A family’s Friendship, a fleet’s friendly ways

Posted Wednesday, September 5, 2012 in Features

A family’s Friendship, a fleet’s friendly ways

The Friendship sloop Hegira picks up speed

by Laurie Schreiber

SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Three generations of Zubers are aboard the Friendship sloop Gladiator on a terrifically hot Saturday in July.

“Did you see, last night? There were, like, a thousand squids over there,” says 9-year-old Liam, who points to the sea. “It was so cool.”

The boat is tied up to a town dock in Southwest Harbor, awaiting the arrival of more family members and a guest for the Friendship Sloop Society’s Southwest Harbor Rendezvous. The blue sky, traced by the harbor’s semi-circle of wooded hills, is fuzzed by a shimmer of heat and the timeless sound of lapping waves.

Scott Martin comes down the ramp wearing the pirate’s hat that’s usually seen when he’s aboard his Friendship sloop, Eden. Miff Lauriat follows soon after, sporting a crisp white button-down shirt and cherry-red shorts, to catch a ride to his cherry-red-hulled sloop, Salatia.

On Gladiator, some members of the family wear T-shirts emblazoned on the front with “71,” the boat’s number in the society’s registry, which keeps tabs on the provenance and ownership of all known Friendship sloops going back more than a century. On the back of the shirt is the image of a gladiator’s helmet topped by an adornment of centurion plumes, and the words “Team Gladiator” and “Navigo, Cucurri, Devinco,” the fighting words, in this case, meaning, I sail, I zip past you, I conquer your butt.

Ben, who is 14, is tasked with making sure the lifejackets are handy.

“Two years ago, a boom swung near our boat and almost hit five of us off,” he says. “No one’s ever really fallen off of this boat that I know of.”

“You should fall off the boat, to have the experience,” jokes his grandfather, Bill. “It’s a good day for it.”

The Southwest Harbor Rendezvous is part of the summer-long circuit of Friendship Sloop Society races. The grandest event on the circuit will occur a week later, with the Homecoming, in Rockland, where the sloops will figure in three days of racing, a parade of sail, and an open house for the public at the docks.

The Zuber family has sailed Gladiator at the Rockland Homecoming almost every year since they bought the boat 45 years ago. The society was formed in 1961 by Bernard MacKenzie of Scituate, Mass., who owned a Friendship sloop named Voyager. According to a history written up by Betty Roberts, an early member of the society, MacKenzie sailed Voyager in a Boston Power Squadron race in 1960, and won. This inspired him to have a homecoming race in Friendship, which was a center of this type of boat construction in years that bracket the turn of the 20th century. The society’s first race drew 14 sloops, and the registry listed 22 members. Today, the registry totals 281 boats, including a fair amount of the original sloops and many wood and fiberglass reproductions.

Races moved to Boothbay Harbor in 1985 to accommodate the growing fleet, and again in 1995, to Rockland. The race series this year includes Rockland, Southwest Harbor, Pulpit Harbor, and Marblehead and Gloucester, Mass.

The Zubers added the Southwest Harbor Rendezvous to their racing ways a few years ago.

“We like this race,” says Bill, the family patriarch, who sports a goatee and mustache. “It’s very informal and there’s not as much blood-and-guts kind of stuff going on. It’s just a real fun thing.”

Bill and his wife, Caroline, bought Gladiator when the boat was 65 years old. At the time, the couple lived in New Jersey. They later moved to Friendship, and their three sons were raised with the boat as a kind of older sister. Their youngest, Andy, began sailing on Gladiator when he was in the womb, and now, according to his family, it’s hard to wrest control of the vessel from him. Ben and Liam are Andy's sons, and they, too, have been sailing from their pre-birth days.

Ben and Liam explain that they get to take the helm sometimes, but not when the race gets serious.

“When my dad’s racing, he just goes into a mode,” says Ben. “Nothing else matters except racing.”

“When you try to talk to him he just goes, ‘Shh!’ ” says Liam.

“And he’s a little more aggravated,” says Ben. “But we still love him.”

At age 110 this year, Gladiator is the second-oldest known Friendship sloop. Alice E., which lives in Southwest Harbor, is the oldest.

Gladiator was built in 1902 by Alexander McLain on Clam Cove in Bremen, and was used for long-lining swordfish and working offshore in the cod fisheries, as well as for lobstering. Daniel Simmons of Waldoboro bought the boat for $450. Mrs. McClain sewed the sails.

