The schooner, Black Douglas



Text taken from the Dubh Ghlase Newsletter December 1996
(Clan Douglas Society of North American Ltd.)

by Wayne Foster, Sr.
(after attending the Black Douglas Homecoming Celebration)

Black Douglas, the name that brings to mind thoughts of adventure, strength, and leadership to all Clan Douglas members.   The Black Douglas legend has been a beloved story for schoolboys for centuries in Scotland.  And so, this great Scottish leader's name was given to a three-masted schooner built at the Bath Iron Works, Bath, Maine, 66 years ago.  [SkIO note:  Designed by Henry J. Gielow and built in 1930, Yachting Magazine described the Black Douglas as "probably the largest and roomiest of craft of her type yet to be built."]

The Black Douglas, once a proud member of the Savannah, Georgia community, returned to the Modena Plantation recently to celebrate her birthday, June 9, with the ones who owned, loved, sailed and lived aboard her.

This majestic beauty, which has been completely refitted and restored to her once proud state, is an awesome sight to behold.  She's 175 feet long, 32 feet wide, and has a draft (depth below water level) of 12.5 feet.   Her bare teak decks and internal woodwork are impeccable.   All metal sailing tackle is either shining brass or chromed steel. 

...The Black Douglas is a thing of beauty and something you could easily fall in love with!  Her massive 120 foot tall masts are made of aluminum.  At full sail, she can move the all-steel hull through the water at a brisk 10.5 knots.  She is also equipped with twin Volvo in-line engines that drive a single propeller.  She grosses 480 tons and carries 11,400 square feet of sail.  She has a range (distance she can travel without refueling) of 7,500 miles at 10.5 knots under power, but under sail her range is indefinite!  She carries 9,990 gallons of fuel and 8,800 gallons of fresh water. 

She requires a crew of 12 to sail and care for her.  She can be steered from an enclosed wheelhouse completely equipped with the latest electronic navigational gear or from a massive wooden wheel on the fantail (rear afterdeck) equipped with only a magnetic compass - the "old way."

Originally, she was to be named Grenadier.  Robert Roebling, her original owner and the man who commissioned her construction wanted a name that was associated with strength and adventure.   But, the yard foreman at Bath, who was closely involved with construction, suggested the name Black Douglas.  Seems this man, a Mr. Main, was born and raised in Scotland.  As a boy, he was fascinated with the stories of the Black Douglas and felt that it was a fitting name.  Mr. Roebling loved it and immediately named her, Black Douglas.  A helmeted wooden figurehead of the famous Scottish knight was carved and set in place on her bow. 

After she was launched, Mr. Roebling and his wife with a couple of friends and a crew of 14 took the Black Douglas on her maiden voyage down the west coast of South America, through the Straits of Magellan, and back up the east coast. 

After purchasing Modena Island near Savannah, the Roeblings used the Black Douglas to shuttle supplies from the mainland to build their home while living aboard.  All the plantation animals and the beginning of the Black Angus cattle herd that Mr. Roebling developed and built were brought to the island aboard her.  Sounds like an excerpt from The Swiss Family Robinson doesn't it?

In 1941, she was sold to the United States Government to do seal research in the Aleutian Islands off Alaska.  She was in San Pedro, California when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.  So she was immediately impressed into the Navy as a patrol craft.   On her way to Seattle, a Japanese submarine lobbed a couple of shells across her bow off the Oregon coast, but she escaped.  She even had a torpedo fired at her but came out unscathed!

She was stripped of her sails, sailing tackle, masts, spar and the Black Douglas figurehead.  Guns and sonar (underwater detection gear) were mounted on her.  You can still see the scars on the hull where the sonar was attached!  She was painted haze gray and renamed PY-45.  From 1942 through part of 1944, she patrolled the water of Neah Bay, Washington. 

After the war, she fulfilled her original mission in the Aleutians.  For 18 more years, she was the flagship of the Scripps-Southwest Fisheries ocean survey [SkIO note:  California Co-OP Sardine Research Program, later known as California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations (CalCOFI)].  In 1966, she went treasure hunting in the Caribbean searching for the famed Spanish galleon, "Atocha." 

In 1972, she was sold to George Stoll of Sarasota, Florida.  Mr. Stoll had her masts replaced, refitted her for sailing, renamed her "te Quest," and turned her into a floating classroom for intellectually gifted children.  She made many voyages to enlighten and further educate these young people. 

In 1983, she was sold to a group of investors and completely rebuilt and restored to her present majesty in Germany at a cost of $4 million.  A bottle of water from the Kennebec River, where she was originally christened, was flown to the re-christening ceremony.  Her new name is "Aquarius."  But she will always be known as the Black Douglas by those who lived, loved and sailed aboard her.

So an illustrious career  has come full circle.  She started out as a home for the Roeblings and has returned after 55 years of absence and adventure to celebrate her birthday.  She even remained in Savannah during the 1996 Olympic sailing competition held there.

If you can, don't miss the opportunity to see her.  It's the chance of a lifetime.  ...I've been aboard and had a chance to see the beauty of this "Mistress of the Sea!"  I spent a couple of years in the Navy aboard ship myself, but never have I seen a craft like this one!

The schooner, Black Douglas


See also:

  • Ships named Douglas

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