim Strebeck and others, photographer Stacy Niedzwiecki traveled on South Haven’s Friends Good Will to witness the U.S. Brig Niagra fire off its last round at the Bicentennial Battle of Lake Erie.

Embarking on Adventure

A square topsail sloop, Friends Good Will is a fine replica of a Great Lakes merchant ship of its era. I became a certified deckhand after first traveling aboard the S/V Denis Sullivan of Milwaukee. That two-week nautical adventure through Huron and Superior left me eager to learn more. A well-traveled sailor whom I’d met during my maiden voyage suggested I join the Michigan Maritime Museum of South Haven.

While keeping with 19th-century maritime traditions, the Friends operates within modern Coast Guard regulations. Completion of my “Ordinary Seamanship” rating allowed me to participate in upcoming commemorative War of 1812 events. Work hours were filled with essential tasks — from rigging, hauling sheets and memorizing a multitude of lines to operational procedures, history lessons and navigational skill reviews. Teaching a true respect of sailing, the emphasis on safety for passengers and crew is highlighted at all times.

Since a seven-week trip was out of the question with a family at home, I completed one leg of the August 2013 voyage, from Chicago to Mackinac. I spent the first week crewing four sails a day around Navy Pier with day passengers. From Chicago, we traveled north the length of Lake Michigan. Upon arriving at Mackinac, we had a crew change where I departed; I re-joined to witness the Battle on Lake Erie three weeks later.

While my summer vacation of 2013 might seem to some like nothing but hard work, I reveled in challenges put before me: Under the guidance of seasoned crew, at one point, I took the helm during a serious bout of rough seas north of Milwaukee; on another, beneath a sliver of crescent moon, I helped steer us through a portion of the renowned Manitou Passage while the Perseid meteor shower entertained us from above.

Such adventures — and memories — are worth the time they take to make.

To learn more, visit theperrygroup.org; michiganmaritimemuseum.org and sailtraining.org.

Tall Ships

At the Helm: Did You Know?

Photographer Stacy Niedzwiecki made the following discoveries on board the Friends
Good Will:

  • While we only fired black-powder blanks from our gun, the loading and reloading, noise and smoke gave passengers and spectators a great taste of what occurred “back in the day.”
  • On a boat, a “cannon” is actually called a ship’s “gun” and there are “lines” instead of ropes. In fact, most things are called something else: “head” for toilet, “galley” for kitchen, “port” for left, “starboard” for right — just to make the learning curve that much more steep!
  • The only time the British Royal Navy — at the time, the world’s most powerful — lost an entire fleet was at the Battle of Lake Erie. American Commander Perry’s victory here on Sept.10, 1813 is considered by some to be the birthplace of the modern U.S. Navy.
  • The U.S. Brig Niagara was the ship in which Commodore Perry and the American fleet overcame the British in Lake Erie.

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