Alice E. was built in 1899. Its documentation, describing its early fishing and later yachting days, goes back to the early 1900s. Alice E., 42 feet overall, was first used as a working lobster boat.  In the 1930s, it was purchased by a doctor and renamed Depression. The boat sold at one time for $15. Although renowned Friendship sloop builder Wilbur Morse’s name is mentioned in the earliest document, the boat’s provenance is unknown. Today, Alice E. is owned by Karl Brunner and is part of his commercial charter fleet.

A century ago, McLain and Morse were two of the biggest names in the Friendship sloop-building world. The towns of Friendship and Bremen are on Muscongus Bay, and there were other builders of repute in those towns and elsewhere around the bay, where the design was developed for commercial fishing, be it lobstering, seining for herring, hand-lining for cod, sword fishing, or mackereling.

“It is certain some of these fishermen had seen a Gloucester fishing boat, and being impressed with the lines, had incorporated some of its features into their own hull designs,” Roberts wrote in her history. “These men did not build a ‘class boat’ where every hull is the same length. From existing records we find that the original builders constructed sloops varying in length of 21 feet to 50 feet. Probably the average length would be about 30 feet to 40 feet. The basic design was scaled up or down depending on length, and followed a pre-set formula. They all had an elliptical stern, and most of them a clipper bow, and were gaff-rigged.”

Wilbur Morse is regarded as “father” of the sloop because of the large number that came from his shop.

“Because of Wilbur's mass production and his shop being in Friendship, this great sloop acquired the name of the town he was building in,” Roberts wrote.

In the early 20th century, the advent of motors and modern equipment lured fishermen away from the sailing sloops. But yachters turned their attention to the boat’s fine lines and reputation for seaworthiness.

According to one of the boatbuilding world’s “bibles,” Howard Chapelle’s "American Small Sailing Craft," the sloop evolved from a centerboard boat to a deep-keel hull. As the sloop grew in size, double headsails came to replace the old single jib.

“The small sloops were jib-and-mainsail boats; the larger ones, often as  long as 36 to 40 feet on deck, had a staysail and jib and often a fidded topmast carrying a gaff topsail and, usually, a jib topsail as well,” Chapelle wrote.

The design’s low sails, great beam, and deep draft gave it a good reputation in heavy weather; by the mid-20th century, this led to the conversion of many of the boats into cruising yachts.

“This was their great quality — they would bring you home as well as they took you out,” wrote Chapelle.

Mount Desert Island has what is said to be the largest concentration of Friendship sloops anywhere in the world. At least a dozen of the sloops live within 10 miles of Southwest Harbor. And today’s premier builders of the sloops live in Southwest Harbor. Ralph Stanley, and now his son, Richard Stanley, have built and restored wooden sloops for many years. Jarvis Newman is known for his fiberglass versions.

Ralph Stanley, who is a 1999 National Heritage Fellow under the National Endowment for the Arts, and who is now retired, was one of the last remaining builders of wooden boats in the age of fiberglass. He built Friendship sloops ranging in size from 19 feet to 36 feet, some of them seen regularly in local waters. Richard Stanley was largely responsible for running his father’s shop in recent years, and now has his own boatbuilding business, where the vintage Friendship sloop Westwind, built in 1902 by Charles Morse, has been undergoing rehabilitation.

Newman created fiberglass versions of the sloop. The 25-foot fiberglass sloop became known as the Pemaquid, although the original Pemaquid referred to a keel model of the Friendship sloop that was first produced in the early 20th century. Thanks to documentation made available by the Watercraft Collection of the Smithsonian Institution and then published by Chapelle, the Pemaquid is a mainstay for many aficionados who want to build their own. Newman created the mold for the fiberglass line some 40 years ago, from a wooden sloop called Old Baldy, which was built in 1965 by James Rockefeller Jr., who owned a boatbuilding shop called Bald Mountain Boat Works in Camden. At the time, Newman gave Rockefeller free storage at his own shop in Southwest Harbor in return for letting him take a mold off the boat. He went on to produce 20 Pemaquids. Old Baldy ended up sitting in a barn in New Hampshire, out of the water for a decade. But Newman kept track of the boat, and bought it in recent years. He restored it, and launched it in time for the Southwest Harbor Rendezvous in 2011.

In the late 1970s, Newman restored one of the original sloops, named Dictator, a 31-footer that was built in 1904 by Robert E. McLain. Once he finished, he took a mold off the hull and, over the years, built numerous fiberglass reproductions. The original Dictator today belongs to a film industry professional who splits his time between Deer Isle and Burbank, Calif.

