NMHS Mourns the Loss of Tall Ships America Executive Director Bert Rogers
We are grieved to learn of the death of Captain Bert Rogers, Executive Director of Tall Ships America and our 2017 NMHS Distinguished Service Award recipient. He was such a wonderful, good person, an influential leader in the maritime heritage community and a great friend. His death is a tremendous loss to the maritime heritage community and we send our condolences to his family and to Tall Ships America and their community, and stand by to help in any way we can.
Above, watch the tribute video honoring Bert, ever humble and passionate about sail training, at our Annual Awards Dinner last October. Below, his good friend, our Sea History editor Deirdre O’Regan, has included this short personal eulogy:
It is with a heavy heart that I share the news of the death of our friend, shipmate, mentor, and leader, Bert Rogers.
I met Bert 30 years ago this month, when I was a recent college grad with no job and he was captain of the schooner Spirit of Massachusetts. The ship was soon to leave New England, bound for a winter in the Caribbean, when the ship’s cook quit unexpectedly and I volunteered to sling pots in the galley for the next ten months. I had no seagoing experience, other than a week as a recent sail trainee that summer, and going as cook allowed me a coveted spot onboard. It was during that year and under Bert’s steady hand at the helm that I found my vocation in life and love of ships and the sea. He was a powerful teacher and leader. One of his favorite lines was that “we breathe the ether that only sailors know.” While I was in charge of the galley, I was no true ship’s cook and spent all my spare time on deck and aloft, learning the ways of a ship, learning the proper way to conduct oneself at sea, and most importantly learning how to be a good shipmate. This was all under his watchful eye and nurturing but tough captainly gaze. Over the years, Bert encouraged and taught me the ropes as I rose up the ranks from cook to deckhand, to second mate and finally chief mate and sailmaker.
If there was one thing you could complain about Bert, it was that he felt things so intensely and believed so powerfully in the mission of sharing the seafaring experience, that he never let up. Sometimes, for someone like me (a native New Jerseyan and Irish-American full of sarcasm and cynicism), it felt like too much. But for him, it was genuine and deeply felt. I admired that in him, among many things for which you could admire.
I met my husband Brian on that first voyage aboard Spirit. Bert met his wife Dona then too. Dona sailed with us the first two months in the galley and taught me what to do, as she was an experienced ship’s cook but could not commit on short notice to doing the whole voyage to the Caribbean and back. We will always share that introduction to our life loves.
There is too much to say at the moment and, for now, we are all stunned and heartbroken at this incredible loss to those of us left behind—his friends, his shipmates, his family, and the maritime community at large. Bert’s role was huge and his influence on thousands of sail trainees and crewmembers, ships, and organizations is unparalleled. To say he will be missed is a serious understatement.
Fair Winds Bert. Thank you for everything. We love you. We miss you. Love to Dona, James, and Victoria for whom this loss is truly unspeakable.