Land Ahoy Cap’n! – Czechs to sail high seas in 18th century brig

Looking for something to do this summer? How about spending it on board a fully functioning replica of an 18th century sailing ship similar to that captained by the Czech explorer, merchant and privateer Augustine Herman? The cap’n of the good ship La Grace is currently recruiting crew for the 100-foot brig, which will set sail from Suez in Egypt in a few months’ time.

The life and times of Augustine Herman, First Lord of Bohemian Manor, would make a half-hour radio programme in itself. Allegedly the son of a wealthy councilman killed in the 1620 Battle of White Mountain, the Prague-born Herman became a successful merchant in 17th century New Amsterdam (later known as New York), produced what became the standard map of Chesapeake and Delaware Bays, and founded the huge Bohemian Manor plantation in Maryland.

Herman spent several years in the 1640s as a privateer in the employ of the Dutch governor of New Amsterdam, his six-gun frigate La Grace attacking Spanish galleons and seizing their valuable booty. A group of Czech sailing enthusiasts are currently building a replica of a slightly newer ship – an 18th century brig - which they’ve named La Grace in Herman’s honour. Daniel Rosecký is one of the project’s coordinators:

“It’s a real ship - we want to sail around the world – it’s not a museum ship. It’s a functioning replica, which means we must have an engine, electricity, navigation lights, navigation equipment, safety equipment like modern ships do. But all these things are hidden, and if you look at the ship from the outside, you see a ship from the second half of the 18th century.”

The team are currently based at a shipyard in Suez, fitting the electrical wiring, air conditioning and rigging. Egypt was chosen because it’s one of the few countries where wooden tall ships are still made pretty much as they were 300 years ago – and the labour is of course much cheaper. Daniel hopes to set sail later this summer:

“We hope to finish the ship in one and a half months, and the first journey will be from Egypt to the Mediterranean. The first European island we arrive at will be Crete. From there we go to Italy, and we want to spend the rest of the summer making short trips between Italy and Corsica.”

The organisation is currently looking for volunteers – both Czech and others - to help complete the ship in time, and those who join in will be rewarded with a day on board, sailing around the Mediterranean. Daniel Rosecký says he’s trying to get Johnny Depp – who played Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean films – to launch La Grace in true high seas fashion.