Bibliography Texts

Epitaph for the ‘Albatross’


On Galapagos island crewmember of the “Albatross” stands before inscription, with ship's name in original Dutch spelling, laid out in stone.

As befits a proud sailing ship the Albatross left her name with those of other seafaring visitors on the small volcanic island,§ spelled out in rows of rock by her young crewmembers. The trim brigantine had carried them halfway across the world on a voyage of which boys' dreams are made. But weeks later their epic adventure was suddenly transformed into a disaster and their bold inscription had become an epitaph.

§ In Galápagos, location unknown pending further research.

The Albatross was no ordinary pleasure or working ship. One of the last pilot schooners, she served as a classroom for 14 boys on an eight-month school voyage. Captain of the ship and headmaster of “The Ocean Academy, Ltd.” was Dr. Christopher Sheldon of South Norwalk, Conn. His wife, a doctor, taught biology. Two other instructor-crewmembers taught junior level prep school courses. For the students, who paid $3,250 for their traveling tuition, the Albatross offered the romantic chance to go to sea for a once-in-a-lifetime way of living and learning. They were taught to handle the ship's 5,000-square-feet of sail. They took regular turns on watch and at the wheel.

But on the capricious ocean they met with an experience for which no amount of education at sea could prepare them. On May 2, in a morning of small rain squalls, Captain Sheldon and five others were on deck while 13 others worked or rested below. With appalling suddenness and violence a wind squall caught the Albatross under heavy sail and threw her on her starboard side. Water flooded in through her open hatches. For a few moments she lay on her side, then sank out of sight. With her went a long seafaring history and six of the 19 aboard.

Rugged Roles of Hardy Ship

The odyssey of the Albatross began in Amsterdam 40 years ago, where she was built, and runs [sic, ran] through perilous weather and duty all over the world. Originally the 92-foot steel-hulled schooner served as a North Sea pilot vessel. She rode out one storm that devastated the Low Countries with 100-knot winds. The Germans used her as a radio station ship for U-boats during World War II. The British seized her as a war prize and resold her to the Dutch as a cadet training ship.

When Author Ernest Gann bought Albatross in 1954 he rigged her as a brigantine. Under Gann she survived a tidal wave in Honolulu and one rigorous movie role. In Twilight for the Gods farm animals and 46 actors, extras and cameramen covered her deck. Tons of cement were loaded into her to give her the appearance of sinking and she was scarred by a Hollywood-style fire. Albatross survived all this to sail again in the placid role of a seagoing schoolhouse when the ultimate blow struck.