State Flagship Heading For A Facelift

Mar 24, 2016

  The Schooner Western Union was built in Key West in the late 1930s as a cable tender — a repair ship for telegraph lines.

Now the 92-foot wooden boat is owned by a nonprofit. Most recently, it's been used for sunset sails and wedding charters.

But it needs repair. And the state of Florida just agreed to spend $500,000 to fix it up.

Capt. Richard Steadman was the skipper of the Western Union until 1973, when the schooner no longer worked as a cable tender. His father built the ship in Key West in the late 1930s.
Credit Miami Herald

  The Western Union is the official flagship of the state of Florida (and the city of Key West).

"I've always said as the Hemingway House is to the land the Western Union is to the sea," said Harry Bowman. He worked for six years as general manager of the schooner when it was privately owned.

The Western Union underwent about $1 million in repairs just a few years ago.

"But it's a boat. And it's an old boat. And it's a wooden boat," Bowman said.

This round of repairs will work above the waterline, replacing the decks and planking. The budget recently approved by the state Legislature includes $500,000 for the repairs. The city of Key West already agreed to kick in $250,000.

Bowman said the Western Union deserves public support because of its history — and because a trip on a historic schooner with four sails is unlike other journeys.

"When they go out into the harbor, they start raising the sails and all hell's breaking loose and ropes are flying there and sails going up and rattling and banging," Bowman said. "All of once, when she sets into the wind, she's one with the universe."