Why I created this long post about Concordia sinking

Concordia by Wojtek Voytec Wacowski

It wouldn’t be unreasonable to ask why have I gone to great lengths to create this long post about the high school tall ship Concordia sinking. There are lots of reasons.

  1. Personal – I spent my high school years on a tall ship called Tabor Boy and launched The Tabor Boy Project, a website/living history project/social network, about that experience. So as a product of a long established, successful sail training program, I passionately believe in the power to transform young lives.
  2. Professional – I was the executive director of the American Sail Training Association from 2001 to 2008. During that period I had the opportunity to work with hundreds of different sail training vessels and tall ships from around the world.
  3. Professional/Personal – When speaking with the public or media at big tall ships events, I was invariably asked which was my favorite. As ASTA executive director, the only answer could be that “Like parents love their children,  I love them all equally.” (politically correct)  However, each sail training vessel and tall ship is unique in its own way and back on April 2, 2008, I wrote “I had the great fortune to spend my 4 years of high school sailing on a tall ship. If there was one educational sailing experience I could be jealous of, this (Class Afloat on Concordia) would be it.” By the way, I still feel that way today.
  4. Leadership – Over the years, I had the opportunity to work with Class Afloat’s founder Terry Davies and believe that it would be difficult to find another educational leader more professional and caring about young people and more knowledgeable about ships.  Similarly, my experience working with various captains and crew members of the Concordia was always very positive.  Leadership defines the success of a program and Terry Davies charted a proper course for Class Afloat.
  5. Reference – Today modern technology and media allow information to be distributed fast, far and wide. Unfortunately, accuracy isn’t always one of the characteristics but that might be a fair trade under many circumstances. Over time, inaccurate reports are generally weeded out and tossed aside.  I’ve attempted to collect as many of the stories told to and by the media as possible. Going back later and trying to find this kind of information would be a gargantuan task. Doing it in real time is slightly easier. This is the web and many of these links will die but overall the post can serve as a pretty comprehensive reference for anyone interested in learning more about the casualty.
  6. Lessons to Be Learned – The Concordia sinking is a sad story with a happy ending. And while it’s very early days in the investigation, it presents a great opportunity to try to figure out what happened without the usual high emotion that surrounds an incident involving casualties or fatalities. In some respects, this is similar to the Miracle on the Hudson. As Sergeant Joe Friday used to say, “All we want are the facts” and there are more than 64 individual stories that can be told today but which over time will consolidate into one overall narrative from which we will hopefully learn some valuable lessons for the future.

Up to this post, I’ve avoided editorializing, analyzing or making any judgement about what actually happened on the Concordia on February 17, 2010. I think that I’ll continue to leave the technical analysis to the professional investigators and others with more direct experience and knowledge about these things. I will continue to collect links about the sinking but anticipate (and hope) the pace of stories slows down so that I can get back to Sea-Fever’s regularly scheduled programming.  I will also try to interpret/translate some of the technical findings so that non mariners can get a better understanding of the issues. I believe my Tabor Boy and ASTA experiences leave me well suited to the task. Finally, I will continue to champion sail training because I believe more than ever that there is no greater teaching platform than the tall ship and or campus than the sea.

Could the Brig Prince William replace the Barkentine Concordia?

Prince William by David Rowley on Flickr.com

Hmmm, she suffered her catastrophic casualty less than a week ago but it seems that thoughts of the Concordia’s replacement might be in some people’s minds. (Probe to shed light on sinking of S.V. Concordia)

West Island College International began with a leased vessel and had the Concordia built in 1992. A second ship was leased to handle an extra-large enrolment last year, but the Concordia was the only vessel the company operated this school year, Mr. McCarthy said.

He would not say how much the lost ship was insured for, but noted that the tall ship Prince William, which is for sale, was a roughly comparable vessel.

Chris Law, chief executive of the U.K.-based Tall Ships Youth Trust, said the trust hopes to get about £4.5-million for the nine-year-old Prince William. She noted that building a new version of such a ship would cost nearly four times as much.

The Prince William needs a new home and Class Afloat needs a ship if it plans to continue. Makes sense to me.

