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Tall ship to set sail despite arson damage

The painstakingly restored 1948 wooden tall ship the Black Pearl is scheduled to set sail with passengers later this week, despite being damaged by arsonists earlier this month while it was docked in Olcott Harbor.

"The day after this happened, we put the American flag up to show that this hasn't stopped us," said Amanda Alexander, who co-owns the ship with her husband, Nicholas.

In addition to excursions on Lake Ontario, the Alexanders are starting a new partnership with the Historical Association of Lewiston to give educational tours of the lower Niagara River.

The Lockport couple found the ship dry-docked in Connecticut and spent many hours repairing it to make it seaworthy before sailing it to Olcott last September. It has remained docked in Olcott since its arrival, allowing the couple and their friends access for continued restoration work.

Niagara County sheriff's deputies summoned the couple to the harbor June 12, when it was discovered that a fire had broken out at 6 a.m. on the ship. Investigators consider it a burglary and arson, as the fire was set at two points and someone broke into the cabin. Damage to the $2.2 million vessel was estimated at $10,000. A sheriff's investigation continues.

"Most of the damage has been from smoke, and three square sails were burned up that were inside," Amanda Alexander said late last week. "Our major sails are OK -- we have 13 sails on the ship. Everything was covered with soot in the cabin, but we've been cleaning it up and will do some painting. A little of the wood in the cabin was scorched and will be replaced. Some electronics were destroyed and have been replaced and, of course, we'll have additional security so hopefully, this won't happen again.

"We've already taken her out for some training and we have reservations for July 1, so hopefully, it'll be smooth sailing from here," she added.

The 73-foot-tall ship has a 53-foot-long deck and two masts -- 62 and 59 feet -- as well as more than 2,000 square feet of sail. It's considered part brig and part schooner because it has a square-rigged foremast like a brig, but fore-and-aft sails on the main mast like a schooner.

Its colorful past includes having been used by the American Sail Training Association to school thousands of sailors. It was also part of the Bicentennial Celebration in New York City in 1976.

The Black Pearl can hold up to 35 people, and the Alexanders -- who are both qualified to captain the ship as licensed "masters of sail" -- are currently pursuing certification from the U.S Coast Guard to increase their permitted capacity.

Meanwhile, they are allowed to entertain six passengers at a time and will offer daily cruises from Olcott Harbor. They will partner with the Historical Association of Lewiston to offer one-hour weekend cruises of the lower Niagara River out of Lewiston as a fundraiser for that group. Volunteers from the association will provide the narratives on the ship.

For more information, the Alexanders may be reached at 433-0410, or visit For reservations for the Historical Association of Lewiston cruises, contact (877) 754-1812 or visit


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