The sailing ship, “BREATH” of St. John USVI
If anyone has ever seen this ship, it is one word. Breathtaking. “Breath is life. It is very important to us all. This boat was going to be our life.” As said by Dorothy Muilenberg. Captain Peter Muilenberg’s 1st mate and soul mate. Dorothy incorporated the yoga style of breathing which was an influence to where the ship received its name.
The sailing ship Breath has had a long colorful history. The ship has been in existence in St. John for over 30 years. At 50 feet, it is the longest ship ever made on the island. The Breath was completely handcrafted, by a local resident, Peter Muilenberg. And assisted by the dedicated people of St. John.
In 1968 at only 23 years old, Captain Peter Muilenberg and his wife, Dorothy, arrived on St. John. Looking forward to starting their new life together-they chose St. John as their home, “Because it was beautiful. The snorkeling was great in many places. We both found teaching jobs in the public school,” said Dorothy. If they only knew what great things the future would hold and the profound impact they would bestow on their fellow St. Johnians!
Prior to building Breath, Peter had only built a dinghy. Dorothy says, “He loved to do wood work.”
His inspiration came from the design of the boat of a Venus designed ketch. “These boat standards were very high and shipyards would have cost too much. It was the only way we could get it.” Dorothy said. One influence was the ship named the Moon. It was built and owned by John and Gillene Frith of Bermuda. They sailed her for years with their three children. Also another inspiration, the designer, Paul Johnson, built and sailed Venus Ketches of several sizes. In the mid 1960’s, Paul created quite a ruckus in Bermuda and everywhere he went with his small ship. Dorothy says, “The Venus Ketches are inspired by Colin Archers, A Norwegian double ended rescue boat.”
Peter began to seek out his master plan. He mapped out how he was going to build the ship. He obtained the site at the East End of St. John and arranged for the transport of materials and the shipping of those materials. Captain Muilenberg received two masts of pine trees by navigating the St. John crew on an early barge which came from Jacksonville, Florida. The hull is made out of fiberglass. The boat is made out several different varieties of wood. Including; Yellow pine, teak, purple heart, angelique and lignum vitae.
It took over 3 and 1/2 years to complete this gorgeous vessel. Upon it’s completion, over 200 St. John volunteers assisted in placing the ship in the bay.
Breath has sailed all over the world with the whole family in tow. Including, two boys and a belgian dog called a Schipperke which is referred to as, “the Tasmanian black devil.”
Breath was instrumental in the shipment of antibiotics to Haiti during the 94′ embargo. To aid children suffering from serious hunger and death because of an extremist military rule on the island.
She has sailed to such places as the Mediterranean, Africa, and South America.
In 2001, she had a little accident on the north shore reef off the coast of the little island of Inagua, Bahamas. This area houses a large reef extending almost a mile in all directions of the island. Breath got caught in this reef and it nearly destroyed the ship. It was extremely expensive in trying to get the ship back home. Not only could the owners afford to transport the ship back to St. John. They had no idea how to rescue her. The folks of St. John all banded together to bring this girl home. Fundraising efforts were held and the money raised enabled the citizens to bring the ship back to its original condition again.
It was estimated that it cost over $30,000 to repair Breath. The total interior of the ship was completely rehabilitated.
Once again, the citizens of St. John worked diligently together and were able to restore the Breath back to her original pristine condition.
A St. John resident and one of the captains of Breath, Jared Warren, has aided in the maintenance of the ship for the last decade. Jared started working for Peter in late 1999 just before New Year’s Eve. One day the ship got caught in a nasty squall which resulted in the breakage of the gaff boom. Thus, Captain Jared learned how to build spars. The technique is the same for all spars of wood.
The technique to rebuild and maintain “Breath” was passed onto Jared by Captain Muilenberg himself. He helped in the replacement of the gaff boom. The technique included first making a square, then octagonal, and ending with rounding it off and tapering it. “If you don’t do that, it will never be straight”, says Jared.
“When it was time to rebuild the masts, I had a lot of experience repairing the masts on Breath. We used a combination of the classic techniques and I also adapted my own experience in the design. Getting the right material (wood) was part of what dictated my design. Once we knew what we were getting, I drew a plan and we built it. Peter oversaw the build”, says Jared. Using these particular techniques they have perfected the art of rebuilding the masts.