Here’s a copy of the Prince William sales brochure

I wrote about the Prince William a while back. Brig Sale Away?

Concordia Rescue Photos via AMVER

Concordia Liferafts via AMVER blog courtesy of Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd
Concordia liferafts via the AMVER blog courtesy of Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd

The AMVER blog has posted several photos sent to them by program member Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd.,  managers of the Hokuetsu Delight and Crystal Pioneer. Both vessels played a lead role in rescuing the 64 students and crew of the Canadian training ship Concordia which sank off the coast of Brazil last Wednesday, February 17th.

Being that IMO has designated 2010 “The Year of the Seafarer” these photos celebrate not only the success of the rescue but also the importance of enrolling in the AMVER program and looking out for fellow mariners.

You do not need to be a large commercial ship to be part of AMVER. Many smaller vessels like Concordia and the Sea Education Association’s SSV Corwith Cramer and SSV Robert C. Seamans participate too. If you own or operate a commericial vessel, do yourself and the entire maritime community a favor and sign up today!

To learn more about what AMVER does check outConcordia, AMVER, EPIRBs and At Sea Rescues and listen to episode 36 of the Messing About In Ships podcast You can also check them out on their website,  blog Twitter and download their iPhone App. No excuses to be informed and get involved!

Concordia’s Voyage and Sinking (Graphic from The Globe and Mail)

Concordia casualty graphic from The Globe and Mail

The Globe and Mail has a very useful graphic explaining how a microburst might have knocked Concordia down and caused her to sink.  Good article too. How a Fist of Wind Pushed Concordia Down. (Feb. 22, 2010)

Concordia, AMVER, EPIRBs and At Sea Rescues

AMVER logoThis morning I had the good fortune to speak with Ben Strong from the US Coast Guard’s AMVER unit. (Automated Mutual-Assistance Vessel Rescue System) AMVER is a voluntary system where commercial ships report their positions so that they can assist in at sea rescues.

Let’s face it, the oceans are vast and boats, no matter how big, are still small. If something happens out there and you need some help, there’s a good chance that the first responder will be a commercial ship. An added benefit of participating in the system is that regular position reporting will help you to be found if you encounter some kind of catastrophic event at sea.

Ben confirmed that all three vessels involved in the Concordia rescue were enrolled in the AMVER program. (Concordia, Hokuetsu Delight and Crystal Pioneer) AMVER blog post: Concordia update- Amver ships save school children in high seas rescue

Here’s my discussion with Ben about EPIRBs (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons) and rescues at sea.

If you want to learn more about AMVER, listen to episode 36 of the Messing About In Ships podcast and check them our on their website,  blog Twitter and download their  iPhone App.

Moby Monday — Aquaman to the rescue


In a 1955 comic book, a whale named Moby Dick II is accused of bashing and sinking a ship. His attorney, Ruler-of-the-Waves Aquaman, cooks up a winning defense: temporary insanity. Which is the only thing insane about this comic book. Right?

Margaret Guroff is editor and publisher of Power Moby-Dick.

Message from Class Afloat About Returning Concordia Students

The following message appeared this evening on the Class Afloat website:

Our Students Teachers and Professional Mariners mustered together this morning for their final colors led by the Captain of the Concordia.

The whole crew arrived at the hotel last night.  According to an Alumni parent who was on scene for the evening our students were bedraggled but happy and full of energy.  First step off the bus was into the dining hall where all were well fed. From there, they moved into a large conference room that had been set up with chairs and tables. Small groups were then taken to a side room where they were first screened and quickly assessed for medical checkups and/or a chat with a trained psychologist. There were two doctors and two psychologists who attended to all.

Boxes of clothes were brought in by the Embassy that had been contributed by the Brazilian Navy and today, through the ship’s agent, additional clothes will be distributed for the trip home.

The story that is slowly emerging from our students and professional staff is of the heroic communal effort that saved all aboard.  Students, well drilled in the emergency procedures of the vessel, helped one another and the professional crew in the extraordinary evacuation.   That all were saved is a testament to the training, equipment  and professionalism of our shipboard community.

