Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Essex Side Launch Set for July 9 at High Tide (6 to 7 p.m.)

Photo taken July 6 at 8 a.m.

Stop the Presses! No, seriously I have included a press release on the launch and if any of you readers need any information please read this or it is also best to go to the Essex Shipbuilding Museum website as they will be hosting a kind of festive day with music, food and the best viewing. The day of the launch is close! Everything is going pretty well, fingers crossed, and it should be a spectacular splash!

Burnham Boatyard, 11 Burnham Court, Essex, MA 01929


Point of Contact: Laurie Fullerton, 978-290-7235,

For Immediate Release June 29, 2011

Unique Essex Side Launch of Wooden Schooner Set for July 9 -

Vessel Will Careen Down the Ways and Hit the Essex River Basin with a Splash

Essex, MA - On Saturday, July 9 between 6 and 7 p.m. a historic Essex side launch of a 50-foot double sawn frame, two-masted, wooden schooner will take place at the Burnham Boatyard in Essex, MA. Ardelle was built by Harold Burnham, 44, of Essex who is an eleventh generation Master Shipwright. He will launch the vessel using the Essex side launch - where the massive schooner is literally leaned on its side and sent careening into the river basin.

Burnham is part of a shipbuilding legacy that dates back to the first settlers of Essex in the 1600s. With Essex’s long history as a shipbuilding town, where generations of shipwrights built vessels on the banks of the Essex River using the unique Essex side launch technique over three centuries..

"Essex shipwrights always used the simplest method they could to get the finished boat out of the way of the one they were about to start," said Burnham "The most popular method in Essex was called a side launch. Side launches were carried out by just leaning the vessels over onto a single way and skating them into the water on their own keel and one bilge."

"Of course, in today’s world the idea of sending a hundred tons of oak sliding on one side over smoking grease sounds dangerous, but that is only because we don’t do it much anymore. Just imagine the looks you would get from a 19th-century shipbuilder if you tried to explain to him what it is like to pass a car on an undivided highway. The truth is that of the approximately 3,300 vessels launched in Essex, we know of none that was seriously damaged in a launching accident. Further, there is no record of anyone being seriously hurt or killed at one of our launchings, either.

But, that does not mean that a schooner launch is not nerve-wracking, historically fascinating, and an unprecedented and unpredictable photo opportunity and story. During the August 2006 launch of Isabella, also built by Burnham, more than 2,000 spectators lined the riverbank and where Boston television stations recorded the launch. Additionally, an AP story hit the wires on the launch day and it quickly became a top ten news item around the world.

Harold Burnham has built six large vessels including his first 60 foot schooner the Thomas E. Lannon when Burnham was only 29 years old. He later built the 50-foot schooner Fame in 2003 and the 38-foot Isabella in 2006. The schooner Ardelle is entirely designed by Burnham and many consider it to be his very best work. Burnham also built the Muscongus Bay sloop and a smaller scale schooner called a Chebacco boat which is owned and operated by the Essex Shipbuilding Museum.

Essex is proud of its shipbuilding heritage but in particular the town is proud of its native son, Harold Burnham, who has said this may be his last large scale, double-sawn frame oak schooner. He will be using Ardelle to set out into the charter business. His mastery of schooner building and this unique Essex side launch are well worth witnessing.

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