Monday, October 1, 2007

The Vessel and her History

Sparred Length 130'
Length on Deck 92'
Beam 23'6"
Draft 8'
Sail Area 4800sq. ft.
Launched Key West, Florida,
7 April 1939, 4:00PM
Builder Heber Elroy Arch
Master G.R. Steadman

The Western Union was built to replace another schooner, the John W. Atkins, in the servicing of undersea telegraph cables. She was owned by Thompson Enterprises of Key West, Florida and leased to the Western Union Telegraph Company from 1939 to 1974.

In 1938 Thompson Enterprises contracted Mr. Heber Elroy Arch to supply the hardwood and the timber and to build the vessel. The Arches framed the ship, putting in her all the ribs, the stem, the sternpost. The timbers, or frames, were of Cayman Mahogany. Her planking was built of 2 -inch long Leaf yellow pine brought over from Florida where some of the best stands of this presently endangered species grew. She was purposefully built for Western Union as an auxiliary cable laying schooner. Western Union had two engines to maintain her steadiness at sea in laying cable.

In his own words Heber Elroy Arch explains the Cayman Islands aspect of Western Union's construction. "This is what happened. They contracted with me to supply the hardwood for her. I supplied the hard timber for the ribs, the stem, the sternpost. I framed her completely here in what they call a breakdown rig. Then I took that apart again, and I took her to Key West, Florida. Then set her up, put all the ribs and everything up; and then we finished her in Key West. "The keel wasn't laid here.. all her ribs were made up and fitted and taken down, marked and shipped to Key West. There, the keel was built and we put up all the ribs and stem and stuff bolted all through. The masts were Oregon Fir."

The vessel used to take the pre-constructed materials to Key West was the A. M. Adams, a 130-foot Caymanian Turtle Schooner owned by Thompson Enterprises. Though Mr. Elroy contracted the work and did most of the initial construction, his brother Loxley finished the vessel in Key West with five other Caymanians and four men from Key West.

From 1974 until 1984 the Western Union was restored, preserved and operated by a group of Key West businessmen and maritime historians.

In 1984 the Western Union was purchased by Vision Quest who renamed her the New Way. The ship was used in a program to help troubled adolescents learn honor, self-discipline and a work ethic. In 1997 she returned to Key West and her original name was restored.

The Schooner Western Union has spent the last ten years offering day sails, sunset sails and private charters under the stewardship of Historic Tours of America.

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