Manatra is not a pre-historic bird, nor is it a religious chant. MANATRA is an acronym for:
MArine NAvigation and TRaining Association
In 1946, following the end of World War II, a group of Coast Guard reservists formed MANATRA in order to provide an opportunity for retired or discharged military and merchant marine personnel to practice seamanship and leadership skills aboard a vessel. Applying to the Navy for consideration under the Navy’s excess equipment program, the group went to the Brooklyn Navy Yard and resurrected a 110-foot Navy submarine chaser in very bad condition. Using their own skills, and the skills of ex-Navy and Merchant Marine volunteers who joined the group, the vessel was brought to seaworthy condition and named MANATRA I. During these early years, the vessel was docked on the North Branch of the Chicago River, eventually moving to the old Randolph Street Naval Armory which was, at that time, just South of the locks on the Chicago River.
In the 1950’s, members began to bring their children aboard. Some of these young people were members of the Sea Scouts or Boy Scouts, and those groups began to develop an interest in MANATRA. A Sea Scout group chartered the vessel for a week in 1963 and the relationship with Sea Scouts began to become more formal. During the 1960’s, MANATRA ran eight-day cruises from Chicago to Mackinaw Island for members and Sea Scouts, using the trips for training in seamanship, watch standing, and navigation. Eighteen to twenty-two young people were aboard for each voyage. Young people learned both skills and responsibility from adults with years of sea experience.
In 1970, the organization obtained the use of a 125 foot retired US Coast Guard cutter built in 1927 (USCGC McLane WMEC-146). After bringing the ship, MANATRA II, from Orange, Texas, to Chicago via the St. Lawrence Seaway, volunteers were able to continue and expand the training programs for young people from throughout the Chicago Area. During the 1970’s the United States Naval Sea cadet Corps began underway training. The NSCC is a national organization for young people ages 11 to 18 and has units located nationwide, one of those early units was located in the Naval Armory, where the ship was docked.
In 1989, MANATRA II had outlived her usefulness, and at the age of sixty-two years, was retired. She is being restored and is on display in Muskegon, Michigan at the Great Lakes Maritime Museum. The organization was then able to obtain an 80-foot Yard Patrol vessel, originally built in 1974 for use by the Navy as a training vessel for naval midshipmen and officer candidates. MANATRA III is currently docked in the turning basin of the Chicago River, just west of the Chicago Police Department Marine Unit Headquarters.
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