‘We will restore her’: Iconic Maine sloop rescued from trash heap

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ROCKLAND — A crowd of boating enthusiasts welcomed the arrival Dec. 2 of the newest addition to the Sail, Power and Steam Museum — a circa-1900 Friendship sloop.

Noel March, the newly elected commodore of the Friendship Sloop Society, said the Blackjack may be one of the two oldest Friendship sloops in the world.

Capt. Jim Sharp, who along with his wife Meg Sharp, operate the museum on Rockland’s South End waterfront said the Blackjack will require a lot of work to restore it to its original condition.

“Her keel is bent, her decks are rotting and her rigging is in tatters. But we will restore her for the state of Maine,” Sharp said.

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March said the Blackjack is special because it was one of the 500 Friendship sloops built by its original designer, Wilbur Morse, at his boatyard in Friendship. The 500 sloops were built between 1890 and 1910. The Blackjack was built in 1900.

“He was the Henry Ford of boats,” said Bill Zuber who has owned a 112-year-old Friendship sloop for the past 50 years.

The Friendship sloops were meant to be extremely seaworthy because they were often used by island residents for lobstering, catching cod, visiting other families on other islands, or to transport cows. March said they also were designed to be handled by one person. They were the primary boats used for lobstering until boats were equipped with engines which became widespread after 1910.

According to the society’s website, the Friendship sloop originally was developed as a working boat and fishing platform, but has survived as a type of vessel and become recognized as an American sailing classic. The original sloops varied in length from 21 feet to 50 feet, but the average length is between 30 and 40 feet. They all have an elliptical stern and most have a clipper bow.

The Blackjack, which has a 33-foot long deck, has not been in the water since before 2006 and has been stored in Bristol, Rhode Island, since it was bought in 2010 by Kelly and Diane Magee. But after determining that restoring the sloop was beyond their resources and expertise, the Magee’s put out a call to members of the Friendship Sloop Society to see if anyone was interested in acquiring the Blackjack.

March was very interested in saving the vessel. He had learned to sail aboard the Friendship sloop Dirigo off the town of Friendship when he was a youngster.

Now as the commodore of the society he also had met Sharp and “we quickly found a common interest and shared vision.”

That shared vision was to preserve Friendship sloops such as the one being offered by the Magees. March contacted them and the Magees agreed to donate the vessel to the Sail, Power and Steam Museum, a nonprofit organization created by the Sharps in 2009.

Capt. Sharp said he expects the restoration will take three years to complete. The timetable will depend on the number of volunteers who step forward to work on the Blackjack, as well as the amount of grants and donations received.

March, who also is the U.S. Marshal for Maine, said the donation and restoration project are occurring as the museum and society are nearing an agreement to have the museum become the home for the Friendship Sloop Society. The society’s records and memorabilia already are being stored at the museum at 75 Mechanic St.

The nonprofit society was founded in 1961 to both preserve existing sloops and encourage the construction and sailing of sloops. The society now has nearly 300 members.

“This is a happy alliance between two organizations that have a common mission and shared vision to preserve the sailing heritage of Maine,” March said.

People wishing to help with financial assistance can send checks to the Sail, Power and Steam Museum, 75 Mechanic St. Rockland, ME 04841, care of the Blackjack.

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