Going Home

Another blog written by Gilbert Garcia, class of 1964.

On a clear Fall morning, Friday, September 9, 2016, I awoke with much apprehension and excitement.  I was sailing into New York harbor aboard the S.S John W. Brown. I was returning home.


The last time I was on the Brown in the East River was as a high school senior in 1964.  Here I was fifty two years later approaching the Verrazano Narrows Bridge.  Surely I never thought that in my lifetime I would be living the dream of every schoolship student. 


Sharing this very special moment with me were four other alumni members, Ernie Gaspari, Bob Clancy, Bill Tellefsen and Joe Brown.  It was as if we were teenagers all over again.  I was proudest of all to be able to share this precious moment with my son, Elliot, who had sailed as 1st Cook.


On Saturday, September 17, 2016 we had an alumni Get together on the Brown. Our guest of honor was our former instructor, Captain Bishansky.  It was great to meet fellow alumni students and reminisce about our schoolships years.


The following day we had a Living History Cruise in New York harbor.  Many of the alumni members that attended got the treat of seeing a wake from the fantail of our schoolship.


Hopefully the ‘Brown’ will continue as a museum ship in Baltimore.  I am sure that there are many alumni members who would look forward to seeing her in New York City again. 

~Gil Garcia  


The Alumni are a huge part of the ship and there is a core group that come down to Baltimore for training weekends, work weekends and to work the Living History cruises.   This particular trip to NYC was also special because of WHO the officers were on the ship.   From the Captain down to AB's, the officers on this cruise were members who grew up on the ship, some as young as 2 years old (though most were about 10-12 when they started tagging along with their grandparents).   Another blog is coming to tell their story.  Thanks for reading our blogs, supporting us on social media, buying from the online store (our plimsoll glasses are the bomb!) and supporting us with memberships and donations.   Thanks for the help to 'keep her sailing'.  

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:


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.

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