Niagara sails into Sandusky

SANDUSKY The Lake Erie winds blew some history into Sandusky Bay yesterday. Like a scene from centuries ago, the U.S.
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

SANDUSKY

The Lake Erie winds blew some history into Sandusky Bay yesterday.

Like a scene from centuries ago, the U.S. Brig Niagara sailed into the Dock of the Bay Marina.

The Niagara is the fourth replica of the original brig, which fought against the British in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812.

The reconstruction sails in exactly the same fashion as the original Niagara, which traversed these waters almost 200 years ago.

Captain Wesley W. Heerssen, 36, took command of the Niagara in 2003.

"We have old skills and old language on an old ship," Heerssen said.

Their mission, he said, is to preserve the skills needed to sail a square-rig brig. The vessel is a called a "brig" because it has two masts with square sails. According to the captain, a vessel must have at least three masts to be called a "ship." The Niagara is owned by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania with a home port at the Erie Maritime Museum.

At 198 feet tall and 116 feet long, the wooden brig is an impressive sight along downtown Sandusky's waterfront.

During the Battle of Lake Erie, the Niagara carried 155 officers and crew members. While it takes at least 20 crew members to sail the giant vessel today, the Niagara usually keeps a crew of more than 30 including up to 20 trainees.

Natalie Schaefer, 18, is spending her second summer with the US Brig Niagara.

"The romance is there," Schaefer said of the old vessel. "But there's a lot of sweat, too."

Schaefer visited the Erie Maritime Museum in Pennsylvania with her family at the age of 7 and was immediately awestruck by the Niagara. She spent last summer as a trainee aboard the brig and is now an apprentice crew member.

Seven-year-old Ryan Lambert of Akron wore a red bandana and carried a black pirate hat as he watched the crew of the Brig Niagara scurry across the deck.

"You have to be a really good climber," Ryan said, shielding his eyes from the bright afternoon sun to watch the crew bounce and balance on the ropes high above the brig.

Ryan and his mother Lee Ann didn't know the vessel would be in town, but saw the masts towering above the city skyline as they drove toward the waterfront.

The Niagara's return to Sandusky is sponsored by National City Bank.

"The Niagara's visit to Sandusky offers us a great opportunity to see a part of our country's history while touring the ship and learning about the crew's Spartan living conditions and some intriguing maritime history," said Albert Tegel, market president for National City Firelands District in a press release.

To learn more about the US Brig Niagara, visit brigniagara.org.

The Niagara will be at the Dock of the Bay Marina on Shoreline Drive through Monday morning.