Education and adventure on the high seas: creating an 18th century floating classroom
Luna currently sits in anticipation of her return to the water. Although she’s surrounded by the sights of construction, she’s close to the finish. Her Deltaville enclosure means she’s just a few miles from the water, and her extensive and painstaking renovations are just a few months shy from completion.
It’s been 12 years since work began on the 47-foot ship, formerly a ketch, but with removal of a mast, the relocation of another and modifications to the rigging, she’s now a replica of an 18th century sloop.
Originally built in 1972 and named Privateer, the vessel underwent renovations over the years and was renamed Luna. However, time, water, and weather take their toll on wooden ships, and despite not being seaworthy when she was found in St. Augustine, Fla., Luna was perfect for the needs of Colonial Seaport Foundation (CSF).
“Luna’s name refers to the Roman goddess Diana, the goddess of the hunt. What a cool name for a boat that would be representing a privateer during the revolution,” said Jock Collamore, president and founding member of CSF, who is currently working along with a team of volunteers on getting her seaworthy again.
According to CSF’s website, their mission is to “preserve America’s Colonial maritime heritage by providing living history presentations and education.”
“There’s a gap in the history from the landing at Jamestown in 1609 to the seeds of the revolution at Williamsburg and Yorktown. That’s 150-175 years of Virginia history that’s rarely touched on in history books.” Added to that the developments in the Age of Sail at the time “helped found the seeds of the nation,” Collamore said.
Just like advancements in technology that are experienced today, improvements in sailing technology allowed ships—loaded with people, communications and goods—to travel faster. Godspeed, one of three ships to land at Jamestown, was limited by sail design to travel with the wind. However, once sail and rigging designs changed, ships could sail into the wind, and “what took months, could be completed in weeks,” Collamore said. “And all this was taking place as the nation was being built.”
The building of Luna has also been momentous. She was trucked to her current location in 2007, and has waited patiently while undergoing her transformation, both inside and out. Working from historically accurate plans, nearly everything on The Luna will have been rebuilt or replaced, “except for the keel, a few hull planks, and a rudder,” Collamore said. Because the plan is to have passengers aboard, the ship also will have all of the modern safety and navigation equipment (and an engine), but it will “all be hidden in plain sight,” Collamore said. In addition to modern technology, they have incorporated modern shipbuilding techniques, namely the addition of fiberglass construction on top of the wooden structure, to add to Luna’s endurance. Collamore assured that like other reproduction ships, “you won’t be able to see” the modern additions when they are finished.
Once complete, Luna will be a floating STEM classroom for schools, homeschool groups or youth programs. “We take current school curriculum and figure out where it would apply on board an 18th century ship to tell that story,” Collamore said. “For example, we’ve got 15 crew members to feed for seven or eight weeks. How much water do we need? How much food do we need?” By asking those types of questions, students use math skills as well as thinking about the transportation and logistics of stocking a ship. Other learning programs include navigation, simple machines and ecology.
So why go through so much to bring Luna to life? Why is the sloop so important to America’s colonial maritime heritage?
Sloops like Luna “were the 18 wheelers of the day,” Collamore said, adding that frigates, larger ships which sailed across oceans, were too large for many smaller ports. They would transfer goods and people to sloops like Luna to complete deliveries to ports like Irvington or Urbanna.
“They were easily recognizable in the Chesapeake region and if you saw them on the horizon, you knew that they were carrying the latest of everything on board. They were also the media hubs of the day. The sailors would be from around the world and would have information that might not be available in newspapers yet,” Collamore said.
Added to that history is the role of privateering in the region and its importance to the colonies. Due to their relative speed and agility, sloops like Luna would have been used by privateers during the 18th century to attack and plunder enemy ships for their benefit as well as the government they received their papers from.
If you’ve always dreamed of time travel and adventure aboard ship, “We’re always looking for volunteers. Everyone can contribute something. You just need to be interested in boats and history,” Collamore said.
And if you don’t have your sea legs, you can see their living history on land or onscreen. CSF often attends historical events, like when they traveled to Manteo, NC to “create an encampment that the town would have been like during the time of the Lost Colony.” The foundation has used their extensive knowledge of the time period in television and movie productions filmed in Virginia. They have supplied props to AMC’s Turn: Washington’s Spies, HBO’s John Adams, and Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln.
Visit their website: colonialseaport.org or Facebook: Colonial Seaport Foundation to see more pictures, follow Luna’s progress or join the adventure.