What it Was Like as a School...

 This blog was written by Gil Garcia, one of the alumni of the SS JOHN W BROWN, class of 1964.

The Brown was launched on Labor Day, September 7, 1942, at the Bethlehem-Fairfield shipyard located in Baltimore Maryland.  Of the 2710 Liberty ships built during World War 2, only two remain operational.  The Brown is the only one the East coast.

After thirteen voyages, in the maritime service during World War 2, the ship was loaned to the NYC Board of Education by the Maritime Administration.  It was the only floating maritime high school in the country, with the mission of preparing young men for careers in the Merchant Marine service.

 

The Brown served as a school ship from 1946 to 1982.  It was affiliated with Metropolitan Vocational High School until 1961, Food & Maritime Vocational High School until the late 1970s, and Park West Vocational High School until 1982.

You can imagine my excitement, when in September 1961, I reported aboard as a sophomore student, at the age of 15 years old.  For most of the students, this was their first venture outside of the neighborhoods where they received their elementary education.  We got to meet other students from throughout New York City including such far away places as Long Island and Staten Island.

For a young man, what a great toy this was. We had a World War 2 ship to explore.  We wore our uniforms as a badge of honor.  There was no fooling around on the ship.  Our instructors, most of them having served in the Merchant Service, treated and expected us to act like grown men.  While on board the ship, our actions could get us hurt or hurt our fellow classmates. 

After a six month indoctrination where we all learned to go aloft, go over the side, learn our basic knots and shipboard procedures, we were assigned to our departments, being deck, engine or steward.

I was an engineering student.  My course of study included pipefitting, machine shop, and electrical theory.  In my junior year, I had to learn all of the ship’s mechanical systems, auxiliary equipment, and main engine.  During my senior year I fired the boilers, operated the auxiliary steam equipment and the ship’s main engine.

 

Having recently retired, after over forty years, as a licensed stationary engineer, I attribute much of the advancement and success in my trade due to the ideals and fundamentals I learned while I was a student on the school ship. 

All of our alumni members firmly believe that the Brown and our instructors were instrumental in our developmental growth and successes.

As students, we would sit at the fantail where we shared our growing up stories, along with a smoke and coke break which we earned from our instructors.  We often spoke and dreamed of what we would do if we were given the opportunity to sail the Brown out of New York harbor.  Never in my lifetime would I have imagined I would be “living the dream” so many years later, when as a crew member of Project Liberty Ship, I stood on the fantail of my school ship admiring her wake and feeling the turn of her propeller under my feet.

Project Liberty Ship originated in 1978 to preserve the ship as a memorial to the men and women that built the ships, and the merchant seamen and armed guards who sailed them.  In July 1983, the Brown was towed from New York harbor to the James River Reserve fleet. 

 

In 1988, Project Liberty Ship started the restoration of the Brown.  The first Living History cruise was held on the Chesapeake Bay in 1991. This year will be the Brown's 75 birthday.   She has sailed the eastern seaboard from Windsor, Ontario to Jacksonville, Florida. 

The all volunteer crew, from around the country and the world, work tirelessly to maintain the ship in operational condition.  Our motto is:

KEEP HER SAILING

Please visit the Project Liberty Ship and Alumni Association websites.  Thank you for reading my story and that of many of my classmates. 

 

Project Liberty Ship, Inc is a 501(c)3 non-profit, all volunteer organization engaged in the preservation and operation of the historic ship JOHN W. BROWN as a living memorial museum. Gifts to Project Liberty Ship are tax deductible.

Fells Point- April 2017

On Friday, March 31st the Ship was moved to Fells Point. The temporary move was so that the ship could participate in the Privateer Festival and so that we could be open to the public.  To remind our readers, Pier One, our temporary home is in the process of having the shed (the building on top of the Pier) removed. 

The owners of the pier (Rukert) were able to give us another berth, but unfortunately, it is a secured access pier, which means that only crew members are permitted on the pier and most crew members must also have TWIC cards or else they need to be escorted from their car to the pier. What this means is that walk-on visitors are not permitted on the pier, per their security plan. Therefore, the chance to go to Fells Point so that we could be open to the public to educate as many people as possible about Liberty Ships, Merchant Marines and Naval Armed Guard and shipyards, was something we jumped at. 

Friday, March 31st was wet and cold.  We were supposed to shift the ship around 9am but the docking pilot had some concerns about the wind and weather.  The decision was made to postpone the move and re-evaluate; and at 1pm the decision was then made by the docking pilot that the move could happen. 

The shift went well and because of the rain there was little work to do on the ship, though the rain did help us clean the decks a bit!  Some crew members went out to dinner in Fells Point, though most crew ate dinner on the ship.  Saturday morning came quickly along with lots of work in order to be open to the public at 10am.  Tables needed to be put up, tents raised on the pier and on the ship, the after gangway needed to be lowered and berths and all areas open to the public needed to be swept and mopped. 

And at 10am, we opened to visitors. 

We had a salute cannon that visitors could pay a small donation and fire, and the afternoon was spent firing at the Urban Pirates.   For something that is less than 2 feet long, this little cannon packs a loud punch. The BROWN is completely volunteer run and all money collected goes to maintaining the ship and covering operational costs. Here are some pictures and a very short video.

We also participated in City Lights Baltimore and had the ship lit with red, white and blue LED's and spotlights on important parts of the ship.  Here are some pictures to see what she looked like. 

Our weekend in Fells Point brought over 1,200 visitors aboard the ship.  We had many local families but also visitors from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Virginia. We saw many Privateers and Pirates as well as many photographers and those that wanted to get pictures taken with Jack.

