CHARLESTON, South Carolina (March 4, 2007)—Under a sky decorated with lazy clouds, a proud symbol of bygone days gracefully slipped into Charleston’s Cooper River Sunday afternoon marking new era of maritime heritage for this historic seaside city. The Spirit of South Carolina, a 140-foot traditional tall ship, was lowered into the water today for the first time, culminating over six years of effort on the part of countless individuals. Suspended briefly in the air, the ship’s elegant white topsides gleamed in the sun, and her name and homeport, painted in gold leaf on the transom, shone proudly, portending great deeds for the future.
Just before the ship was lifted in her slings, Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr., Congressman Henry Brown, South Carolina Maritime Foundation Executive Director Brad Van Liew and Chairman John H. Hofford addressed a gathering of VIP guests. Brown presented a special certificate, in recognition of a flag currently flown over the South Carolina state house in Columbia. Then, Allison Baker, a fifth grader from Chapin, S.C., who had won the privilege of christening the tall ship, read her brief essay on what the Spirit of South Carolina embodies for her. Then she stepped up and swung a bottle across the bow and officially christened the ship.
Fittingly, this christening took place on almost the exact spot where Samuel J. Pregnall and his workers launched the Frances Elizabeth some 218 years ago. (That pilot schooner served as a model for the Spirit’s design.). And even before the bubbly was dry on her timbers, the Spirit continued her journey.
It had taken two days to inch the 150-ton ship from her birthplace in Ansonborough Field to the launch site at Union Pier a half mile south. Then, after the largest barge crane on the East Coast, the Charleston Giant, lifted the Spirit off her temporary trailer and nestled her into the briney waters, she motored another half mile north and berthed at the Charleston Maritime Center. There, she was greeted with thunderous cheers from hundreds of well wishers.
Mayor Joe Riley, a longtime supporter of this project told the crowd: “Charlestonians now have another important resource of which they can be very proud,” said Riley. “This tall ship was born of humble origins, but it represents a tremendous accomplishment as well as a strong hope for the future of our state. The Spirit of South Carolina will be a teacher to us all, but especially the young people of our state. The ship will develop tomorrow’s leaders and teach our young people to become engaged, committed citizens.”
Moored alongside the pier, the Spirit of South Carolina drew admiring comments from all onlookers. Her teak decks glowed in the afternoon light, and her varnished cabin houses sparkled. Though the vessel still lacks her masts, booms, and rigging, she is nonetheless an impressive sight. In the coming months, those elements will be added, and she’ll ultimately set out on her inaugural voyage. When she does so, she’ll carry not only the Palmetto state’s youth, but also her creators’ ambitions for generating renewed interest in the rich maritime traditions of this state.
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