Monday, August 16, 2010

A New Schooner Rising in Essex

The Gloucester Times reporter Stephen Fletcher wrote a nice piece on Saturday about the new schooner Harold is building. Be sure and come to Frame Up day on Sept. 6 at Burnham Boatbuilding and the Essex Shipbuilding Museum!

August 13, 2010

A new schooner rising in Essex

By Steven Fletcher

Staff Writer

ESSEX — Shipbuilder Harold Burnham says he's looking to revive a piece of Essex history on Labor Day.
That's when he plans to "frame up" his newest full-sized schooner, the Ardelle.

On Labor Day, Burnham and a few others at HA Burnham Boat Building, plan to hoist the nearly 9,000-pound boat's initial frames onto the keel for the start of its full construction.

He described the schooner as having "heavy construction" — where the frame was not bent but sawn out, in a manner loyal to Essex shipbuilding traditions.

Within that tradition, the Ardelle will stand as Burnham's sixth schooner and his fifth in the "heavy construction" style.

He started building boats as a full-time occupation when his son was born in 1994 after working as a merchant mariner.

The new boat will be neither a replica nor some sort of museum piece, Burnham said he plans to use the Ardelle for charters based out of the Gloucester Maritime Heritage Center on Harbor Loop. Burnham's Boatbuilding also created the Schooner Thomas E. Lannon, which is captained by Tom Ellis and currently runs charter sails out of Gloucester Harbor from Seven Seas Wharf off Rogers Street.

Burnham also currently runs charters on his schooner, the Maine. He said the Ardelle, however, will stand as an expansion of his charter work; it's pegged to accommodate 49 people, rather than the Maine's capacity of six.

Burnham said he will begin building the vessel after the framing, which sets the skeleton of the boat in place.

Up 'til now, Burnham has modeled and planned the construction project and designed — or "lofted" — the frame. He said he's been preparing the frame since last August.

"(The frame up) is kind of a symbolic moment in construction of a vessel," he said.

In days when Essex built wooden boats as quickly as the clammers collected their shellfish, it took an entire yard's worth of men to hoist a frame up onto the keel of a schooner.

The call "frame up!" would draw men from across the yard for the lift.

Burnham stands as the 28th boat builder within his family to own and operate a shipyard in Essex.

The Burnham family built boats since 1819. is the 28th Burnham to operate a shipyard in Essex since 1819, He said that he grew up around the culture of boat making.

Burnham noted that he builds the wooden boats from scratch as well. The shop that he works in includes its own sawmill, and the boards used to construct schooners like the Ardelle are crafted in-house, along with the vessel's sails.

Burnham said he expects the Ardelle to hit water in late spring, and won't be the only one working on the project. He anticipates a number of boatbuilding craftsmen will join in the effort.

"A lot of people in the area have roots tied to boat building," he said.

Steven Fletcher can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3447, or

To read the story online go to the Gloucester Times website here.

1 comment:

  1. can not attend the keel laying and first frame for the Ardelle on Labor Day but would like to stop by and visit Ardelle the afternoon of September 8th and morning/noon of the 9th. Would it be possible to view work on the Ardelle those days including the raising of additional frames?

    I am writing an historical novel about my great, great grandfather who was engaged in coasting, mackerel fishing, oyster hauling, and packet commerce from 1835 to 1880. He was master and part owner of a number of two masted schooners, some built in Essex including Leonidas (1828), Tiara (1839), Sara E. Lewis (1850), Amelia F Cobb (1868), and Francis B Hiller (1883). One of the chapters is about the building of the Maria Theresa (1848) at the Mashow ship yard in South Dartmouth.

    While I have read Frame Up, Dubbing, Hooping, and Lofting: Shipbuilding Skills, and other books on the building of schooners, nothing beats actually seeing work in progress.

    I have visited Essex historic shipyards and museum several times, each visit a new learning experience, but those visits never included the actual framing up of a schooner. What a wonderful opportunity.

    Please let me know what I can expect on the 8th and 9th regarding construction work and ability to view the work going on. If these dates are not any good, could you please suggest and alternative.

    Your time is much appreciated.

    Rowland Bowers

    8050 Amsterdam Court

    Gainesville, Va 20155 703 732 2471