A wonderful experience was when many crew members got to meet Mr. Addington.   He is 91 years old and was Naval Armed Guard in WWII and spent plenty of time on Liberty Ships. He came on board with his family and climbed the gangway and up to the gun tubs on the stern to show his family the things he did during the war.   He even fired the salute cannon. 

We are currently planning on returning to Fells Point in July for the holiday.  Plans are coming together and we will have more info to come.  Some possible idea are that we will open and close a bit later then we did this time, with family friendly activities.   This time we had an activity throughout the ship for kids to find the correct vocabulary words for specific things, like the kitchen, bathroom, floor (galley, head and deck) and when they left the ship, if they found the words, they got a prize.  We had a great time and raised some money through donations and purchases in the store.   Stay tuned for more info and follow us on FB, Instagram and Twitter

 

Project Liberty Ship, Inc is a 501(c)3 non-profit, all volunteer organization engaged in the preservation and operation of the historic ship JOHN W. BROWN as a living memorial museum. Gifts to Project Liberty Ship are tax deductible.

So What Do You See From the Ship?

What are Living History Cruises?   Living History itself is an educational way to look at history, by having people 'step back in time' through the use of period entertainment, historical reenactment and historical activities.  On our Living History Cruises, passengers will have access to most parts of the ship (while it's in action... remember, this is a 70+ year old ship that was made to last one voyage.  And there are only 2 operational ships out of over 2,700+ ships). Here are some things you will see on the ship itself... Passengers, entertainers, reenactors, crew, veterans.  Talk with the crew, other passengers and the entertainers.  If you see a veteran, ask them their story; the world loses it's veterans each day, and we want to keep their stories alive. 

But all of these things are the types of things you will see while you're on the ship.   You will also see many other things that are not on the ship.   Stay alert while you're having a great time, because there is so much to see and so many opportunities to witness

You will see the Key  Bridge as we go underneath it!

You will see the Key  Bridge as we go underneath it!

 
You  will see the Bay Bridge in the distance (not this close).   We used to go out past the Bay Bridge, but due to air show restrictions, we now stop in a wide open area before the Bridge and this is where we have the airshow. 

You  will see the Bay Bridge in the distance (not this close).   We used to go out past the Bay Bridge, but due to air show restrictions, we now stop in a wide open area before the Bridge and this is where we have the airshow. 

 
 
You see the Baltimore sky line.

You see the Baltimore sky line.

 
You will see Fort McHenry with the Star Spangled Banner flying proudly in the breeze.

You will see Fort McHenry with the Star Spangled Banner flying proudly in the breeze.

 
You see vintage aircraft closer than you will at any air show.

You see vintage aircraft closer than you will at any air show.

 
More planes.  And some taking pictures of you taking pictures of them .

More planes.  And some taking pictures of you taking pictures of them .

You will see cruise guests continuing to have a good time after the event.  Fingers crossed for no rain ;)

You will see cruise guests continuing to have a good time after the event.  Fingers crossed for no rain ;)

 

Tugs.  We usually will have 1-2 tugs that will get us off the pier and will also dock us back on the pier for our return. 

 
Baltimore's Cruise Terminal on McComas Street in the Locust Point part of Baltimore.  This is a VERY safe part of the city and is easy to get to from I 95 (you can actually see the ship from 95 when we are here). 

Baltimore's Cruise Terminal on McComas Street in the Locust Point part of Baltimore.  This is a VERY safe part of the city and is easy to get to from I 95 (you can actually see the ship from 95 when we are here). 

 
Fort Carroll in Baltimore's Harbor.  Its an uninhabited artificial island that is only 3 acres large, and was designed by Robert E Lee while he was with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1848. 

Fort Carroll in Baltimore's Harbor.  Its an uninhabited artificial island that is only 3 acres large, and was designed by Robert E Lee while he was with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1848. 

 
Working Ships.  Many times the ships will give an unofficial 'hey, how are ya' to passing ships.  The first ship will blow their whistle 3 long times, and the answering ship gives 3 long back, then the originating ship will blow one tone and the answering ship will give one back.  Since our ship is a steam ship, our whistle runs on steam (or compressed air), and our girl has some strong lungs, so usually the Bridge will make an announcement to 'cover your ears'. 

Working Ships.  Many times the ships will give an unofficial 'hey, how are ya' to passing ships.  The first ship will blow their whistle 3 long times, and the answering ship gives 3 long back, then the originating ship will blow one tone and the answering ship will give one back.  Since our ship is a steam ship, our whistle runs on steam (or compressed air), and our girl has some strong lungs, so usually the Bridge will make an announcement to 'cover your ears'. 

Other historical ships like the Pride of Baltimore II!   Though we are a steel ship, we do love the wooden tall ships as well. 

Other historical ships like the Pride of Baltimore II!   Though we are a steel ship, we do love the wooden tall ships as well. 

 

2016 was a pretty busy year for the ship.  We had 2 scheduled  Baltimore cruises (though the October cruise was canceled due to weather) and we also had 2 port visits (Norfolk and NYC).  This year we have two cruises scheduled in Baltimore and we changed the October cruise to a September cruise due to bad luck with October cruises and hurricanes.  The cruise dates for May and September are found on the website.  Please join us if you can.  Click on the different links to order your specific cruise dates.  

 

Project Liberty Ship, Inc is a 501(c)3 non-profit, all volunteer organization engaged in the preservation and operation of the historic ship JOHN W. BROWN as a living memorial museum. Gifts to Project Liberty Ship are tax deductible

Back to Top ↑