Historic schooner returns to island home in Key West
Posted: 2008-04-12 17:14:33KEY WEST, Fla. (AP) - A 69-year-old schooner assembled in Key West returned to its island home Saturday.
The 130-foot Western Union had spent the past four months in a Miami shipyard, undergoing surveys and repairs necessary for Coast Guard certification. The ship returned to the island because a local organization formed to preserve the vessel and keep it home-ported in Key West.
"The Key West flagship is home!" shouted the boat's captain, Lenn Verreau, who has skippered the Western Union for 12 years.
About 150 local officials and residents responded with cheers and applause, and musicians played seafaring songs.
The schooner launched in 1939 and served the Western Union Telegraph Company for 35 years. It is believed to be the world's only surviving sailing cable ship, according to local maritime historians.
"She is the sole remaining sailing representative of the Key West maritime past," said Guy deBoer, board member of the Schooner Western Union Preservation Society.
The boat spent 10 years as a local tour vessel until its previous owners ceased the ship's operations because of maintenance and renovation costs. In late 2007, the boat's owners donated it to the society on the condition that it be restored and remain in Key West.
Board members said they hope the ship will pass Coast Guard inspections in about 30 days so it can resume day sails, sunset cruises and charters to offset operating costs.
A fundraising campaign is under way for its complete restoration.