“We are all seamen on the ship Earth”

Frank O Braynard by Chris Maynard for the NY Times Maritime historian, OpSail creator and South Street Seaport founder Frank O. Braynard has passed away at the age of 91.

While the modern day concept of tall ships events was first launched in Europe in 1956, Mr. Braynard brought the spectacle to US shores linking an event called Operation Sail to the World’s Fair in 1964. Celebrating our country’s rich maritime heritage as well as the international camaraderie and goodwill engendered by the young participating trainees, OpSail attracted the attention and endorsement of President John F. Kennedy, a sailing enthusiast himself.


The 1964 event was the inspiration for a much larger event in 1976 which would become the centerpiece of the United States Bicentennial Celebrations. A period during which the Cold War was still in full force and New York City was experiencing significant fiscal challenges and racial strife, Braynard’s efforts were hailed in the media:

“Almost single-handedly, he saved the Bicentennial from banal commercialism and gave America the most meaningful observance of its independence by far.” Newsday 1976

“New York, the nation and the world are richer because of Braynard’s imagination and dedication.” Daily News 1976

I was a trainee onboard the SSV Tabor Boy at this time. Although we did not sail down to the festivities in New York, we raced from Bermuda to Newport, RI and participated in the Boston OpSail event. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my young life and I will be forever grateful to people like Frank Braynard, Howard Slotnick, Barclay Warburton III and Admiral Thomas Weschler for making it happen.

Events like Opsail in 1976, and more recently the American Sail Training Association’s TALL SHIPS CHALLENGE Series, are attended by millions of spectators. They celebrate North America’s rich maritime heritage. At a time where cultural and heritage tourism has been become so important, they help cities like Newport, RI, Halifax, NS, Victoria, BC and Bay City, MI build a distinctive “brand” that is attractive to visitors from across the globe. Finally, they can generate significant economic impact. For example, from it’s launch in 2001 through 2006, ASTA’s TALL SHIPS CHALLENGE Series visited 36 North American cities generating approximately $400 million of economic impact for host communities in the process.

But to me the most important part of Mr. Braynard’s legacy is how these events bring together young people from different nations and cultures and help promote international understanding and goodwill in the process. I have experienced this first hand, as a trainee in 1976 and then as ASTA Executive Director and event organizer from 2001 through 2006. Today’s NY Times (December 14, 2007) captures it well:

For Mr. Braynard, Op Sail 1976 represented a small contribution to easing tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union. As he prepared for it, he said, he was “terribly worried about the arms race.”

“I think Operation Sail is one little drop in the bucket on the other side,” he said. “We are all seamen on the ship Earth.”

Frank O. Braynard, Ship Maven, Dies at 91 – NY Times, December 14, 2007

Frank Braynard, ‘OpSail’ originator, dies at 91 – Newsday, December 13, 2007

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Peter A. Mello

Father, son. Lifelong mariner, student of leadership, photographer. Professional creative placemaker.

7 thoughts on ““We are all seamen on the ship Earth””

  1. Hi
    i was on the british naval ship HMS Eskimo.(1976)
    it was our ship that started the race by firing our 4.5” cannon i witnessed the collision of two large sailing vessels of our starboard side.
    a third vessel turn to aviod the collision and rammed HMS Eskimo putting the spinnaker mast throught the hull in between our main generators.
    i was standing on the deck just feet above where the impact was.i saw people falling into the sea from the upper masts on both ships.

  2. Hi Peter, Happy New Year, and all that. I am writing an article for LAN airlines in Chile on VELA SUD AMERICA and they want a lot of my “experiences” and stuff for the photo-essay. Obviously the rhetorical connection in the American bicentennial with the 200th anniversary of the South American navies which is being celebrated in 2010. Do you have a source or a photo of the collision in 1976 at the start of the tall ships race off Bermuda to Newport–it involved the JUAN SEBASTIAN and LIBERTAD, and both will be participate in VELA SUD AMERICA.

    Any assistance and commentary would help, thanks.

    Fair winds, thad

    1. Hi Thad;

      Great to hear from you and hope all’s well.

      Kenneth Garrett was a young trainee and photographer who did a piece for National Geographic magazine on the races. Here’s his website and contact info: http://www.kennethgarrett.com/ He might have the type of images that you’re looking for.

      Hope this helps!

      Fair Winds and Happy New Year!

  3. Ms. Hollander,
    Thanks for your comment and sorry for your loss. I went back to the NY Times which was my source for the quote and it seems that they got it wrong too.

    In any case, OpSail ’76 was a life forming experience for me and I will be forever grateful that your father and the others involved helped me chart my life’s course. Godspeed.

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