Monday, October 15, 2012

Equinox on the Ardelle

September 22, 2012
Gloucester, Massachusetts

… and there we were
in a mackerel schooner,
a fine stout vessel of forty-three tons,
whose name I forget.

    HDT Journal, July 27, 1851

Today, we were leaving for home -- but first, we had an appointment with the Ardelle.
The Last Day of Summer dawned foggy grey and damp, but I didn’t care.
We were all packed, and headed down to Maritime Gloucester.
Mom went a-shopping on foot, and Rick and I went down to where Ardelle was docked.

(We had been here a few days ago, and had seen two men aboard, kneeling in wood-shavings and scratching their heads. Hmm.)

That morning, as we bought our tickets, the woman at the register mentioned that Harold Burnham had been nominated for -- and received—a National Heritage Fellowship Award. It’s the highest national honor one can receive for Traditional Folk Arts.  (Read all about why Harold Burnham received his award, here.)
The ceremony would be in early October in Washington, D. C.
The great thing was, she said, was that Harold planned to sail the Ardelle down there to accept his award.

Today, we were about to sail on her ourselves.
While nibbling what was left of my ginger (still unsure of my seaworthiness),
I met with a tough old ginger cat who seemed to be in charge of this particular dock.

Eventually he allowed me to scratch his head.
Just as I thought – that gruff exterior was all for show.


We watched from above, as one of the men we had seen before, and a younger fellow, were doing some last-minute tidying-up of the Ardelle.
And then it was time to go!

Unlike Henry Thoreau, I will not soon forget this “fine stout vessel.” The Ardelle embodies an older design than the Lannon, and is slightly shorter too, with a rakishly pinked stern. It’s the sort of schooner made in the 1800s for coastal mackerel fishing, and she weighs in at around 45 tons. Probably very similar to the boat that Henry T. climbed aboard in 1851, his shoes in hand and pants rolled up.

The crew of two were Captain Harold Burnham, and pilot Zach Teal. It turns out that Harold and a crew of six were leaving for Washington this very afternoon, so we were on the last public sail of the season.

Harold is a local hero. Extremely talented, yet modest in manner. The qualities I had been admiring about the boat itself are perhaps reflections of his dedication to it. He had built other wooden vessels, including the Lannon, but this one was a real community project. (for the story of the Ardelle, see here.)

It was near calm this morning, as the Ardelle motored out into the harbor and raised sail. The landmarks of Gloucester harbor were misted in grey.

We were peppering Harold with questions, and he was trying to get some new radar gear to work. He didn’t seem too annoyed.

                                          Only momentarily perplexed

I actually sat there next to the binnacle, and told Harold that compared to the Lannon, I liked his boat “because it was funky,” … meaning that it had character.
I hope he didn’t take it the wrong way. 


Zach was a volunteer who helped build the Ardelle. In fact, it was he who rode her down the ways for the exciting side-launch back in Essex last July.
He still has a year of high school to go. He plans on attending a maritime academy.
Even out past the Dogbar, the seas were serene. The sails sort of flapped limply. Still, the cut of the Ardelle makes her act differently than the long and lean Lannon. We pitched AND yawed this time, with every passing boat’s wake.

In contrast to my apprehensions, I really liked how everything was in constant motion. This vessel felt pretty sturdy, and of course we had supreme confidence in our captain/builder !
To his credit, he spent some time chatting with everyone, when he probably really had a hundred to-do lists going through his head. I was thankful that they scheduled this one last sail of the season, despite their plans.

We turned back, just about at the moment Summer ended.
When we stepped ashore, it would be Autumn.
And another adventure would begin in just a few hours.

We spent less time admiring the grey scenery, than we did exploring the boat and listening to Harold.

As we motored back on diesel power (the wind having completely disappeared), Harold had Zach steer for the cove where the Lannon is berthed. Captain Tom was aboard, and Harold tried to entice him to come along on the big trip.

It’s really something to find out you are on a little sailing excursion with a National Treasure.
Who is also, just Harold.

Still, one has to admire the pluckiness of planning this voyage to Washington.
I wish them godspeed ! and a safe journey back.

So far as I know
we did not set sail to look for things useful
but to seek honour and adventures.

Reepicheep in C. S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

[NOTE: as of today (Monday, October 15th) the Ardelle and crew are returning from Washington. You can retrace their entire voyage by visiting the Essex Shipbulding Museum’s facebook page.
They should arrive back in Gloucester late Monday or early Tuesday -
Welcome Home !


  1. Sailing the waters of Cape Ann on both the Thomas E. Lannon and the Ardelle. Those should be nice memories to take along into the upcoming winter.
    The seasickness issue used to concern me, as well, until someone told to watch the horizon which allows the brain to discern the boat's motion and eliminate any sensory conflict. It's worked like a charm, ever since. Prior to that I used to make the mistake of looking at my feet. A definite "don't do".

  2. Yes, great memories, also something to look forward to doing again. It took me 3 weeks to get around to getting this into a blog, and that's about as long as it took for those guys to sail to DC and back again !
    The ginger worked pretty well too, though the good stuff is wicked expensive. I always wonder, what happens when you are below, and can't see the horizon?

  3. What a neat post, so very different from the things in the middle west. There was an article in our local paper this morning about a wheelwright and buggy builder who keeps the tradition of hand built wooden things alive. Artists of the first water in my mind.