TALL SHIP SKIPPERS gaff-rigged, square topsail schooner based in Mystic, Connecticut. He graduated and found work in corporate administration, but it didn't take. "I hated my desk job," he said. "I took some time off and decided, 'You know what, I was happy working on the water. I'm gonna go back to doing it.'" So he put in another season aboard the Mystic, this time as a deckhand and bosun. After one thing and another — including a couple of years not sailing — he found his way back to the water in 2015. "I got very lucky and was offered a position as second mate on Pride of Baltimore II." That turned into a huge job when the II first mate left after being named captain of another vessel. "That was a crash course on crew management, maintenance management, project management and time management," McGee said. "All these things just kinda got dumped into my lap. At the end of that season, I decided I was actually pretty good at it." So he decided to go for a captain's license that winter, earning a 100-ton near coastal master's certificate. (He has since upgraded to 200-ton ocean master.) But like other captains, McGee says the certification isn't what makes a suc-
cessful captain. You need life experience and management skill to handle a crew and a complex vessel. "You have to know your limitations. You have you know your weaknesses. When you leave the dock, your passengers' lives are in your hands. You are responsible for them."
"I get to share something that I love with people who have never seen it.'' But ultimately, a skipper's job is pretty simple, McGee said. "A captain's primary job is to deliver his cargo from the point of departure to the destination, safely and intact," he said, quoting a senior captain he once spoke to. "And cargo can be people. That sets the tone for everything else." What's the best part of running a tall ship? "That I get to share something that I love with people who have never seen it or have never been able to understand what it is that we do," McGee said. The hardest part? "The uncertainty. There's
very little continuity or job security. We work on six-month contracts. At the end of the contract, you either have to reapply or you're job-hunting again." For his part, McGee, 33, is hoping he won't be job hunting too soon. He wants to be around when Call of the Sea's brand-new tall ship, the Matthew Turner, sets sail — which could be as soon as next summer. The 132-ft brigantine, built in Sausalito of Douglas fir and white oak, will carry more than 7,000 square feet of sail. Rigging is essentially complete. Installation of on-board systems — plumbing, electrical and such — is under way. That's not the only tall ship on the Bay that's attracting attention. The National Park Service is close to finishing a years-long effort to restore and refit the C.A. Thayer, a 219-ft, 1895 lumber schooner. No decision has been made whether she'll be allowed to sail on her own, but volunteers and park staff are optimistic she'll strut her stuff soon on the Bay. Interested in experiencing the tall ship life? Both Call of the Sea and the National Park Service in San Francisco encourage volunteers to help out. — patrick twohy
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The November 2018 issue of the West's premier sailing and marine magazine.