Sweet home Alabama
Cynthia Preja, an Edgartown resident, describes last Thursday evening's cruise on the Alabama as "a moment of paradise." It would be an understatement to describe it as anything less, a three-hour sunset cruise aboard an iconic wooden schooner while being serenaded by Grammy-winner John Cruz.
The Alabama and the Shenandoah are two distinguished Martha's Vineyard wooden sailboats. Their size and beauty are conspicuous in the Vineyard Haven harbor, and bearing flags with the Black Dog logo, they are recognizable as Island emblems. Captain Robert S. Douglas, who has a passion for ships, black dogs, and Martha's Vineyard, designed the 108-foot Shenandoah in 1964. It originally carried people on weeklong trips around New England. A few years later, Mr. Douglas bought the 1926 Alabama with the vision of bringing the two ships together to pay tribute to maritime heritage in New England and share with others his zeal for sailing. In 1971, he opened the first Black Dog Tavern on the Vineyard Haven Harbor, and his two ships became The Black Dog Tall Ships.
Today, the 90-foot Alabama is home to a number of activities: day sails, children's cruises, and private charters. Last Thursday, the schooner hosted one of its four special events: an on-deck concert on one of its daily sunset cruises.
As is customary, Captain Morgan Douglas (son of Robert Douglas) begins the sail with a brief summary of the schooner's history, highlighting the nautical passion of the Douglas family. He says, "If the history sticks with you, I have done my job."
Everyone aboard seems to relax as the schooner commences its three-hour sail. Guests picnic on the food and wine they bring with them, explore the boat's lower deck accommodations, and simply enjoy the unique experience of sailing on a classic boat. Repose is momentarily interrupted when people are invited to participate in hoisting the sails.
Ed and Sheryl Kraus, from Ipswich, planned the evening as part of their honeymoon and returned for the second night in a row. They say they are already planning to come again next year. Ms. Preja also plans to return. "Normally you get so busy you can't do this," she says, "but it's good medicine."
Despite the approximately 40 strangers, the evening is extremely intimate. John Cruz's soulful voice and soothing rhythms on his acoustic guitar are idyllic for the sail out of the Vineyard Haven harbor and into the Nantucket Sound.
The four special event cruises were planned last January when Captain Morgan Douglas invited Mr. Cruz, one of his favorite singers, to perform after hearing him at a local Vineyard Haven concert. Based on its success, Douglas says he plans to schedule similar events in the future, although, he notes, "It takes someone special to make it work as well as it did."
Eight o'clock. Three hours at sea, and no one is ready to leave. "I wish we didn't have to get off," Dorothy and Mark Cobb from Thomasville, Ga., say and ask, "Does anyone have tickets for tomorrow night?"