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  • Sail Portsmouth: The Captains Peacock: Father and son keep sailing history afloat

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    By Paul Briand

    PORTSMOUTH—For the first time, a father and his son will captain separate tall ships as they navigate their way up the Piscataqua River during Sail Portsmouth’s Parade of Sail on Thursday, Aug. 11.

    In doing so, it’s a homecoming of sorts for Donald Peacock and his son, Alexander Peacock, residents of New Hampshire’s Seacoast area for many years.

    Don Peacock is captain of the tall ship Lynx, while son Alex is captain of the tall ship Spirit of Bermuda. They, along with the tall ship Kalmar Nyckel and the locally based gundalow Piscataqua, will lead the Parade of Sail as the Sail Portsmouth organization celebrates the COVID-delayed return of events that underscore maritime history and traditions in this region.

    “We are thrilled to bring tall ships back to the Seacoast after a two-year hiatus,” said Phil von Hemert, chairman of Sail Portsmouth. “All three ships are beautiful to see. They each represent significant historical maritime events as well as state of the art ship design for their respective times.” 

    The Parade is scheduled to begin at the mouth of the Piscataqua River on Aug. 11 at 10:45 a.m. with the first ship arriving near the Memorial Bridge at 11:30 a.m.

    It’s an especially thrilling event for the Captains Peacock.

    “It’s very unique and a lot of fun,” said Don Peacock, reflecting on sharing the parade with Alex. “He’s got a lot of friends in the area, as we do, and we’re looking at it as a chance to provide some hospitality to the visiting ships and the visiting crew mates from all three ships and including the gundalow crew.”

    Alex Peacock agreed, noting the uniqueness of the opportunity of parading with his dad and saying, “Not a lot of people get to do that.”

    In addition to the familial significance of this year’s Parade of Sail is the historic irony of the vessels these two family members skipper.

    Don Peacock’s Lynx is a topsail schooner that replicates the Baltimore-designed and built American privateers that were so successful against British merchant ships in the War of 1812.

    Alex Peacock’s Spirit of Bermuda is a three-masted vessel and is a replica of the British answer to the fast, agile privateers such as Lynx.

    The irony, said Don Peacock, “is not lost on me. It's very exciting when we can bring in the value of and the significance of the maritime heritage that we're exposing people to.”

    Alex Peacock noted that families during the War of 1812 were displaced, ending up on either side of the conflict. “It's fairly traditional in some ways. You get families displaced all over between the Caribbean, Europe and the United States,” he said.

    During the War of 1812, the British Navy used Bermuda as its base to attack and ransack Washington, DC. America responded by allowing government-sanctioned privateers to confiscate the unprotected cargo of Bermuda's merchant fleet. Fast-attack vessels of the design of the Spirit of Bermuda were made and outfitted as a sloop-of-war in Bermuda in response to the Lynx-vintage privateers.

    “We are taking on the responsibility of realizing the importance and the significance of the potential significance of having fathers and sons, not on not only representing tall ships, but representing the British and the American angle of the War of 1812,” said Don Peacock.

    “Lynx is a 100-year villain,” he added, noting its historic role as a harasser of British shipping and its projected timespan of durability. “We sail with all the artifacts of letter of marque and reprisal that the original Lynx had.”

    A letter of marque and reprisal was a government license that authorized a private person, known as a privateer or corsair, to attack and capture vessels of a nation at war with the issuer, as it was with America and Britain during the War of 1812.

    “The Spirit of Bermuda is an incredibly fast boat. I can appreciate why they settled in on that design,” said Don Peacock.

    Alex Peacock, a licensed mariner since 2010, has had stints as captain of the Lynx. Since October 2018, he has been captain of the Spirit of Bermuda, operated by the Bermuda Sloop Foundation as a sail training vessel.

    Don Peacock started with the Lynx Educational Foundation in 2010, becoming its CEO and president in 2013 and its full-time captain in 2016.

    Seamanship runs in the Peacock family DNA

    “We have this kind of unrelated family history that connects New Hampshire, also through the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, to make Alexander, my son, the fifth generation of traditional sailors in our family,” said Don Peacock.

    According to Peacock, he has traced his family to George F. Emmons, who commanded the USS Ossipee in the late 1860s. The Ossipee was a three-masted sloop-of-war built at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and commissioned in 1861.

    The Lynx and Spirit of Bermuda, with their father and son captains, have sailed in tall ship events in the past, in Nantucket, for instance, and in Maine at the Boothbay Windjammers Days in 2021. This is a first for Sail Portsmouth.

    They are joined by Kalmar Nyckel, a full-rigged replica of the vessel that brought the first Swedish colonists to America in 1638.

    Following the Parade of Sail on Aug. 11, the Spirit of Bermuda and Kalmar Nyckel will be berthed and open for tours from Aug.12 through Aug. 14 at the Portsmouth Fish Pier.

    On Friday, Aug. 12, Don Peacock will collaborate with musician and troubadour Bill Schustik in a story-telling and musical tribute to the 1814 Battle of Nantucket, considered one of the most significant engagements during the War of 1812. That event will take place at 6:30 p.m. at the Sail Portsmouth tent, Commercial Fish Pier, 1 Peirce Island Road, Portsmouth, NH.

    Tickets for the story-telling event are $11 for Sail Portsmouth members, $12 for non-members. Online ticketing for this event can be accessed here: https://sailportsmouth.org/events/

    Public day sails will be available on the Lynx until Sunday, Aug. 14, from the UNH Pier in New Castle. Its last public voyage will be on Tuesday, August 16, during which she will make a one-way trip with passengers from Portsmouth to Gloucester, Mass., on her way back to her home berth in Nantucket. Tickets for the day sails are also available online.

    Sail Portsmouth, formerly the Piscataqua Maritime Commission, is a non-profit organization dedicated to the region’s extensive sailing and maritime traditions through the Parade of Sail, the day sails, and other activities.

    Any money raised by the organization is used to fund scholarships for its Sea Challenge program, which enables area teenagers to enroll in a weeklong at-sea education program aboard a tall ship.

    More information about upcoming events are at https://sailportsmouth.org/.