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Tall Ships America Annual Conference 2021

Tall Ships America Awards – A Tribute to Captain Robert S. Douglas for a lifetime of achievement under sail

On February 25th, 2021, Captain Robert S. Douglas was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Tall Ships America Conference, nominated by Captain Daniel Moreland. For more information on the Lifetime Achievement Award and a list of past recipients, visit: https://www.tallshipsamerica.org/lifetime-achievement/

Here is Captain Daniel Moreland’s tribute in writing to Captain Robert S. Douglas as presented at the awards ceremony:

A Tribute to Captain Robert S. Douglas for a lifetime of achievement under sail

February 26, 2021       

Some time ago, never mind how long exactly…a young air force fighter pilot walked away, alive, from his downed and smouldering F-86 Saberjet. He had pause to think again how he was living his life – and thought long and hard about living a different sort of life after that moment.           

He had in mind a life under sail, sharing the majesty of sailing ships and historic New England along the coasts near his home on Martha’s Vineyard. So, he set out to learn the craft of traditional sail – and to become a schooner captain.

He succeeded beyond his imagination – but first he headed to Maine and talked his way aboard to become crew in some fine old schooners sailing the coast of Maine. Legendary schooners like the ALICE S. WENTWORTH, the STEPHEN TABOR, the new built MARY DAY. Yet, he also wanted to learn something about square-rig for what he had in mind. So, he signed on as an Ordinary Seaman in the solid and just launched HMS BOUNTY fitting out in LunenburgNova Scotia. She was bound for Tahiti to make a famous movie. Returned from sailing the South Pacific, he set about designing his dream vessel. His sense of design is without peer.

Soon enough huge oaken frames were going up at one of the last commercial wooden shipyards, the Harvey Gamage shipyard in Maine. 1964 saw the Coastwise Packet Company take delivery of what would become the last wooden square-rigger without auxiliary power to be build in these United States.

Since that year, the same year the Beatles were welcomed to these shores, not a summer has gone by without the exquisite topsail schooner SHENANDOAH sailing the waters of southern New England with Captain Robert S. Douglas at the helm. With a shipload of new seafarers soaking in a life you can only but read about. Literally generations of young people have gotten their first taste of the salt sea, wood and canvas and burbling wake and the teamwork required to sail such a vessel effectively while sailing SHENANDOAH.

Adults, yes, they sailed as well, but kids, kids, kids. And pitching in with ASTA’s first tall ship race along with TABOR BOY, BILL OF RIGHTS, BRILLIANT and BLACK PEARL.

So many mariners got their start in SHENANDOAH. Masters, mates, riggers, tugboat skippers, model makers, boat builders, cooks and roofers and also just good outstanding citizens.

And in so many ways large and small and always quietly Bob has given a boost to so many others begin to live their dream under sail. Brigantine ROMANCE, historic Schooners ERNESTINA, ADVENTURE, LADONA, SYLVANIA BEALE, ALVEI, the lovely VIOLET, the Barque PICTON CASTLE – and even the old Gloucester fishing schooner EVELINA M. GOULART made her way back up the Essex River to teach ship building at her place of birth. That was all Bob.

From small craft to large he has nudged and helped so many – the world of sail training is a vastly richer place for having Bob Douglas in it.

Did I mention kids? For decades every fifth-grade class of Martha’s Vineyard has been able to sail for a week and tread the oiled pine decks of their very own clipper schooner. Changing young lives for the better every time.

And the island itself is all the better for the power of example of one man. Vineyard Haven is now a mecca for classic wooden sail. It could well have gone another way but for Bob Douglas. And then to top it off he rebuilds the classic 90’ foot pilot schooner ALABAMA and takes more kids sailing…

At some point he came alongside his shipmate for life. A strong and beautiful lady he met in the venerable three master VICTORY CHIMES. It goes without saying – but I’ll say it anyway. Charlene has been his co-pilot and forward lookout for every sea mile together. Thank you, Charlene!

There may have been some kids somewhere, boyz I think (and a shoutout to Robbie, Jamie, Morgan and Brooke and their growing families!)

Captain Douglas:

Thank you for your service.

Thank you for your devotion making yours a lifetime of achievement.

Thank you for sharing your passion so readily and broadly.

And thank you for your friendship.

And thanks for giving your precious SHENANDOAH to Ian and Casey to carry on your good works with the outfit they have started up to do just that.

Daniel D. Moreland at Lunenburg – February 25, 2021