Arrival of the Canadian contingent of the crew cannot yet be confirmed by our office.  Class Afloat understands the need of the press to continue to tell this story; however, it should be clear to all concerned that when the children arrive, that reuniting with their parents must be first and foremost.

Nigel McCarthy 902-634-1895

Concordia Timeline: From Abandon Ship to Rescue

The Calgary Herald published a timeline of events from the Concordia casualty to rescue.

Wednesday, Feb. 17

2:30 p.m. – A distress signal goes out from the Concordia

9:00 p.m. – Brazilian navy receives alert.  Navy officials spend 18 hours confirming what ship sent the signal, whose flag it was under. Confirms location, attempts radio contact with the Concordia. Contacts the school — is informed the last contact with the ship did not indicate any problem.

Thursday, Feb. 18

2:30 p.m. – Brazilian navy asks air force to do a flyover of the area and alerts merchant ships in the region. Stormy seas prevail.

5:00  p.m. – Brazilian air force spots lifeboats.

9:00 p.m. – Merchant ships Crystal Pioneer and Hokuetsu Delight told to go to location. Stormy seas, bad weather continue.

Friday, Feb. 19

4:00 a.m. – Crystal Pioneer spots lifeboats — due to darkness and high seas, waits to pluck the survivors to safety.

7:00 a.m. – The relieved passengers start boarding the Crystal Pioneer and Hokuetsu Delight.

9:00 a.m. – Last lifeboat located, passengers transferred to Hokuetsu Delight.

Saturday . Feb. 20 – All 64 students, teachers and crew arrive safely in Rio de Janeiro

Sources: Nigel McCarthy and The Brazilian Navy

Survival Stories: Pride of Baltimore

It’s tough to imagine what was going through the minds of the young students of the tall ship Concordia during the 40 hours spent in life rafts riding turbulent seas after their ship, school and home capsized and sank 500 miles off the coast of Brazil last Wednesday.

On May 14, 1986, the topsail schooner Pride of Baltimore also sailed into a microburst and sank.  Tragically, she lost 4 souls. Next time you are in Baltimore you can visit the monument honoring the lives of Captain Armin Elsaesser 42;  Engineer Vincent Lazarro, 27; Carpenter Barry Duckworth, 29 and Seaman Nina Schack, 23.

To get an idea of what might have been going through the minds of the Concordia sail trainees, watch this video of  the Pride of Baltimore survivors telling their harrowing sea stories. The video quality is poor but it’s really the audio that’s more important.

Concordia, sailing ships and microbursts

Captain William Curry of the high school tall ship Concordia that sank on Wednesday reports that his ship was a victim of a weather phenomenon called a microburst. However, Concordia is not the first victim of this type of extreme weather.

On May 14, 1986, the topsail schooner Pride of Baltimore sailed into a microburst 250 nautical miles of Puerto Rico, capsized and tragically lost 4 of her crew.

On May 2, 1961, the brigantine Albatross also encountered a microburst 125 nautical miles of the Dry Tortugas and sank almost instantly taking 7 souls including 5 high school students. In 1996 Jeff Bridges starred in the Ridley Scott movie White Squall which is a fictionalized account of the Albatross story.

In order to get a better understanding of both of these incidents, pick up a copy of Captain Daniel Parrott’s book, Tall Ships Down : The Last Voyages of the Pamir, Albatross, Marques, Pride of Baltimore, and Maria Asumpta which does a great job analyzing these and several other tall ships catastrophes. You can also find it on Google Books.

Here’s a video of  Warning Coordination Meteorologist, Dan Gudgel, National Weather Service, Hanford, CA describing a microburst and it’s cause and effect. Make sure you stick with the video to the very end in order to see the incredible power and speed of these types of weather events.

Last year the Dallas Cowboys training facility was the victim of a microburst and this weather report video does also does a great job in explaining how microbursts occur.

Here’s raw video of the incident as it unfolds.

It’s not hard to imagine how a sudden powerful weather event like this could have caused a stout sailing ship like Concordia to capsize. It’s really a miracle that this didn’t happen in the middle of the night when students would not have been in above deck classes with easier and quicker access to escape the sinking ship.