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Recreated tall ship reaches Bristol Wharf, offers tours, cruises


Over the weekend, a recreated 17th century tall ship sailed up the Delaware River to Bristol, a port that welcomed Quakers to Bucks County in the 1680s.

Not surprisingly, Bucks Countians have a proud history. Although we can perhaps be forgiven for thinking it all began here, the original Kalmar Nyckel, a Dutch-built ship, delivered Swedish settlers to Delaware in 1638, more than four decades earlier.

The newcomers built a fort on the Chrisina River, established New Sweden and traded with the Lenape for beaver pelts, a cargo valuable to European hat-makers. Later the Dutch took over New Sweden, which stretched roughly from Wilmington to Philadelphia and eventually the colony fell into English hands.

An exceptional ship, the Kalmar Nyckel made eight voyages across the Atlantic, more than any documented ship of the colonial era.

The modern version of the ship offered deck tours as well as two-hour river cruises from Bristol Wharf.

I wanted to sail on the ship for two reasons.

One. To satisfy long left-behind adolescent yearnings for a life aboard a tall ship, a daydream inspired by 19th century novels and paintings. (I’ve since sailed four seas, but never in so beautiful a vessel.)

Two. My husband is a direct descendant of Henry Margerum, an English Quaker from Wiltshire who arrived in Bristol Jan. 2, 1682, aboard a similar English tall ship. We wanted to see what his ancestor had faced on what must have been a tumultuous crossing.

The first thing I noticed as we approached the ship was her beauty. Carved and painted in astonishingly bright colors, she is truly a work of art. She is named for Kalmar, a Swedish seaport, and Nyckel, the Dutch word for key. A gold key marks the top of the ornate carving on the stern of the blue-painted ship.

Capt. Lauren Morgens said there is no way to tell if those were the original colors.

“All we had was a painting and a few papers,” she said.

The original ship had an interesting history. It was an armed merchant ship later acquired by the Swedish navy as a warship and eventually lost in battle.

My husband and I climbed the gangplank and stepped down onto the deck. We were among the 50 passengers, captain, two officers and 20 or so volunteer crew members on board.

It was crowded but both passengers and crew members were congenial.

The interior of the ship was also beautiful, glowing capstan and windlass all hand-carved, polished wood, putting to shame the gray steel of today’s ships. The captain’s cabin was especially handsome.

At least one of the crew was a Bucks Countian. Andy Sanborn, who said he was from Neshaminy, was steering the ship. He was manning the whip staff, a long stick that preceded the ship’s wheel. That technology didn’t show up until years later.

Standing on deck just before the captain’s cabin, Sanborn couldn’t see where the ship was going and had to rely on shouted commands from a crew member above deck.

The two-hour voyage was peaceful, if hot, as the sun beat down and shade was at a premium. There was a slight breeze off the river and the crew magically and continually produced free bottles of cold water as we sailed north of Bristol and back. The river was as calm as a lake. As the temperature crept higher and higher in the 90s, it was a bit hard to conjure up an image of what Henry Margerum and his shipmates experienced in the wind-swept Atlantic in the winter. Nor did it match the stormy drama of those teen-aged dreams.

Nevertheless, it was fun to walk the deck, admire Bristol’s historic riverfront homes, check out the cannons, look up at the sails and rigging and see the Swedish flag flying high — a worthy adventure and another history lesson.

Kathryn Finegan Clark is a freelance writer who lives in Durham Township and writes “By The Way,” a twice-monthly column.

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