Water Closet for February 17, 2017

[pullquote]”Burnham has given us three lovely schooners in the Thomas E. Lannon and the pinkies Fame and Ardelle that take out folks in the warmer months from area ports. “[/pullquote]Just east of us in Essex 11th generation shipwright Harold Burnham still builds wooden schooners in much the same way his ancestors and many others along our coast did for 200 years. The other night at Michaels Harborside restaurant in the once famous shipbuilding city of Newburyport, Burnham was guest of the Friends of the venerable Lowell’s Boat Shop in Amesbury. He spoke to the Friends with enthusiasm about the old fashioned skills he has become famous for. About six years ago the Closeteer, a long time admirer of schooners and a fan of Burnham’s, and a friend made an unannounced visit to the shipbuilder’s cluttered shipyard, a back yard sloping to tidewater on the Essex River in Essex, where a lovely pinky schooner named Ardelle was being built. Friendly Burnham greeted the old strangers and let explore at will and even to climb seemingly rickety staging. it was no doubt perfectly good staging but what staging isn’t questionable to rickety old guys in their 80s. The visitors climbed to where a couple of helpers were fastening the last planks of the about fifty foot long handsome hull of a type common two centuries ago. The Ardelle is a pinky (pointed at both ends) schooner, of a type once called Chebacco boats for the old name of the eastern part of Ipswich before it became Essex. The Middleton Steam Teamers spent a happy hour marveling at the heavy oak frames and planks being fastened with wooden trunnels (corruption of tree nails) to them. Except for the modern tools it was an 1820 scene. Some of the tools scattered about were jury rigged for their jobs. No one lectured them on safety or restrictions. A couple of times boss shipwright Burnham took the time to kindly answer their questions. They treasure that time with a talented man sharing the genes of scores of shipbuilders going back three centuries.

Pinky schooner Ardelle is seen here being built the old way in Essex by shipbuilder and designer Harold Burnham and crew. The ship can be clearly seen from the Essex Shipbuilding Museum nearby. – Middleton Stream Team photo

While talented, Burnham when a grammar school student was infamous for his messy old fashioned classroom desk with a hinged top. One of his teachers now living in Middleton, told us of teachers becoming so exasperated with young Harold they tipped his desk upside down to dump its untidy collection out. From that clutter as well as from that in his ship yard has come beauty. In school his mind was no doubt on more important projects.
Essex in the mid-19th century had 15 yards putting out schooners for the Gloucester fishing fleet. Burnham built dories as a lad under the watchful eye of family and another Essex shipwright of the Story family. He still calls his schooners “boats”; some picky about words call them ships. Burnham seems not to have a bit of picky in him. He talked to the audience at Michaels straight forwardly in words all could understand. His enthusiasm and good nature stimulated many chuckles. For some time now he has been helping to restore, refurbish, rebuild, replace, and salvage the famous schooner Effie M. Morrissey; later the Ernestina-Morrissey and now usually just Ernestina, for history and education and the fun of doing it. Burnham is obviously happy with what he does from designing vessels to finding logs for his sawmill where they are cut to size. He and his helpers put the heavy curved pieces together as in days of yore, in open air, often on freezing days.
Helping patch Effie-Ernestina for the half-dozenth time in a century was the subject of his slide-talk with his Lowell Boat Shop fans.
Effie was built in 1894 by Tarr and James Company, shipbuilding neighbors of the Burnhams on the river. She dory-fished out of Gloucester until 1926 when she went exploring in the arctic with Captain Robert Bartlett who in Burnham’s words “had an affinity for the ice.” Like all wooden vessels the Ernestina was continuously rotting and loosening up here and there. The old joke about boats being holes in the water to throw money in has long been certainly true for owners. British 18th century frigates were good for less than 20 years. The Constitution is forever being overhauled as have been the Ernestina and another of Gloucester’s champion schooners, the Adventure, on which Stream Teamer Glenn Bambury’s father Tom fished mid last century.
The Ernestina is now in a Boothbay Harbor, Maine, yard being made seaworthy for her owner the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Burnham has long been active in her revival. After his talk, he fielded questions about the expense and whether a ship with a tiny percent of her original wood that had sailed in the Atlantic from Cape Verde to northern Greenland and among the South Pacific Island was worth the trouble. She in her beginning 30 years was a “high liner”; her first fishing trip alone paid for her construction. After exploring in the arctic with the famous Bob Bartlett she continued to serve under him in WWII transporting military supplies and surveyors to arctic bases until 1945. After the war she was engaged in the packet trade among the Cape Verde Islands and America. She was given by the Government of Cape Verde to the United States in 1997.
Many of Burnham’s listeners hearing of Ernestina’s frequent hospitalization and transplants from keel to mast wondered about holes in the water for money. Wouldn’t it be cheaper to build anew, using the same lines? When indirectly asked about this Burnham talked eloquently for several minutes about her place in the world and the importance of getting kids out on the water for a glimpse of history on this famous beauty now owned by Massachusetts, by New England, and by many with a stake in her continuance. Burnham has given us three lovely schooners in the Thomas E. Lannon and the pinkies Fame and Ardelle that take out folks in the warmer months from area ports. Look them up online to see their schedules and photos. Captain Harold Burnham may not be your skipper on the sail but his spirit will certainly be on board from the keel up into the topsails. Before or after sailing visit Essex and see where they were born. The fine Essex Shipbuilding Museum next to Burnham’s yard will provide the details.


Precipitation Data* for Month of: Nov Dec Jan Feb
30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 4.55 4.12 3.40 3.25
   2016-2017 Central Watershed Actual 2.68 4.41 4.02 1.7**as of Feb 10

Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For Feb 10, 2017  Normal . . . 61CFS     Current Rate . . . 30 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru Jan.
** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for Feb..
Normals data is from the National Climatic Data Center.
THE WATER CLOSET is provided by the Middleton Stream Team: www.middletonstreamteam.org or         <MSTMiddletonMA@gmail.com> or (978) 777-4584