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The Importance of Volunteers to Jamestown Settlement's Sailing Program

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Dockside, Henricus Historical Park, Virginia

As expected, there was very little wind for us yesterday as we departed from Fort Pocahontas in Charles City County and began making our way up the James River to Henricus. All of us look forward to sailing Godspeed, so using our auxiliary diesel engines is never our first choice. Days like yesterday, however, make it a necessity. With this late September heat wave, the added warmth from our engines running all day makes the ship many degrees hotter. We are all looking forward to the cooler temperatures forecast at the end of next week and hoping they will bring a fair breeze for us to do some real sailing!

When there is a breeze, Godspeed is a capable sailing vessel and, we have discussed in the last few blogs and videos how we can use our auxiliary diesel engines when the wind fails us. However, what really powers our sailing program are volunteers. Early 17th century records tell us there were 144 men and boys on the ships coming to Jamestown in 1607, 71 aboard Susan Constant, 52 aboard Godspeed and 21 on little Discovery. Of those men, we think 39 were sailors – 17, 13, and 9 for each ship respectively. Today, our sailing program has three professional mariners that work for the museum. Everyone else is a volunteer!

Each volunteer that sails with us must complete a minimum of 32 hours of maintenance time and an additional 32 hours of seamanship training. Following the initial maintenance and training, they must log at least 32 hours of maintenance each year to be considered for voyages. Many of our regular volunteers log hundreds or even thousands of hours each year. Coming from diverse backgrounds, they help with all aspects of our program – sanding, scraping, painting, and varnishing; engineering and electrical work; major carpentry projects; and rigging work as the ships prepare for sailing each spring and down-rigging each fall.

Sailing is often seen as being glamorous. Our volunteers can attest to the other side of that image. One of my former captains has a saying: “Welcome to our ship. Now clean it!” With 13 people on board for upwards of three weeks, there is always something to clean. Whether it is a morning wash down of the deck, dishes three times a day, cleaning the head (bathroom) each day, or sweeping and swabbing below decks – something ALWAYS needs cleaning. . . Our volunteers make it all happen, and there is no way our program would be successful without them.

There are perks – there IS a glamorous side to arriving in a port with a full press of canvas set aloft, thousands of people on the dock, and guns blazing. More importantly, there is the comradery of working with an incredible group of people to accomplish common tasks and sail a traditional ship for hundreds of miles. Yesterday we watched a bald eagle swoop down and capture a fish from the James, and 4-foot sturgeon breech within ten feet of Godspeed, and flocks of Canada Goose fill the sky as they announced the coming of fall. Those scenes make the arduous work and cleaning worth the effort!

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