JOHN W BROWN Inaugural Steam School

The John W. Brown hosted its’ first Steam School on May 3-5, 2019.  Organized by the engine department, 14 guests (and now members) were aboard for seminar’s on various aspect of the ship, and its’ machinery plant.  This was followed by hands-on operation of the machinery, lighting off the engineering plant, raising steam, and operating the main engine and deck cargo winches on steam. The guests were provided accommodations and meals by the Stewards’ Department during their stay.

So what is the inside story?


It all started one workday (isn’t that how every great sea story goes?!?) in October 2018, at lunch in the mess, when crew member Greg was reading a magazine which had a listing of Steam Schools offered by various organizations, most of which were focused on antique farm and industrial equipment.  Greg thought that the ship could do something similar, but he hesitated, because he knew if he presented an idea, he would own it and be charged with moving the idea forward.

After some deliberation Greg went for it anyway and he threw the idea out to fellow engineering department members and conversation ensued.  Everybody jumped on the idea, and started brainstorming how the ship could host a steam school. We have a really big steam engine, don’t we?  He ran the idea by the Chief Engineer, Joe Cadden, who agreed with the concept, and added “let’s put steam on deck.”  Normally we use air on deck and we had not put steam on deck in years.

More lunchtime conversations followed.  How many guests, how long, when, accommodations, what topics, how much classroom time, who would instruct, and other ideas.  Finally, Greg prepared a concept proposal, outlining the proposed Steam School, and the proposal was presented to the Board of Directors by Joe Sargente in October 2018. It was quickly approved, with only one comment- “Why didn’t we think of this earlier?” Now that the concept was created and approved by the Board of Directors, it was time to market the concept.  Was there a market for steam school?

After a few trials, Dick Sterne developed a flyer, and it was approved by our PLS President in early November 2018.  We were anxious to see if we could sell our concept. One engineering team member spilled the flyer onto the internet… and the ship’s phone started ringing…


When the ticket sales went live in late December 2018, the minimum class size was sold in one weekend.  In three weeks, the class was sold out at 14 guests. We never got a chance to market the school. The ship’s phone continued to ring.  Quickly, a waiting list was developed. Whoa!  It seems we had something here.  There was a market for steam school!

An agenda was developed and volunteers from the engineering department were solicited, roles identified, and roles assigned. Lead instructors, assistant instructors, licensed/credentialed watchstanders, and supporting staff were all needed.  Greg became the self-appointed director (and chief delegator).

The guests would be staying aboard the ship. It quickly became evident that the Steward’s Department was crucial to the success of the Steam School.  Commitment from the Steward’s Department was obtained, and Mike Schneider agreed to be in charge of the guest accommodations.

In the final two weeks, the guest binders were printed and available. Cleaning needed to be done because the members wanted to make sure that a good impression was made. This involved…Cleaning the rooms. Cleaning the heads. Cleaning the engine room.  Cleaning the saloon. More cleaning. Greg made the pitch that the ship was in the hospitality business now.  Much to his amazement, nobody laughed at the idea (at least not openly) and by the time guests arrived, mints had been placed on the guest’s pillows.

On May 3rd our crew members assembled to greet the guests and welcome them aboard. Students were checked in and shown to their room.   Each guest was presented with a binder (with copies of all slides and handouts), a monogramed rag, JWB pen, tee shirt and water bottle.  Lunch was provided and once everybody was settled, the school started at 1300 with introductory remarks, then a discussion of thermodynamics, the steam cycle, auxiliary systems, and finished the day by providing our guests with the opportunity to operated three pieces of machinery in the engineroom on compressed air. After a dinner provided by the Steward’s Department, the evening was completed with a ship’s tour.

Saturday, May 4th was filled with technical sessions all day.  Boilers, and Reciprocating Steam Engine were the topics of conversation and everyone got to light a fire in the boiler.  Discussions on how to stand watch followed. The technical sessions wrapped up with disassembly and overhaul of a valve.

Lightoff came early at 0500 on Sunday, and steam was raised.  Once operating pressure was obtained in the boiler, the auxiliary plant was started up, and the steam cycle was complete.  The guests were split into two groups, one group one deck operating cargo winches on steam, and one group in the engineroom, standing watch with the boilers, main engine and auxiliary plant.  

Two of our guests were crew members/staff from the SS Keewatin, a museum ship located in Port McNicoll, Ontario, Canada.  At the Steam School closeout, hats and pins were presented by Mr. David Blevins of the SS Keewatin, to our instructors, chief engineer, and the school staff.  We were surprised and grateful for the token of appreciation.