Jared had lived on Australia and his visa was about to expire. This is his story of what brought him to the beloved St. John. He says, “I went back to the states and did not want to be there any more. I went into a bookstore (before the internet was really kicking) and went to the travel section. I was young and impatient and felt I could move anywhere. So after about 2 minutes, I chose a Caribbean book. A minute later I found St John; National Park, sailing. No visa required. I was in St John 2 weeks later.”
Reminiscent of Peter and Dorothy, Jared and wife Angie moved here as a young couple fresh out of college. Jared had been living on the island and Angie came to St. John on vacation. They fell in love at first sight. They later married and have set out on a new adventurous journey with one another. They worked hard to survive on the tough expensive island of St. John.
Captain Jared is a man of many talents. Not only is he a pineapple farmer, real estate agent, captain and gardener. He is also a member of the famous St. John band, called, The “Ish.” His wife Angie works as part of a production company on the island. She is also owner of one of the best eateries called Sam and Jack’s Deli. Jared and Angie co-own a fabulous villa on the island called, Starlit Escape. They enjoy renting out this villa to their special guests.
Jared and Peter have been great coworkers over the years. They have also formed a special bond and relationship with one another.
“After our first long cruise to the States, we decided we wanted to live in East End. The first charters were out of there.” The Muilenbergs stated. It has continued as a charter since then. It is currently based out of the Coral Bay area.
I asked Captain Jared Warren to share some interesting stories about when he chartered and worked on Breath. This is a summary on what had to say, “We had intellectuals, rednecks, accountants you name it. I remember some good and some bad things. The good, we did a trip for a bachelorette party. 14 or 15 girls. The dinghy broke in the middle of the trip so when we went to shore at Peter Island, which is pretty fancy, some of the girls did not want to swim. So my mate Fletch and I had to put on fins and push the dinghy with 10 girls in it to shore. Of course the high end resort did not like this arrival. They still took our cash. I guess that is good and bad, but it is a memory for sure. Also remember a few times with some seriously overweight folks who we had to physically get in and out of the boat and dinghy. You have to dig deep for humility when you have most of your upper body in someones lower half lifting them on the boat from below. We had some circus performers once who went up the ratlines and did acrobatics in the rig. That was cool.”
Jared and Angie Warren still continue their legacy on St. John today.
In 2011, the Muilenberg family bid a final farewell to their beloved beauty. Captain Muilenberg has been battling Parkinson’s disease and they decided it was time to say goodbye to Breath.
They sold the ship to a family that is set on preserving the integrity and history of this beautiful sailing vessel.
It must have been extremely bittersweet to sell their baby, Breath. Many memories, adventures, and special moments in raising a family have occurred onboard of the Breath, the last few decades. It was the family’s entire livelihood.
Also, Dorothy has spent two full-term pregnancies onboard Breath. As a woman who has been through a pregnancy myself, I can’t imagine how she got around on the ship. She put total trust in her husband to get her ashore safely when she was in labor. All I have to say is God bless them both. Peter tells of a great story about the birth of their son Diego. This is included in many excerpts he has written.
Breath is a ship that is sacred to St. John. It holds a unique place in it’s history. If you go to St. John you’ll have to see this magnificent sailing creature. Take her out on an exciting sailing charter adventure! You’ll be glad you did.
Also, check out their books called, Adrift On A Sea Of Blue Light which has been a top seller and his new release as of June 30th, A Sea Dog’s Tale. Captain Peter Muilenberg offers extremely witty and heartfelt stories about his adventures at sea on Breath. He is a captivating storyteller. Best of all, Peter and Dorothy brought much inspiration to all they’ve encountered in both their travels at sea and their life at home on the most magnificent island of St. John.
The Muilenbergs recently moved to Florida to be closer to their grandchildren and to have better access to healthcare for the Captain. St. John will ALWAYS remain part of their legacy.
How the story came to be:
I reached out to Jared Warren (former captain of Breath) as you read about him in the story. He was kind enough to reach out to author and Captain Peter Muilenberg (Creator and Captain of Breath) and his wife Dorothy. I wanted to provide the most accurate information as possible and write about Breath because it is so very special to St. John. I want to thank everyone for their kindest cooperation in bringing this story to life and for providing the beautiful pictures.