The history of Tabor Boy, the 92-foot flagship of coeducational Tabor Academy, in Marion, Massachusetts, is that of a working vessel. Although she was designed and built in 1914 to support the commercial shipping trade, Tabor Boy‘s real calling turned out to be teaching young people about life and the sea. Tabor Boy was built in Holland at Rykswerf Willemsoord, a former Dutch naval yard, and commissioned as Pilot Schooner No. 2 to engage in that service, likely at the Texel-Den Helder and IJmuiden pilot stations that serve the port of Amsterdam. Pilot Schooner No. 2’s design and riveted-iron construction were the culmination of different styles of sail-powered Dutch pilot vessels that evolved through the 19th and early 20th centuries — most of them wood.
The function of the Dutch pilot schooners was simply to be available at a pilot station to put pilots on and off merchant ships entering and leaving port. There were as many as 10 or 12 pilots aboard, and the schooner was expected to maintain position at the pilot station for two weeks at a time before being relieved by another pilot vessel and crew. The ability of the pilot schooners to perform this duty in all types of weather enhanced their reputation as some of the most seaworthy vessels ever built.
Tabor Boy arrived in Marion in 1954, and only three captains have commanded the vessel during her 60 years at Tabor. Appointed master in 1987, I serve in the footsteps of Capt. John A. Carlson and Capt. George E. Glaeser. Early in my tenure, Tabor’s board of trustees mandated that academic components be added to the school’s traditional sail-training programs that have been offered since 1917. With a kickoff effort that brought Tabor science faculty aboard for the schooner’s visit to the Panama Canal in 1993, academics and on-board instructors became a permanent aspect of the vessel’s winter and summer cruises. Each summer, groups of new students sail on five-day cruises in and around Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, and every three years Tabor Boy voyages south to serve as a base of operations for Tabor students to conduct elkhorn coral field research in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Tabor Boy‘s fall and spring crews are made up of students who have learned the seamanship and other skills necessary to sail the vessel and who can pass that knowledge and experience on to younger crew members. The command structure begins with the student executive officer, or XO, who delegates responsibility to student watch officers, who in turn lead the port and starboard watch groups. Much of the program’s success in developing true leaders has been because roles and responsibilities that normally fall to adult mates and deckhands are instead placed squarely on the students’ shoulders, allowing them to learn values, develop judgment and earn trust.
Sailing a North Sea pilot schooner has been an adventure in itself, but working with high-school students has made the experience truly exceptional. Many of the XOs I worked with are truly special people and have gone on to successful, even outstanding, careers. Tabor Boy is an amazing ship with a rich history, and our affection and respect for this magnificent vessel, and her suitability to take Tabor students safely to sea, remain as strong as when she arrived on our shore in 1954.