Finally, group pictures were taken and goodbyes were said. Participants

Steam School was a success and comments and reviews by participants yielded great comments and some suggestions for future steam school. Keep an eye on the website and Facebook for information on the next steam school which will be held November 8-10th. We are gearing up for our first cruise of the season (tickets for the June cruise can be ordered here until June 1st (promo code PLS2019 for a discount), but after that we will start to promote Steam School #2. Until then, stay safe and keep supporting Project Liberty Ship.

Joe & Lena Tie Reef Knot

Welcome and thanks for reading today's blog.

Today's blog is written by Lena, who is the wife of crew member Joe Fern (in the above picture).   They recently held their wedding on the BROWN.  As you can tell from the pictures, the theme was vintage with some wonderful outfits, including Lena's dress and Joe's great hat.  Instead of tons of flowers, enormous ferns were set out on the ship (get it... Joe and Lena 'FERN') and the ship looked great.  But the guests looked even better, with many wearing outfits that looked like they came out of the 1940's. Joe and Lena are still waiting for their professional pictures but here are some that guests took that day, over a month ago.


Joe Fern, an S.S. JOHN W. BROWN volunteer and member, and his now wife, Lena Stypeck Fern, got hitched last weekend among cheers and applause from not just their family and friends, but also the S.S. JOHN W. BROWN crew.

Our number one tween deck space is a great spot for events.    

Our number one tween deck space is a great spot for events.    

“This is the most memorable wedding I’ve ever been to!” a number of guests exclaimed to the bride and groom as they walked by looking around at all the WWII Merchant Marine museum artifacts. As guests entered, they came aboard the 441.5 ft long authentic World War II Liberty ship and as they stepped off the gang-way into the 1940s, Big Band music played through the ship’s speakers while guests in 40s theme attire mingled.

After cocktails and Hors D’oeuvres, guests were invited on tours of the S.S. John W. Brown by 20 patiently waiting docents who took guests on tours of the whole ship. After exploring the ship, guests returned for more drinks and dancing!

After working up a sweat and exhausting the bar, guests ventured upstairs to the main deck where we enjoyed the rest of the night watching a gorgeous sunset full of orange, purple, and pink hues hanging above us and the Baltimore Harbor. As we sipped post-dinner coffee, we could see Fort McHenry straight ahead and the lights of downtown reflecting off the water, which we took advantage by taking more pictures.

Guest disembarked with huge smiles, shaking the crews hand and thanking them for a wonderful time. You only get married once, but if one were to do it again, it would be here, on the S.S. JOHN W. BROWN.


~ Lena


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.


Every occupation and/or art generates its own language for many reasons. The tradition of seafaring goes back almost as far as civilization and is said to be in the running for the title of the oldest profession. It has, as a result, developed a rich language of its own derived from many languages and cultures reaching back through time.

  Part of the unofficial mission of Project Liberty Ship and the crew of the JOHN W. BROWN is to not only memorialize the history of Liberty Ships in general and one Liberty Ship in particular but to help preserve the language and traditions of the maritime community. Seafarers have made what is considered “modern society” possible (regardless of when in history one defines modern) through the not so simple act of moving goods across the globe at a cost which makes the products of one nation affordable anywhere on the globe. The maritime industry and the seamen who are an indispensable part of it have learned to communicate across national and cultural barriers and have created a unique culture with its own language and customs.

  I have been asked why it is so important to remember that we are standing on a deck or that you can lean against a floor but you cannot stand on a floor without hurting your feet. The answer is simple. If you want to become a part of anything you must first learn the language. Maritime language is specific in its nature and is practiced not to maintain a separation from common people but in order to ensure that important information can be transmitted clearly and precisely during times of danger, high stress, adverse weather, poor hearing conditions and the lack of any common language save that of the sea. It is unthinkable that when sailing in heavy weather one could tell someone (while shouting over the wind’s roar) to “go up there and slip that rope, from the sail up there, around that round thingie so I can turn down wind”. A mariner would simply say “go forward and ease the sheet while I bear off”.  Another good example would be don’t say “there is a ship or something, over there (pointing in a general way) which looks like it’s getting bigger, moving from right to left (said while facing aft and gesturing with your right and left hands)”. Far better and less likely to cause, at a minimum a number of questions, would be “there is a ship on the starboard bow moving from stbd. to port and closing”. This rather unambiguous report would tell the person in charge everything he needs to know in order to keep the vessel safe.

