Author: Alethea

‘Twas the Week Before Christmas (Tree Ship)

Captain Sabatini’s favorite Niagara event is coming up this Saturday. The plaza is decorated, the shrouds are lit, and our Christmas tree is on its way up to the fighting top.

In between bouts of festive cheer, the rig shop crew has been working on the lower shrouds: worming, parceling, and serving.

Come by Saturday night for hot chocolate, reindeer, some pretty excellent lights, and caroling! And we’ll be hosting a work party in the morning, so don’t worry: you can still fit some sanding and net dipping in before the party.


Before we break for the holiday weekend, a quick survey on what the winter maintenance crew is thankful for:

Chad: “Working here.”
Amy: “Power tools, and hand tools, and–”
Alethea: “The slide hammer. Our welder. Everything we use for pulling fasteners.”
Brent: “Pat Federici. All of our volunteers.”
Adam: “The fact that I escaped the office today and got to work outside.”
Captain Sabatini: “Good carpenters.”
Chief Mate: “Dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets and Back to the Future.”

(Disclaimer: This survey was conducted by wandering around the building for a few minutes and harassing everyone with questions, so it’s not all-inclusive. Also, Goldie wasn’t even here today, so we just made up his answer. But you have to admit it sounds pretty accurate.)

Happy Thanksgiving, all.

Getting the Band Back Together

I interviewed Amy last year around this time, and since she’s just come back to work at Niagara after a season away, it seemed like a good time to once again (lovingly) harass her with questions.

So, without further ado:

Where have you been since you left Niagara?

I went to Maine to work on SSV Corwith Cramer as a carpenter. I was there for three months; we took off sections of cap rail, did triage, and reinstalled them. Mostly, I worked on cabinetry down below, removing bunks and shelves so we could access wire runs and survey the hull. I learned about interior carpentry and finish carpentry, and got to spend time in Belfast, which is a charming little town.

That sounds like something a grandmother would say.

It’s the kind of town where my grandma would live. Well, it’s a small town on the waterfront with a giant shipyard in the middle of it. Which the locals didn’t particularly care for. Maybe my grandma wouldn’t want to live there.

And you went abroad, right?

I volunteered on Thor Heyerdahl, a German three-masted topsail schooner out of Kiel. Mostly I rustbusted and painted, but I got to hang out with Germans and get back to my deckhand roots.

Here, the interviewee paused for a dance break with the second mate—understandable, since Led Zeppelin’s Misty Mountain Hop was playing in the office.

Then I went to Flensburg, Germany, a former Dutch port that’s now home to many historic vessels. It was pretty dope.

What’s it like to be back?

I’m excited to be back doing carpentry on a boat that I love.

Here, the second mate interrupted to correct her with: “The ship that you love,” and we started arguing about whether or not it’s okay to casually refer to ships as “boats.”  It took us a while to get back on track, but finally Amy concluded:

Back on the team, man. Getting the band back together. In Maine, I worked mostly as a solo carpenter, so it’s nice to be back with my Niagara friends and to work on projects with them.

Boathouse Niagara

A few dozen rafters, a couple hundred feet of PVC pipe, an ocean of very old canvas, and roughly one million lashing lines later, the winter cover is (mostly) up. There’s still some fussing to do, but as of this afternoon, Niagara looks like her winter self.

The rafter framework. Putting up the winter cover in sunny 70 degree weather was weird, but we definitely weren’t complaining.

On deck, midships, enjoying one last bit of natural light before. . .

. . .the canvas goes up! Longtime volunteers Pat and Chuck and apprentice Mikala take a moment to revel in their triumph.

Once the winter cover is squared away, the winter crew will split into two familiar groups: Team Carpentry will start demolition work on board, while the rig shop crew will start taking apart the mainmast assembly; the crosstrees, caps, fighting top, main topmast, and snowmast all need to come off.

As always, muster for our Saturday work party is at 0830. Not only is there cool work to do on the mainmast, but there’s a bag of Oreo churros in the freezer, so you should definitely stop by.


Repair and maintenance to the waterway timber and bulwark planking is made possible by a grant from the Erie Community Foundation.

Winter (Maintenance) is Coming

After a flurry of voyages, school sails and public day sails, a week of downrig, and yesterday’s crane day, we’ve finally arrived.  Winter maintenance is here. All the yards and five masts have come down, including the mainmast and snowmast. Safety equipment, carpentry supplies, engineering and galley stores are offloaded. Now we just have to find someplace to put it all.

The Carrera Steel crane, which has become a familiar sight around the museum these last few uprigs and downrigs, had a busy day yesterday. The mainmast, snowmast, main fighting top, and main shrouds are taking up most of the plaza right now; all told, the main assembly weighs about 13,000 pounds. That pick tookmost of the morning. In the afternoon, we got both anchors, the sweeps, the deck boxes, and both carronades off the ship–and all of the ridge beams for the winter cover on the ship.

Now that the winter maintenance season is upon us, some of our seasonal traditions will be coming back, too. Soon we’ll be wresting with canvas on Cover Day, hosting Saturday work parties (Sandwich Saturday!!), breaking out the sandpaper and varnish, and picking up our favorite prybars and sledgehammers for some good old-fashioned demolition.

Today: winter cover rafters. Tomorrow: the world.