On this hot July day, many of Stanley and Newman’s sloops can be seen prowling around the start line, which is also the finish line, off the north end of Greenings Island. Not coincidentally, the line is pinned down at one end by Ralph Stanley’s motoryacht Seven Girls. Stanley serves as the race committee chairman, aided by committee colleagues Jill Schoof, the timer and statistician, and Rodney Flora, the cannoneer, who themselves own a Friendship sloop, Wings of the Morning, built in 1967 by Roger Morse. All are seated in deck chairs comfortable enough to wait out a couple of hours of racing.

In 1979, Stanley built Endeavor, which is now cruising onto the race course under the helmsmanship of Skip Fraley. Endeavor’s owner, Betsey Holtzmann, is passionate about the open air and the sea. The boat is a dependable sight on the course, but was almost lost in 2001, when it sank during the Rockland race. A strong gust of wind and sloppy sea conditions, aggravated by a bilge pump that had been switched off without the skipper’s knowledge, and poorly stowed backpacks carrying a couple of hundred pounds of stuff, flipped the boat. Five people went over, picked up minutes later by Stanley. The 25-foot boat went down in 110 feet of water, along with Holtzmann’s “second home” worth of stuff, stowed below: a library of children’s books for her son, sea-themed craft works by area artisans, childhood mementos, her son’s silver baby cup.

Holtzmann hired a salvage operator who, after many passes, found the boat a month later, sitting upright, embedded three feet deep in mud. The boat was hauled up, fixed up, and ready to sail the following summer. Many of Holtzmann’s treasures were still in good condition.

Today, Newman’s Old Baldy is back on shore. But other Pemaquids are sailing into sight. Regulars from Massachusetts include Banshee, owned by Carole and John Wojcik, and the full-bellied Hegira, dressed in green and ribboned in gold, owned by Laurie Raymond. There’s Osprey, built in 1973 and one of two Pemaquids used in the making of the Jim Carrey movie “The Truman Show.” One was destroyed during the movie’s storm sequence. Osprey survived the movie and now belongs to Steve Hughes of Southwest Harbor. At the moment, though, Newman can be seen at Osprey’s helm.

One of Newman’s most cherished Pemaquids is surely Salatia, owned by Miff Lauriat and Marjory Russakoff of Southwest Harbor. The red hull stands out on the water, and Lauriat, as the organizer of the Southwest Harbor Rendezvous, is one of the society’s most enthusiastic voices.

The local boat Eden, owned by Scott Martin, is a 25-foot wooden Pemaquid built by do-it-yourselfer Ed Coffin of Owl’s Head in 1971. Coffin wrote a book about his project, which shaped up in what he called his “Tug and Grunt Boatyard” and which involved a fair amount of blue car-body putty. Coffin called the boat Ray of Hope for his wife, who was alcoholic. One day, Coffin said, he hoped his wife would recover.

That didn’t happen. In the meantime, the boat was sold to another owner for the charter-boat trade. Martin, who also has struggled with alcoholism, worked aboard the boat for a time, then bought it some 15 years ago. The boat soon came to represent his own shot at redemption — the one thing he was able to hold onto through the years, as he lost everything else. In 2009, Martin was approached at a dock by an elderly man who recognized the boat. It turned out to be Coffin, who shared his story. Shocked by the connection, Martin re-dubbed the boat Eden’s Ray of Hope.

The venerable Alice E. stirs a certain nostalgia with its arrival on the course. It is accompanied by the Helen Brooks, also owned by Karl Brunner and previously named Baschert, Yiddish for “destiny.” Brunner renamed the boat after his grandmother, who helped him get his excursion trade started in 2002. One of the largest boats in the fleet, at 42 feet overall, Helen Brooks was built in 1970 by another big producer of Friendship sloops, Bruno and Stillman Inc. of New Hampshire.

Two other boats that serve the tourist trade are usually given the day off so they can join the race. One of them is Chrissy, a 1910 Charles Morse build, owned by Ed Zimmerman and operated in Bar Harbor. Another is Surprise, owned by Steven and Andrew Keblinsky. Surprise was built in Round Pond, using local oak and cedar trees, and has continuously sailed Maine waters since 1964. First employed as a lobster boat fishing from Monhegan Island, and also carrying firewood, it entered passenger service in 1979, and was later donated to the Atlantic Challenge Foundation in Rockland.

On the Dictator model Gaivota, the society’s vice commodores, Kathy and Bill Whitney, raise linen-colored sails up the boat’s hefty wooden mast; they have outfitted their boat with an old-fashioned gallery rail that encircles the cockpit.

Gladiator is able to proclaim itself as “the Friendship from Friendship,” meaning that Caroline and Bill Zuber live in the coastal town by that name. The boat has a hearty aroma of old wood and salt.

“We put a lot of salt in her. It keeps her from gathering rot and things,” says Bill.