Ernestina-Morrissey Captain Tiffany Krihwan setting sail on new adventure

As Schooner Ernestina-Morrissey is being prepared to begin a new chapter in her working life, Capt. Tiffany Krihwan already has begun hers.

Krihwan was appointed captain and director of the ship in February 2021.

Now on the staff of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Buzzards Bay, she had been director of marine operations at Discovery World in Milwaukee since 2014 and senior captain of the Denis Sullivan, a re-creation of a 19th-century, three-masted Great Lakes cargo schooner, since 2008.

Krihwan’s sailing career aboard tall ships began in 1997, when she became chief mate of Appledore IV. She went on to serve as captain of the Schooner Roseway, chief mate of Pride of Baltimore II, and captain of the Unicorn. In 2019, Tall Ships America named her Sail Trainer of the Year.

The state vessel of Massachusetts is on the cusp of her new career as a training vessel for MMA, as well as an educational, cultural, and sail-excursion resource for the public. 

Krihwan lives in New Bedford, but spoke to The Light from Boothbay, Maine, where she is overseeing the fitting out of Ernestina-Morrissey at Bristol Marine (formerly Boothbay Harbor Shipyard). 

NBL: You’ve crewed on and been captain on many ships that tell stories about maritime history. Was the Ernestina-Morrissey’s history a strong draw for you?

TK: Absolutely, without question. The first time I’d seen her was in 2003, which is just about the end of her sailing career out of New Bedford … and she was looking pretty rough back then.

I was so excited that she was getting some work done because her history and her pedigree is just amazing. … I did not realize how well documented this vessel is. Other than maybe the Constitution, I can’t think of another vessel in the U.S. — wooden sailing vessel ؙ— that has so much documentation on her. So many books have been written about people’s experiences on board. The book “Phoenix of the Seas” (by Chester A. Brigham) talks about each one of her evolutions of life and now becoming a sail training ship for an academy.

NBL: What is your vision for the ship?

TK: Obviously, being at the maritime school, getting the cadets that are going for their licensing, whether it’s an engineer or a deck license, getting them on board. I’m slightly biased, but I feel like a tall ship lays down the best foundation for the maritime industry. All of my crew that have sailed with me and that have moved on to other sides of this industry have said that they learned so much. 

But also, hopefully getting a program very similar to what Maine Maritime (Academy) has with the Schooner Bowdoin where the science program can offer a limited (captain’s) license … that helps market them if they’re going for research and/or law enforcement.

I’m considered administrative, not faculty, though I do hope someday to help teach courses like the basic safety training … if I had to geek out over something, I really love learning about safety and knowing how everything works, and then educating people about different safety equipment options, proper use, proper storage, proper inspections.

NBL: There’ll be a community facet as well, right? 

TK: Correct. That also intrigued me — it was part of the reason that I applied for the position. When I first started out being a captain, I didn’t necessarily enjoy day sails. I don’t know a lot of captains that actually do. But I came to the conclusion I either can just hate doing this every day, or I could just learn to love it. And I learned to love at least the aspect of meeting all the people and hearing why they wanted to be on board.

But my personal favorite is teaching young people, you know, the little fifth graders coming out. Most of them have never been on a boat, let alone on a traditional boat, getting them out there. Just opening that little glimmer of possibilities. …

It incorporates every aspect of what you’re learning in school. It is STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts, and math). 

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NBL: Some people in Greater New Bedford are still smarting from the loss of the Whaleship Charles W. Morgan to Mystic Seaport in 1941. What would you say to those who fear that Ernestina-Morrissey is losing her strong connection to New Bedford?

TK: She’s definitely committed to being in New Bedford. She’s going to winter there, for sure, and then also in the legislation, there’s a requirement for us to service the youth of the area. Again, that’s kind of where my heart’s at. Working with college students is kind of like a new realm for me. So, you know, nobody likes change. I’m really good at the public thing, and I’m really good at this younger student thing. So, the college thing is new for me and I’m figuring out how to integrate that, but I selfishly want to make sure we’re getting the young students out there and opening up their world a little bit. So, I hope people don’t continue that fear … it’s still new Bedford’s boat, without question.

… The fact that she’s been gone so long, but people are still so heavily involved and concerned and excited about her, is fabulous. I grew up in Erie, Pennsylvania, which has the brig Niagara. So, Erie and New Bedford I’d say size-wise are very similar. They both have a lot of ownership of their ships and the community at large know about it. 

Now, when I was in Milwaukee for 12 years and (aboard) the Denis Sullivan, people every single day would say ‘I had no idea this was here.’ It was the best kept secret. … So just it just amazes me how these little communities — same with Bay City, Michigan, a couple other places — how much they love their vessels that represent them.

NBL: What would you say was your most exciting experience or moment aboard a ship?

TK: There’s been so many so it’s hard to narrow down. The one that comes to mind is, was I was racing the Denis Sullivan on Lake Superior, a four-day race the whole length of Superior … At the start line, this other vessel Europa and I were exchanging tacks, and back and forth on the race line, and then we stayed with each other the whole (350) miles, exchanging the lead … and then we won that race. It’s the only time the Denis Sullivan has ever won a race. … As a former competitive racing sailor, I’m definitely very aggressive at the start line … that just comes right back.

NBL: I imagine that competitive nature helps in your business, because you’re in the minority as a female captain.

TK: The tall ship industry side of it is definitely the more liberal of all the different facets of the maritime industry in many ways. You know, if you go all the way up to the chief mate position, it’s about 50/50 percentage of women to men, and at the captain level … it’s still only about 10 percent, maybe it’s closer to 15 percent now in the tall ship world. … But then you compare that to the tug world or the cruise ship world or you know, research — research is a little bit better about women is my understanding — but the other ones are very low still, 1 percent or less.

NBL: Work on the ship has been ongoing at Bristol Marine in Boothbay, Maine, for several years. Is there a launch date?

TK: Barring any supply chain situations that slow us down, she should be back in the water this summer, and back in the area this summer. We haven’t done any program planning this year because it’s such a moving target. Definitely, there’ll be a big homecoming celebration for her.  

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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