Boathouse V2.0

Remember that weird wood-and-plastic fort that lived on the plaza for a few months last winter, sheltering the foremast?

Well, it’s back! With a few more frames, a new roll of heavy-duty plastic, and a lot of fasteners, the battered old foremast cover has evolved into a boathouse that will hold two of our small boats and their masts, yards, oars, etc. over the winter.

It even has a loft. What more could any self-respecting small boat ask for?

Oh, Canada!

It’s been almost two months since our last blog post, and what months they’ve been. In late June, Niagara got underway for a rare trip down the Welland Canal into Lake Ontario, and for an even rarer adventure down the St. Lawrence to Quebec City. Along the way, the ship attended tall ship festivals in Bath, Ontario; Sorel-Tracey, Quebec; and, of course, Quebec City itself–a UNESCO World Heritage City and home of the best honey lavender ice cream this sailor has ever eaten. Also, to be fair: the only honey lavender ice cream this sailor has ever eaten. We made a surprise late-night visit to Montreal, stopped in Rochester, New York for a triumphant homecoming (more on that later), and ate a shocking amount of poutine.

By the time Niagara docks in Erie on August 8, she’ll have been through thirty locks (eight in the Welland and seven in the St. Lawrence, down and up) and prepped the ship for lock systems four separate times (everything outboard has to come inboard, so we don’t crunch spars against the lock walls; we also set up fenders to protect the channels and hull.). We’ve housed the topgallants so many times that some of trainees have pushed up masts more often than they’ve set sails. It’s been an incredible, unusual, and sometimes grueling experience. The rewards–a week in Quebec City with forty other tall ships from around the world, a massive parade of sail where we exchanged salutes with the U.S. Coast Guard Barque Eagle, the chance to brush up on our French nautical terminology–were abundant.

We’ll post more about the ship’s Canadian adventures over the next week (there’ll be anecdotes! Interviews! A picture of our very own captain meeting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau!) and let you know when Niagara is back home and open for deck tours.

Mariner’s Ball

Our biggest shindig of the season went off without a hitch last Saturday. The weather cooperated, the ship and her guests looked fantastic, and fireworks rounded out the night. Plus, as per tradition, during the last hour of the event the crew got to dress up and join the party! (I have several independent reports that the cold-smoked salmon was particularly good.)

Now the ship and museum are cleaned up, the caterers have left, and we’re back to work as usual. The sailors are getting ready for a new program and a new group of trainees, while Team Carpentry is taking advantage of the break between voyages to do some maintenance work on the ship’s small boats.

Next up: the ship will be underway again starting on 6/12, heading for Put-in Bay with our first high school trainees of the season!

Ding, Dong, The Ship is Gone

On Tuesday, Niagara got underway for her first voyage of the season. In her absence, everything here at the museum—the plaza, the workshop, spar alley, the break room—is quiet and sparsely populated. Since this voyage is the History Consortium, Niagara will be making stops in Cleveland, Toledo, and Put-in Bay, touring museums, museum ships, and historical sites like the Perry Monument. (Of course, there’s always time for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and golf carting at Put-in Bay, and dropping by a Toledo Mud Hens game. . .) The ship and crew will be back near the end of the month, just in time to get ready for Mariner’s Ball.

For the handful of people left behind, working in the woodshop or in the office, Niagara’s departure is a mix of good news and bad . Bad news: the cook left along with the ship, so we have to fend for ourselves at mealtimes. Good news: she left us a drawer full of fruit snacks and a freezer full of frozen pizzas, so we probably won’t starve. Bad news: most of our friends are gone. Good news: no more waiting in line for the showers! And so it goes.

Team Carpentry will spend the next few weeks working on small boats. Only a few days after we finished repairing Cutter 8’s transom, we realized that Cutters 2 and 3 needed some serious attention, too. And once that’s finished, we’ll turn our attention to Cutter 1, which has been sitting half-built in spar alley for years now.

(If you’re not already on our volunteer email list, get in touch at, because we have plenty of projects coming up, including volunteer work parties to help prep for Mariner’s Ball.)

Note: The alternative title for this post was “The Wicked Brig of the (Mid)west.” It’s possible that Team Carpentry isn’t actually as funny as it thinks it is.


Uprig is in full swing. The foremast and bowsprit are back on the ship, as are both topmasts, the sprityard and martingale, and the jibboom. The seasonal crew is all here, the paint floats are in the water, and every workday is a ten-hour day, at least.

Crane Day! The bowsprit, suspended in midair. . .

. . . and the foremast, too.

As always, we put a coin under the foremast when we stepped it–two coins, in fact. One was a suitable “coin of the realm,” to satisfy tradition, and the other was a Put-in Bay shower token, just in case. (We go to Put-in Bay, a lot, after all. You never know when it might come in handy.)

In the midst of all the seizing, tensioning, and hauling, Team Carpentry is replacing some bulwark planks starboard forward and rebuilding the transom of Cutter 8, our current push-boat (the boat we use to help us maneuver when we’re getting on and off the dock).

New bulwark planking

If you want to help build a brig, come down to the museum and join in the fun! There’s plenty to do, and our shakedown sail is only a couple weeks away.

The Flagship Niagara League is a 501 (C) 3, non-profit educational associate organization of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC), chartered to facilitate citizen participation and operation of the U.S. Brig Niagara and its homeport, Erie Maritime Museum.