Although it has been an official part of the Scientology family only since 1988, it is virtually impossible to imagine the Church without the Motor Vessel Freewinds, the 440-foot religious retreat at sea, and jewel of the Caribbean that has docked in 45 ports of call open to it throughout the region while serving as the home of the Flag Ship Service Organization (FSSO).
The ship was feted in high style in June on her Silver Anniversary Maiden Voyage marking a quarter-century of seafaring distinction. The milestone was observed by a weeklong convocation of Scientologists from around the world, after casting off from the island of St. Kitts.
More than 300 awards have been bestowed in honor of Freewinds service, for its humanitarian initiatives, maritime accomplishments and charitable relationships from all the ports she has visited for over the past 25 plus years.
On the occasion of the Freewinds Silver Anniversary, monuments to the vessel were unveiled in Curacao, Bonaire Harbor and St. Lucia Harbor. The islands of Aruba and Curacao released a commemorative postage stamp. And June 6, 2013, was officially proclaimed Freewinds Day across 31 islands by the Caribbean Tourism Organization, in recognition of the ship’s crew and passengers enriching “the standard of life and well-being” throughout the Wider Caribbean Region.
The Freewinds carries four ship masters, each qualified to captain any vessel in any ocean.
Such accolades are nothing new for this ship, built in Finland and acquired by the Church of Scientology in 1986. After 20 months of top-to-bottom makeover, the Freewinds launched on its Maiden Voyage in 1988.
In 2008, the ship was fully retrofitted again, bringing it to the next level of function and beauty.
The world’s largest circulation marine industry publication, Maritime Reporter and Engineering News, colorfully observed of the Freewinds in 2009: “In today’s ‘I need it yesterday’ world, emphasis on quantity often overpowers quality, while the quick fix can supersede the correct one. Step back, take a deep breath and enjoy the fruits of a tremendous labor, a labor of love.”
That was followed by six pages extolling the aesthetic virtues of the extensive ship renovations completed that same year—described by the author of the article as a “magnificent ship renovation via elbow grease, heart and soul.” The pristine and shipshape vessel sails forth as a model of old-school craftsmanship and tradition blended with 21st-century infrastructure and technology.
And the unique quality of the Freewinds is not limited to its engines and appearance but also extends to the people who make it run. All officers and crew are members of the Sea Organization, the Scientology religious order established in 1967. Each is dedicated to service of the religion as well as highly trained in seamanship. The vessel is served by four licensed masters (compared to the usual one for such ships), four chief engineers and 18 licensed ship officers—nearly three times the usual standard for vessels in its part of the world—all in addition to fully trained and drilled crew members.
As a result of this highly qualified and competent officer and crew roster, the Freewinds holds the highest safety and service record of any ship in the region. It is the only Caribbean ship on the high seas designated by the United Nations International Maritime Organization as an official training and drilling platform to meet the requirements of the International Ship and Port Security Code. It has conducted safety and security training for more than 100 Caribbean port authorities, coast guards and maritime organizations, and instructed more than 3,000 maritime professionals, fire and police departments, and defense and coast guard forces. The ship has drilled and/or trained more than a dozen military, coast guard and emergency room rescue units and more than 90 percent of all Caribbean security personnel.
Each of four chief engineers can fully maintain all engines, generators, electrical and auxiliary support systems aboard the vessel.
But first and foremost, the Freewinds is a religious retreat where Scientologists from around the world experience advanced training and auditing. The ship is the sole location for delivery of New OT VIII, which stands for New Operating Thetan VIII, the most advanced spiritual level a Scientologist may currently attain. Scientologists from every corner of the globe travel to the Freewinds for this spiritual achievement.
Why are these advanced religious services provided only aboard the Freewinds? Because, as Port Captain Ken Weber explains, the Freewinds provides a pristine, secluded setting that simply is not available anywhere on land, allowing spiritual advancement to flourish.
Or in the words of the Freewinds statement of purpose: “To provide a safe and distraction-free environment off the crossroads of the world.”
