By Gail McCarthy
---- — It took nearly 20 people just to raise the main sail, which measures 2,100 square feet.
But for the first time in nearly two decades, the 122-foot Schooner Adventure sailed in Gloucester Harbor Saturday with its 5,500 total square feet of sail. The Adventure also is poised to not only head the Parade of Sail in this coming weekend’s Gloucester Schooner Festival, but will join in the festival’s races thus reviving a piece of the city’s maritime history.
The Schooner Adventure, built in 1926 in Essex, has served as a dory fishing vessel, a passenger vessel and now ultimately as a community resource. It was among the most lucrative fishing vessels in its day.
”The Schooner Adventure is the last of the ‘Gloucestermen,’ the vessels immortalized by Rudyard Kipling in his classic Captains Courageous,” wrote the late Joseph Garland, a local historian, civic activist and author. “The Adventure is also an icon of our nation’s fishing industry and Gloucester’s 390-year heritage as America’s oldest fishing port.”
It was Garland and the schooner’s last captain, Jim Sharp, who spearheaded the return of the vessel to her homeport.
The schooner was given to the city in 1988, just in time for the Gloucester Schooner Festival, during which it won the coveted Mayor’s Cup.
It won again in 1991, but by 1994, the schooner’s continuing state of deterioration made it necessary to begin a $5 million full restoration — a project funded by the city and through private support. To date, more than $4.5 million has been spent on the project, with more than $3 million drawn from various grants.
Most of that restoration is now complete, and the Adventure will race in the Mayor’s Cup during the Gloucester Schooner Festival races next Sunday. She also will lead the Parade of Sail — this time with her sails up again. Her captain will be Capt. Greg Bailey, who recently served as captain of the tall ship Amistad.
Schooner Adventure was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1989, and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1994. In 1999. She was selected as an official project of Save America’s Treasures by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
“If Gloucester’s history is to be understood, it should be viewed in large measure through the eyes of a fisherman,” said Joanne Main, the executive director of Gloucester Adventure. “Once again, Schooner Adventure will sail as Gloucester’s official flagship and provide the community with a living symbol of America’s maritime heritage.”
Saturday’s sail actually marked the second time the boat was on Gloucester Harbor at full sail after 19 years; the restored vessel’s maiden voyage was done quietly on Aug. 10.
“The Saturday sail was the second shakedown of sort,” said Beth Welin, the education coordinator. “We didn’t want to go out Labor Day weekend without having done it at least just once. We have a highly experienced crew, many associated with Oceans Classroom Foundation in Maine.”
The captain on Saturday and during the first test run on Aug. 10 was Graham McKay, from Lowell’s Boat Shop in Amesbury.
“We were like little kids jumping up and down. We were just pinching ourselves, and in wonder that this is really happening,” said Welin, who was a teacher for 21 years, primarily at St. Ann School.
The schooner was built at the John F. James Shipyard in Essex, near the end of the commercial “Age of Sail,” designed by a renowned marine architect, Thomas McManus. With its sails, a diesel engine, and 14 dories, Adventure represented the ultimate evolution of the fishing schooner with its speed and agility.
Schooner Adventure was built for Captain Jeff Thomas (1875-1934), who fished from Gloucester until his death from a heart attack aboard the vessel in March at the age of 59. The schooner continued to fish from 1934-1953 under Leo Hynes, primarily out of Boston.
She fished on the Grand Banks of the North Atlantic for 27 years.
Garland, with Sharp, wrote that “... she was the very last, the Old Lady, the living ghost of the once-great fleet of American dory trawlers that put new England on the fishing map of the world.”
She was a profitable fishing boat, also known as a highliner, “the biggest moneymaker of all time, landing nearly $4 million worth of cod and halibut during her fishing career,” according to Garland.
The Gloucester schooner was the last American dory fishing trawler left in the Atlantic when she retired from fishing in 1953. Two years later, Captain Jim Sharp converted the schooner into windjammer where she sailed the coast of Maine for about the next 33 years until 1987.
Then in 1988, Sharp gave the schooner to the city and Gloucester Adventure, Inc. was formed to serve as steward. Garland was the founding president.
Now 25 years later, as the restoration nears the end, the nonprofit Gloucester Adventure foundation will continue in its mission to keep the schooner as a community resource for educational programs, special events and passenger sails likely next summer once it receives passenger certification.
The organization owes its gratitude to the shipwrights, volunteers and supporters who have worked countless hours to see this project come to fruition.
Welin said the most expensive renovation, which was completed a few years ago, was the rebuilding of the hull and deck. That work was done in about five stages as the organization began fund-raising in 1994.
The remaining money to be raised — about $100,000 — is to finish the various “systems,” like electrical and navigation systems. The nonprofit will then look to create an endowment for future maintenance.
The last elements to be completed are the rebuilding of the fo’c’sle, galley and captain’s cabin, for which there is still the original paneling. This work is slated for the winter.
Jeff Thomas, the grandson of the captain who built the boat, is elated that the schooner is sailing again, and wanted to give credit to the power of two women — Beth Welin and Joanne Souza — who have been part of the greater effort to restore the vessel.
He noted that the history of the schooner rested in the hands of so many men.
“The schooner was named by a 15-year old boy — Gordon Thomas, the son of the captain — and so named because he said ‘fishing was an adventure,’” Jeff Thomas recalled. “The schooner was sailed by men, the captains and dorymen for many years. When her fishing life was over, it was turned over to another man for her passenger sailing era.
“Then who comes along, Beth (Welin) and Joanne (Main), and my god, they are responsible for helping to finish the restoration with their work,” he continued.
The women also published a children’s book that is selling well, Thomas noted, and they have secured many grants.
“Overall,” he said, “these two women are bringing the schooner Adventure, this national historic treasure, into her third life -- and I want to recognize them for all they have done.”
Main said that, like raising a sail of a tall ship, the restoration efforts have always been a group effort and she applauded the work of Bill Holmes, and the team he has pulled together.
For more information, visit www.schooner-adventure.org or call 978-281-8079.
Gail McCarthy can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3445, or at email@example.com.