Our new exhibit TUGS! officially opened amid a day of special events on May 22 as part of TUGS! Blast Weekend. It was a fitting tribute to tugboats and to the companies that manage the versatile and important vessels world-wide. I hope that you’ll have a chance to visit the exhibit first hand, and if you have and you enjoyed it, please tell your friends that it is a must see! Kingston II (K2) has made us all proud as she now serves as the beacon for the Museum and the exhibit, welcoming visitors at the south gate. It has been a popular change to the Museum’s landscape, and it’s just one in a number of different ways that K2 has served her owners over time, beginning with Electric Boat.
May and June are the bridge months that take us from the quieter months to the busiest of months, and June is the month that returns us to one of the core elements that defines Mystic Seaport: wooden boats. We kick things off June 5th with the Small Craft Workshop and then wrap up the month with The WoodenBoat Show, June 25-27. In essence this month is the celebration of vessels and craftsmanship from working boats to dinghies and from large sail boats to runabouts. It’s a great time to be at Mystic Seaport!
While of interest to the tourists and casual visitors to the Museum, these two events resonate deeply with our members and wooden boat friends everywhere. Not everyone necessarily understands our love of and fascination with wooden boats, but I think they come to appreciate the elements that connect so deeply to this aspect of maritime culture as a result of the energy and focus arising from these two events. Where else can one see such a concentration of history, skill, and passion?
My love of wooden boats stems from my grandfather’s introduction to sailing and wooden boats on his large Crosby cat, Hull Down (former Sea Hound) which he sailed out of Vineyard Haven. Even though I was very young, I can still remember the scope of the cockpit and the smell down below….that unique combination of damp, old wood, the old coal stove, and old stowed gear. I learned to steer with that undersized wheel under the watchful eye of GrandBob, and I suspect it was then that I connected with that wooden boat genetic code within most of us. We soon moved to Maine, and Dad found a Friendship Sloop being built at Newbert & Wallace that needed an owner. Once launched about a year later, the Sarah Mead became the family boat that I, along with my three siblings, grew up on. Of course, the open cockpit was good for a family of six.
It’s hard to beat a childhood of sailing a Friendship throughout Penobscot Bay. We learned so much from the sea and the boat herself, a proud representation of a Maine way of life. As we got older we came to deeply appreciate Sarah Mead as an important cultural symbol, as our friends sailed fast fiberglass vessels (on which we raced!). Once a year we had the good fortune to rendezvous with other Friendships and like-minded folks. The Friendship Sloop Days were (and are) both a celebration of Friendships and a way of life; they are a chance to pass on to the younger generations an understanding of the importance of preserving Friendships and the culture of the Maine coast. I’m fortunate to have been part of that culture as a boy, and it certainly had an impact on my values and development.
All this leads me to the Estella A – the Friendship Sloop (or Maine Sloop) that has been a part of the Museum’s collection since 1957. Like many of our vessels she is a beautiful representation of her class….built by R. E. (Rob) McLain in 1904, and restored by Newbert & Wallace in 1970-72. Seen in many Mystic Seaport photos over the years, Estella A is a classic and in fact graced the cover of Maynard Bray’s first edition of Watercraft. Also like many of our vessels, she needs a significant amount of work. While still in the water, she rests largely unseen under cover at the Shipyard waiting for enough donors to support her restoration work. While she is one of many behind the priority of the Charles W. Morgan, I hope that before it is too late we will find a core of willing participants in her renewal.
So enjoy this month at Mystic Seaport and all things wooden, and revisit the connections to your roots.