The schooner Roseway returned to the water on Wednesday, sliding into Smith Cove as smoothly as a foot into a slipper after a six-week repair residency at the Gloucester Marine Railways.
The 137-foot, wooden Grand Banks fishing schooner took its first run down the rails when it launched from the John James & Son boatyard in Essex on Sept. 24, 1925.
On Wednesday afternoon, the railways gang and members of the Roseway crew employed much the same technology — block and chain, suffused with human sweat equity — that sent the double-masted schooner into the Essex River more than 93 years ago.
Sometimes the more things change, the more they don't.
"It's great to have her back in the water," said Steve Kirk, vice president of the Boston-based World Ocean School, which owns and operates the schooner that has been a welcome visitor to the Gloucester Schooner Festival. "We were hoping to complete the work in four weeks, but we've been here more than six. Still, we'd rather deal with that than have to haul her out twice."
The schooner, which is hauled at least once a year for repairs, arrived on April 16, its work ticket full of projects.
The transom that forms her stern had to be repaired and rebuilt. The worm shoe — the so-called "sacrificial" wood piece attached to the bottom of the keel to divert ravenous sea worms from munching on the hull — had to be completely replaced from stem to stern.
There was interior work, as well.
"We had to move a fuel tank, which the boat was basically built around, and then put it back," Kirk said.
But on Wednesday, as the 12:58 p.m. high tide (10.5 feet) approached, it was time to return Roseway to her favored element. While some above-the-waterline work remained, it was nothing that couldn't be done with her riding high in the water.
Doug Parsons, the allegedly retired yard foreman after 42 years at the railway, was in charge of the re-launch.
"Alright, here we go," Parsons boomed out at 12:07 p.m. as he walked out of the shadows of the railways machine shop.
Roseway was bow-in on the cradle, resting on wood blocks and pulled right to the top of the railways track, its bowsprit within a couple feet of the top floor of the machine shop.
The cradle was released to begin its slow descent down the slip.
Slight problem. It didn't move.
After much inspection, Parsons decided to advance the carriage even farther up the slip and then reverse course. The bowsprit came within six inches of the machine shop before Roseway began to inch back toward the cove.
On either side, workers stood on the docks, holding lines knotted to supporting timber that ran from the cradle to the hull of the schooner.
As Roseway progressed into deeper water, the supports slipped away and the workers — starting at the bow — began pulling them away from the carriage to keep them from jamming the works.
At 12:43 p.m., with the cradle and its cargo near the end of the slip, Roseway's 400-horsepower diesel engine roared to life.
"We're not done yet," Parsons said. "We're not off the cradle yet. That's the hard part. And we don't have a lot of water."
Moments later, after Parsons and his charges had winched down the cradle bilge blocks, the huge railways chain retracted the cradle from under Roseway and the schooner was free to back under power into the waters of Gloucester Harbor.
It cleared the docks at 1:15 p.m.
Kirk said Roseway would remain at the railways at least until Friday before sailing down to its homeport of Boston. He said she will be back for the Schooner Festival at the end of the summer.
Douglas was asked how many trips this made for him down the rails.
"Five," he said.
"Five as in 500?" he was asked.
"Oh, you meant all-time?" Douglas said. "I meant that this is my fifth today."
Curious retirement, that.
Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT.