George Moffett was a seagoing ambassador for Mystic Seaport
At about this time 12 years ago, when the region was preparing for the OpSail 2000 visit of the world's tall ships, George Moffett, then captain of Mystic Seaport's Schooner Brilliant, also was preparing for an ocean race.
Brilliant eventually skipped out a day early from the July gathering of tall ships in New London to join a competing event in Boston and begin a tall ships race across the Atlantic.
In the end, Moffett took Brilliant across the finish line first in its class and first in the fleet.
It was a triumph for the Seaport's 1932 classic, a 62-foot wooden schooner that is both a fine museum piece, a handsome combination of brass, bronze, teak and varnished spruce, as well as an ambassador ship, flying the Seaport's flag and training young men and women about going to sea.
"The last miles of the race felt like a miracle," Moffett emailed back to the Seaport early on Friday morning, Aug. 11, 2000, after finishing the Halifax-to-Amsterdam leg of the race. "Brilliant's crew is full of pride."
Moffett, who was captain of the Brilliant for 24 years, from 1983 to 2007, died last weekend. He was 67.
In that email celebrating victory in the trans-Atlantic race, it was typical that Moffett, always the teacher as much the sailor, remembered to congratulate the crew.
"With sadness we share the news that George H. Moffett, Jr., passed away Saturday evening at home surrounded by his family," said an email that went out to the seaport community Monday. "This followed his valiant battle with cancer over the past several years.
"George was a longtime captain of the Brilliant and well known and loved by many in the Mystic Seaport community and sailing world."
He certainly will be missed by many in those communities. His fine career was a reminder that this is still a part of the world that celebrates its seagoing captains.
Moffett recently won the Lifetime Achievement Award from Tall Ships America, the former American Sail Training Association, and last year received the William P. Stephens Award, the highest honor given by Mystic Seaport, "in recognition of a significant and enduring contribution to the history, preservation, progress, understanding or appreciation of American yachting and boating."
Moffett, who had a Master of Divinity degree from England's University of Cambridge, was headmaster of an English boarding school for seven years after finishing his studies, before returning to his home state of Illinois with his wife, Sabine, and their daughter, Jessica.
He then set his sights on sail training to combine his interests in teaching and sailing and sought out a job as mate aboard the Brilliant, which takes young men and women around New England on summer training cruises.
He eventually moved from mate to captain, and stayed with the boat, both supervising its sail training and its considerable maintenance, for another 24 years.
People who sailed with Moffett often were impressed by the careful balance he struck as captain and teacher, coaching untrained crews through the sometimes tricky task of maneuvering and sailing a 30-ton wooden schooner.
No matter how challenging the conditions, though, he remained the polite English headmaster. In one of the pictures in his book, "Aboard an American Classic," which is about the 10-month voyage in 2000, Moffett, in a blue blazer and khaki pants, appears at a cockpit celebration at the halfway point of the ocean crossing.
In the same book is an email sent back to the Seaport in which he describes repairing the ship's toilet during a storm.
"You remember that broken head?" he wrote. "It took three hours to dismantle it completely. With a full kit of spare parts on hand, we rebuilt the thing. It's probably not the first time a head has been rebuilt at sea in a near gale, with parts frequently airborne."
On shorter voyages around New England, Moffett was the even-tempered captain of a ship that turns heads wherever it goes.
One time, while sailing in Maine, Moffett once recalled in an interview, former President George H.W. Bush maneuvered his speedboat over for a closer look at Brilliant.
"We were drifting down on a lobster pot," Moffett recalled of the meeting, adding that he had to ask the president to move out of the way.
A postscript to Moffett's book about the 2000 voyage describes a warm finish to the trip in Mystic.
"She looked brilliant indeed when a small flotilla escorted her up the river," the postscript reads. "She was welcomed home by Jim English, acting president of Mystic Seaport, who led the assembled crowd in three cheers for Brilliant and three cheers for Captain George Moffett.
"It had been 312 days since Brilliant left her dock the previous July."
It's nice to live in a part of the world where the community still celebrates its seagoing captains.
This is the opinion of David Collins.
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