Richard’s Almanac: Family time aboard the Amistad

COURTESY PHOTO The tall ship Amistad

The tall ship Amistad

I received a call from Poppy Johnson last week asking me if I wanted to sail on the Amistad, which was visiting Greenport. Poppy is a librarian in Greenport and also my son-in-law’s mother. We share two wonderful grandchildren — Myla and Leonardo.

Poppy had tickets for a Sunday evening not-quite-three-hour tour. Myla and I said we’d love to go.

We arrived in Greenport an hour or so before our 5 p.m. boarding. The Amistad was at a dock adjacent to Claudio’s outside restaurant and was it busy. They had a band and people were dancing everywhere. Cigarette boats lined the dock.

The Amistad is an imposing craft. Before sailing, visitors could board and tour the ship. It’s 129 feet long and 23 feet wide. I learned a great deal about this boat and its role in history.

I never saw the movie but I knew that the Amistad had something to do with slaves. It was not, however, engaged in the slave trade. It was a merchant ship traveling with cargo and people from Havana to the other end of Cuba. The people — 49 men, three girls and one boy — happened to be slaves who came to Havana from Africa on the Tecora. Remember that slave trade was illegal in 1839 when this was happening.

The Amistad we sailed on was built in 2000 and left the dock under motor power and headed across the ferry lanes towards Crescent Beach. It was there that the sails were raised and the ship turned around and headed towards Orient. There was hardly any wind, which made the trip quiet, peaceful and comfortable. There were not any seats — the passengers just had to find a suitable spot to sit or lean. There was a captain, a chef and some 10 or so crew members.

Different crew members continued to speak about the ship and its history.

It seems that a slave named Sengbe Pieh, 26, led a revolt. They killed the cook and the captain and then took control. But they did not know where they were or how they could head back to Africa. For the next 63 days they thought they were heading east toward the rising sun. However, at night those sailing the ship thwarted the sailing and would change direction.

They were intercepted off Montauk by a Navy ship, the Washington, which took them to New London, Connecticut. The Africans were then taken to New Haven for a trial.

Former President John Quincy Adams was their lawyer. They were all found not guilty and set free. Many abolitionist groups raised funds to get them back to their homeland,which was basically where Sierra Leone is.

Among the many problems faced by the defense team was communicating with the Africans. One member worked with them and learned to count in the language. He then went down to the docks and shouted these numbers until someone recognized the language. These men became the translators!

Close to 8 p.m. the Amistad approached Bug Light and turned around. It motored back to Greenport, sliding very carefully stern first alongside the dock. The crew set up the planks and we exited the Amistad, which means friendship in Spanish.

We strolled the Greenport streets to get the car while the cigarette boats and the motorcycles were revving up for their trips west.

Meanwhile I learned that the water at the Senior Activity Center is now safe to drink. A filter has been installed to remove contaminants found last month.

Also, if anyone would like to be the recipient of a “Friendly Visitor” from the program being established by Director Laurie Fanelli, call the center at (631) 749-1059.

Anyone interested in taking the AARP-sponsored safe driving course on Tuesday, August 7 should give the center a call. You get a discount on your car insurance.