  So I present my first attempt at “Nauti-language”. This is a glossary of maritime language based on what I have been taught during years of bumping up against the culture of the seafarer. I began this project believing that I could cross check things and take the cultural high ground. I find that it is much more difficult and resource intensive than I would have imagined. I will try to confirm the meaning of the words and phrases I include and am sure (and welcome) that some of my pronouncements will generate debate.

I hope you enjoy my glossary of Nauti-language.


Richard Bauman


Able Seaman:    The second rank for unlicensed deck persons in the deck department. Often abbreviated as A.B. Originally this rating was granted to men who could “set,       reef and steer”. An A.B. is still assumed to be a person who can and will go aloft. The term “able bodied” has no history in the maritime or naval services and is a good indicator that a “lubber” is speaking.  Here are pictures of crew in the deck department.  Not all of them are A.B.'s but many are. 


Lubber:                Derisive term for an un-seaman-like person, reportedly derived from “land lover. Its not a term we usually use, since we're TRYING to get more visitors  and passengers on the ship.  

Aloft:                     Overhead especially up the mast. When a sailor dies he is said to have gone aloft.


Above:                 To go above is to move to a higher deck or up onto the open deck.

Alow:                    Everything which is below the deck. It is also a term to describe a sailing vessel when drifting down wind, due to heavy weather or abandonment.

Below:                  To go below is to move to a lower deck or to go into the house or hull and “out of the weather”.


Master:                The captain of a merchant vessel - due to the fact that the officer in charge must obtain a master’s certificate before taking command. Derived from an           old naval rank at first equal to lieutenant and later commander, the master was in charge of navigation. The title of captain was reserved for the military officer in charge of a naval vessel. Later the term “master and commander” was assigned to the senior naval officer.

   Note: There is no certificate or license for captain! When someone says they have a “captain’s” license they have never bothered to read the certificate they hold. Even naval officers are captain by virtue of their military orders not a license!

DSC00877 1.jpg


Mate:                    In naval ratings a mate is a petty officer serving under a warrant officer, such as Boatswain’s mate. On merchant vessels a mate is next in line of command after the master. Today the mates are ranked 1st, 2nd and 3rd according to the license they hold and their experience level.


Flake:                    To lay out a line or chain up and down the deck so that the whole length is exposed.


Fiddle:                  A rack fixed to a table to stop things from sliding off.


Floor:                    The bottom part of the frames where they become horizontal or nearly so. The floors of modern ships are almost always in the bilge or double- bottoms and form, with the keel, the structural backbone of the vessel. The floor in a steel ship is a piece of steel plate stood on edge and athwartships, thus “you can stand on the floor but you’ll hurt your feet”.

Deck:                     The nautical name for what would be a floor in a building ashore. A deck inside the hull must reach from side to side but not necessarily all the way from stem to stern.

Ceiling:                 The planking or any material which covers the inside of any compartment on a vessel. The ceiling may cover the overhead, bulkheads or even the floors where they are not covered with a deck. A ceiling is any interior structure which prevents direct viewing of the structural components of a vessel.


Bulkhead:            A vertical partition either athwartship or fore and aft.

Escutcheon:       A shield or plate hung from the stern of a vessel showing its name and port of registry. Often escutcheons were very elaborate on sail vessels but modern regulation requires the same information be painted directly on the hull.

Stem:                    The fore most part of a vessel’s hull; the bow. The part of the hull which cuts the water when a vessel is moving forward.


Stern:                    The after most part of the hull. The stern may have many shapes from fine to round to a flat transom. The stern is often the most expensive part of the hull to build and to repair as its structure is intricate and must accommodate the rudder(s) and propeller(S) as well as be strong enough to withstand overtaking seas.

Starboard:           The right side and direction of a vessel when looking forward. It is believed to have been derived from the term “steer board”. One of the first methods of steering a vessel was with a board or oar trailed behind the ship. Early ships generally had a high stern post and the steering board was usually lashed to the right side of this post, thus becoming known as the “steer board side”.


Port:                      The left side and direction of a vessel when looking forward. Originally called the larboard side this term was easily confused with starboard and was abandoned in favor of port. (The British were one of the last maritime nations to do so!) Port is generally believed to have derived from the fact that the “steer board” side of a ship was not the best side to land against a pier due to the possibility of damaging the steer board. The left side of the ship was the best side to land at a port for unloading and thus the name port side!

Stay tuned for more Nauti-language coming to a blog near you, soon.  Thanks for reading and following us. 


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.


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