Amistad at its mooring point.
Students' slave voyage
by Tim Joyce
In the 200th anniversary year of the Abolition of Slavery Act, a replica of the schooner Amistad is recreating a voyage travelled by its 19th Century predecessor, following the slave trade triangle - from Africa, via the Americas, to Europe.
As the Amistad sailed into Bristol on Thursday 30 August, 2007, it marked a new stopping point on its historic journey along the slave route.
The ship was met at its Bristol mooring by two of its former crew, students Saphra Ross, 20, and Nadia Waithe, 22. The two girls were on board as the ship sailed from New Haven, Connecticut, on June 21, and made her way across the Atlantic.
“It’s really nice to see the ship again”, said Saphra, a law student at the University of West of England, as I caught up with her at the Amistad's first docking in the Cumberland Basin.
Relation to black history
“I first became involved in the project through my work as a role model tutor with the Windsor Fellowship [a positive role model scheme for young black people]," she said.
“I found out there were two places open for students to sail and, with my relation to black history, I was eager to be involved”.
Saphra (left) and Nadia aboard Amistad
Over the course of 48 days during June, July and August, Saphra and Nadia were part of the 19-strong crew who took the ship via Canada and the Azores, across the Atlantic.
“It was a really great experience,” said Nadia, who studies popular music at the University of Glamorgan. “I first found out about the voyage through Saphra, who goes to the same church as me, and applied through university.”
“The best part about the journey was meeting all the people, getting to know the crew, it was all amazing,” she explained.
“I went on with an open mind. People had told me it would be like this, or like that, but I went on expecting the unexpected, and really enjoyed myself.”
The girls weren’t treated to a luxury Atlantic crossing though - they were fully fledged members of the crew and were expected to do their share of the work.
“The ship runs 24 hours a day, so the crew have to as well,” said Saphra. “We split up into different watches, you could be steering the ship, or on bow watch, making sure nothing was in our way.”
Whales and dolphins
“The 3am to 7am shift was the worst, especially because it usually went on until 9am, when you'd actually finished work,” said Nadia.
“When you were doing bow watch you would see lots of whales and dolphins swimming alongside the ship, which made up for it.”
Amistad at its Bristol mooring
“For me, the worst thing about the voyage was the head (the ship toilet)” said Saphra.
“There was no flush, so you had to pump it about 50 times to get rid of the waste. The smell was horrendous, but the one thing that kept me going was thinking how much worse it must have been for the people on the first voyage.”
The original Amistad took 53 West Africans from their homes, and along with the seven other crew on board, they would have been crushed into a boat which was smaller than the Amistad which sails today.
“It's very compact and close below,” said Saphra. “You’ve got to learn to get along very quickly.”
'Freedom, not slavery'
Both girls said they had immensely enjoyed the trip, and were thankful for everything they had learned.
“We spent two weeks on land in America having intensive education about slavery and maritime history before we sailed, it really opened my eyes,” said Nadia. “I want to start an Afro-Caribbean society when I get back to university, so this has been really invaluable.”
“For me, the journey we went on was about freedom, not slavery,” she explained further. “I got a real sense of freedom; I could see the courage and resilience of the slaves.”
The Amistad will sail from its current berth in Bristol to London, and then on to Lisbon in Portugal.
From there, it crosses the Atlantic to stop at Sierra Leone, Bermuda, and Puerto Rico, before heading back to America and finishing the journey at its home port of New Haven, Connecticut.
last updated: 31/08/07