For a Church member moving up The Bridge—the established spiritual progression in the religion—arriving on the Freewinds for New OT VIII services is the pinnacle of their spiritual journey, a significant accomplishment permitting full realization of one’s immortality. Also ministered onboard are dozens of other Scientology religious services, as well as seminars and conferences on a wide variety of subjects for the benefit of parishioners.
Speaking at the Silver Anniversary event in June, Scientology ecclesiastical leader Mr. David Miscavige noted that the ship “is where every Scientologist is ultimately destined.”
He also described the Freewinds’ “greater humanitarian mission—to create a world where all may ascend to vistas never imagined.”
Renowned for maintaining impeccable standards of maritime safety, the Freewinds has trained more than 100 port authorities and maritime organizations across the Caribbean.
As part of the Scientology greater social mission, Freewinds passengers and crew have contributed tens of thousands of hours of philanthropic work to the islands they visit, including organizing and conducting cultural programs and sponsoring drug prevention and human rights education initiatives, tied to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for young people in the ports of call.
“Scientology is dedicated as a religious movement to find solutions to the problems plaguing the planet,” stresses Weber, “and that includes the time when we’re at sea.”
The islands that help form the Caribbean network on the Freewinds’ sailing map also include Antigua, Dominica, Barbados, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Bequia, Cartagena and Santa Marta, Colombia. Its expanse covers more than 1,600 nautical miles.
From the Freewinds’ maiden voyage in 1988, it has operated on a policy of inclusion with the islanders of their surrounding ports. The ship opens its facilities to a wide range of civic and charitable organizations for meetings, conferences, benefit concerts and performances, and other fundraising events for community betterment. During its more than 3,000 calls to 45 ports, the Freewinds also hosts a full schedule of international conferences and events. Weber estimates that 18,000 people come onboard the ship annually to attend 200 events.
“It might be the Rotary Club or Kiwanis or Toastmasters,” Weber says. “It could be a music school piano recital, or a drug education seminar—everything from sports clubs to gospel concerts to jazz concerts to soccer teams. Our open-door policy supports a wide array of island activities and contributes greatly to island culture.”
Weber says the high regard for the Freewinds on the part of islanders is the result of regarding and interacting with local residents as friends and neighbors—which they are, given the 26-year presence of the ship in these ports. The ship is, in that manner, seamlessly connected to the islands it serves.
“It’s about treating everyone with sincerity and respect,” said Weber, “and the appreciation is entirely mutual. The Caribbean people I get to see day in and day out—they are a wonderful and very free society with strong family values and an infectious spirit. They create a unique environment with their love of life.”
The most expansive outreach program of the Freewinds is its distribution of The Way to Happiness, L. Ron Hubbard’s common-sense guide to better living. Through partnerships with national police and military organizations, the Freewinds has sponsored millions of copies of The Way to Happiness in nations of the Caribbean as well as both South and Central America.
A grassroots operation adopted by military and police in Colombia and Ecuador resulted in distribution of the booklet across those nations. It has stretched out from there to Chile, Brazil, Peru, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Mexico. Mr. Miscavige announced at the Maiden Voyage event that, thanks to this effort driven by passengers and crew of the Freewinds, “more than 11 million people are now living by the moral compass of The Way to Happiness.”
The Freewinds is heir to the nautical legacy of L. Ron Hubbard, whose seafaring days began as a Naval officer in World War II, and the Sea Organization that originally operated aboard the Apollo and other ships that served as international training facilities until the mid 1970s.
Today, the Freewinds sails on with the same mission that has sustained it for 26 years, committed to carrying out its broad humanitarian mandate with its social outreach programs and to providing community assistance and nautical training services to the people of the islands where it sails.
And above all, the Freewinds is the perfect setting for Scientology parishioners to achieve high levels of spiritual advancement. “Once you step onto this ship,” says Weber, “you simply leave the world behind. From stem to stern, there is nothing to divert you from the experience of training at the highest, most rewarding level imaginable. Only out on the sea is it possible.”