Marco Polo Project Saint John New Brunswick

Peter Walsh/Telegraph-Journal
Robert Ash is getting ready to set sail aboard the 72-foot brigantine Lord Sheffield.

Entrepreneurs get ready to launch tall ship


    SAINT JOHN - Looking down the East Coast, almost every major port city has a tourist-toting tall ship tied to its docks.
   So why not Saint John, which was once home to the Marco Polo, the fastest-sailing clipper ship of them all?
   "We have the most beautiful river system in the world, but nobody was doing this," Robert Ash said.
   And now, of course, he is.
   Armed with three blackpowder cannons and driven by a billowing cloud of square sails, jibs and spankers, Mr. Ash's 72-foot brigantine, the Lord Sheffield, will begin sailing regularly scheduled cruises on the Kennebecasis and St. John rivers in early July.
   The double-masted vessel is currently being customized and refitted at the Royal Kennebeccasis Yacht Club, and will sail from the club at the end of Millidge Avenue as often as three times per day. It was purchased last September by Mr. Ash and three adventurous friends - Rod MacBain, Ian Bashaw and Mike Alexander.
   "I knew that tall ships are attractive to some people, so I had always been keeping my eye out for one, and then this turned up," Mr. Ash said Wednesday, taking a breather from working on the boat. "It turned out to be too good to be true, and too good to pass up.
   "There are only a few boats like this in the world. It's really truly miraculous to me that I found one."
   The Lord Sheffield was built in Montreal to be the personal yacht of Bob Perrault, the president of St. Lawrence Boats. Mr. Perrault built or supervised the construction, ol more than 20 similar vessels, most of which went into service as schooners.
   But this one was different because it was a labour of love. Its keel was laid in 1968, but the vessel wasn't launched until 1984, when it participated in the Quebec Parade of Sail as a registered tall ship. It was originally named J. J. Tarte in honour of Mr. Perrault's grandfather, a member of Parliament from Montreal whc was instrumental in improving the St. Lawrence Seaway System.
   The yacht has been renamed after a 300-tonne vessel built in Maugerville for Benedict Arnold. The vessel will spend summers in southern New Brunswick and winters in St. Maarten.
   Cruises will cost from $20 to $70 per person, with the least expensive being a three-hour breakfast sail and the latter a full-day junket. The price includes meals, and excursions will be limited to 25 passengers.
   The Lord Sheffield, which is five metres wide and carries 10 sails, is currently resting beside the yacht club while its keel is being modified. Mr. Ash is overseeing myriad renovations that he promises will make it appealing.
   "It won't be your grandmother's parlour, but it will be quite elegant," Mr. Ash said, "in a rough sort of way."