Sailing vessel on way to SC finds home in NC

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 28, 2013

BEAUFORT, N.C. (AP) — A particularly unique sailing vessel from Fairhaven, Mass., will spend the next several months docked here, after accidentally stumbling across the town on its way to Charleston, S.C., where it originally intended to winter.
The ship, called the Fritha, is special not only for its magnificent design and eye to detail, but for the role it has played in the lives of several foreign teenagers who have participated in “The Fairhaven Project.”
This project has previously taken several small groups of Palestinian and Israeli teenagers and placed them onboard together for about three weeks. Living in confined quarters, the teens must learn to live and work together on the ship in unfamiliar situations. In the end, ideas are exchanged and friendships are forged between teens that otherwise could be at war with each other.
The Fritha is a 74-foot wooden brigantine, with a Detroit 4-71 17 bhp engine. The tall ship boasts a 15-foot beam. The gross register tonnage, or the ship’s total internal volume, comes in at 39 tons, according to the Tall Ships America website.
Eric R. Dawicki, president of Northeast Maritime Institute that owns the Fritha sailing vessel, told the News-Times that the ship’s crew was enroute to Charleston to winter there, when they wound up in Belhaven, in an attempt to outrun Hurricane Sandy in October. During that process, they discovered Beaufort one night and decided to temporarily dock there.
“We were met by probably the most user-friendly dock personnel that I’ve ever met in my 27-year career of being on boats and ships all over the world,” said Mr. Dawicki.
He said because the storm had moved channel markers around, that one man came out to guide them in, to ensure safe passage to the dock.
Mr. Dawicki said that memorable first impression led to a relationship that has turned into a welcoming winter home for the ship. “It is a great little town, and great people,” he said. “It meets the objectives of not only accommodating the vessel, but the ideology of the institution.”
The vessel, originally built in 1986 in New Zealand, is built from the rare Kauri wood, which never rots. Mr. Dawicki explained that this is the rarest wood on earth and can only be dug out of the ground in a small section of New Zealand. The interior of the ship features a rich mahogany, and plush blue carpets with compass points on it. The ship accommodates a crew of six.
Mr. Dawicki plans to keep the ship here until early June. He said if financially possible, he’d like to winter here every year. An area crew was hired to keep a close eye on the vessel during its stay.
Mr. Dawicki travels from the homeport of Fairhaven, Mass., to Beaufort every three weeks to check the progress, and said he is extremely pleased so far with the care it is receiving.
The Fairhaven Project may soon extend into North Carolina, said Mr. Dawicki. He recently spoke with the Greenville Police Chief, who asked him to consider taking some disenfranchised city youth onboard for a similar project. Noting the success the Fairhaven Project has had since its conception in 2008, Mr. Dawicki said they are considering a new leg of the project.
While on board, the youth learn to take watch shifts, care for the vessel, cook, eat and live together. Due to the sensitive nature of the project, the teens are on board for only a few weeks.
As the project founder, Mr. Dawicki explains it as “learning how to be skilled mariners, while engaging in a heavy dose of conflict resolution. That can be exhausting and a little bit frightening.” He said he views the ship as a “microcommunity,” that helps strip away preconceived ideas many people have about each other.
Overall, the ship holds a special significance among those currently docked along the Crystal Coast. “This ship reminds me of the comfort of a mother’s womb,” said Mr. Dawicki. “It really protects people. It provides that safety net that enables people to get comfortable with each other. It is a special ship.”
While Mr. Dawicki was quick to point out how pleased he is with the vessel’s new winter home, he said the community has also made quite an impression on him. His 17-year-old son has spent time here already, and within a few months his wife and two daughters will also visit the area. “We truly hope that Beaufort embraces us, like we have embraced Beaufort,” he said.