TRAVERSE CITY — The Maritime Heritage Alliance’s schooner Madeline and a crew of 10 sailed into Lake Erie this weekend to help oust the British from the Great Lakes — again.
The War of 1812 reenactment of the “Battle of Lake Erie” today caps the summer-long Tall Ships Great Lakes Challenge 2013 celebration that has propelled more than 25 replica brigs, sloops and schooners across Lakes Michigan, Huron and Erie since mid-June.
Seventeen tall ships will participate in the replay of the 200th anniversary of the Sept. 10, 1813 naval battle that changed the tide of the war for the Americans.
Tall ships will depart today from nine ports and gather at the original battle site about eight miles from Put-in-Bay, Ohio.
The reenactment has special meaning for Sherri Freels, a crew member aboard the 92-foot-long Madeline, hand-built by MHA volunteers from 1985-1990.
According to family lore, Freels is a descendant of Capt. James Lawrence, who died of wounds suffered in another War of 1812 sea battle a few months before the Battle of Lake Erie.
Lawrence is the American hero who gave the fledgling U.S. Navy its 200-year-old motto: “Don’t Give Up the Ship” — his last order to his crew as they carried him to his death bed.
Lawrence also was the namesake of the USS Lawrence, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry’s flagship in the Battle of Lake Erie. Perry, a friend of Lawrence’s, liked the phrase so much he had it sewn into the USS Lawrence’s battle flag.
Ironically, Perry had to abandon the Lawrence after British cannon fire severely damaged the ship. Perry transferred himself and the battle flag to the Niagara.
”It’s pretty cool to have that connection,” Freels said of Lawrence. She has sailed on all the Great Lakes but never has been involved in a reenactment until this weekend. Sometimes she tires of all the preparation it takes to go on a long sail.
”But when I get on the boat, there’s nothing like it and it makes all the packing, buying and making food worthwhile. It’s so special and exhilarating, especially with a good breeze.”
During the historical battle, the U.S. Navy and its 18 years of experience faced a tough enemy in the British Navy.
But the Americans prevailed. Perry’s nine vessels defeated and captured six British ships. The battle gave the young nation control of Lake Erie and allowed the United States to recapture Detroit and win the war.
The Madeline will masquerade in Monday’s reenactment as the Somers, a cargo ship and one of several small schooners in Perry’s squadron.
It’s been a busy summer for the Madeline, its 70 crew members and six captains. They’ve sailed to tall ship events and dockside tours in Bay City, Chicago and two appearances in Ontario, Canada.
“Part of our job is marketing when do these tours,” said Woody Wright, MHA vice president. “We talk a lot about Traverse City, too.”
The Madeline also participated in Ludington’s Harbor Festival earlier this summer.
About 165 MHA volunteers worked 40,000 hours building the Madeline from 1985 to 1990. She is a twin-masted replica of a smaller 1840’s commercial vessel of the same name that served as the Grand Traverse area’s first schoolhouse during the winter of 1850-51 and later transported settlers to Beaver Island.
The largest Great Lakes schooners were several hundred feet long and had as many as five masts. Madeline’s masts are 68 and 71 feet tall and are rigged with 1,539 square feet of sail.