Author: Alethea

The More Things Change

So much has changed here at the Erie Maritime Museum in the last few months that I’m not sure where to start. Our first ever Tall Ship Summer Camp is winding down (only one full week left! How is it August already?) and the schooner Lettie G. Howard is making the most of her first season in Erie; not only has she been sailing with the summer camp kids and offering day sails out of Erie since June, she’s also been keeping Niagara company at ports and festivals across Lake Erie. She returned late last night from a weekend jaunt to Port Colborne, where she and Niagara joined in the Canal Days festivities. Just a few weeks before that, Niagara collaborated with the Girl Scouts for the first time to offer a two-week Destination trip on board. Twenty Girl Scouts from all across the country joined the ship’s crew as we sailed from Cleveland to Sandusky to Erie.

Back in the noise and sawdust of the woodshop, Cutter I is getting more boat-like by the day. She’s spent years as a bare hull, so it’s strange but wonderful to see her growing new pieces and parts, day by day–soleboards, inwales, stern knees, thwart risers, gunwale caps. Today Team Carpentry is patterning thwarts and adding some reinforcement to the sheer strakes. (Less than a year ago, I’d have said that most of those words sounded fake. Gunwale caps? Sheer strakes? For me, working on Cutter I has been a slapdash but incredible introduction to the world of small boats.) On a more domestic note, the main entrance to spar alley is looking gorgeous with its new paint and cabinetry, thanks to heroic volunteering from Bill, Chuck, and Gayle.

What else is new? The construction on East Front Street, just next door to the museum, has added plenty of excitement to our days. We’re still as thrilled about towering cranes, multi-story drills, backhoes, and dump trucks as we were at age nine, and it’s a privilege to see Erie’s waterfront transforming right in front of us. If you’re stopping by the museum and wondering where to park amid the orange signs and equipment, just head down to Holland Street, where you’ll find lots of on-street and off-street parking.

But the more things change. . .you know how it goes. Our resident flock of geese is still thriving. There are plenty of familiar faces around the museum, both volunteer and professional. (Keep an ear to the ground for work parties on Lettie; email for the latest schedule and information.) Mariner’s Ball was a huge success, as always, with a dazzling fireworks show and more than six hundred attendees–the most of any Mariner’s Ball to date, and all of them dressed to the nines in tuxedos and gowns. We’re still honoring Taco Tuesday, the rig shop still smells like pine tar, and Captain Goldman still has a sharp word for anyone who whistles while underway.

Taken all together, though, it’s been a pretty eventful summer. And it continues.

Departures and Arrivals

In mid-January, the Chief Mate left for a six-week stint on another ship. He’ll spend part of his time being very cold in Lunenburg, and the rest of it being very warm in the Bahamas. Meanwhile, we’ll be toiling away back in Erie, spending part of our time being very cold on the plaza and ship, and rest of it being very warm down in the rig shop. Oh, the places you’ll go.

Since the start of 2018, we’ve been flooded with new arrivals. Our rig shop crew has grown by three (Andrew, Wilmer, and Meghan), and Team Carpentry has grown by two (Paul and Bob). The new section of waterway timber is installed, the capstan is halfway through its makeover, and the blank for our new snow mast is sitting in Spar Alley, waiting patiently for us to turn it from a long square piece of wood into a long roundish piece of wood. We have new catharpins, new futtock shrouds, new turnback seizings on the main shrouds, and a bunch of freshly-painted spars. The garage is crowded with pieces of the new main fighting top, just waiting to be glued up. And the list goes on. It’s a good thing that we’re making so much progress, because the end of March is sneaking up fast, and that means. . .

. . .uprig. (Since the Chief Mate isn’t here, I can say that without getting glared at.)

Here are some progress pictures from the wood shop. If you want to know what’s happening in the rig shop, you’ll have to come down this Saturday and check things out for yourself. Bonus: winter sail training!

Capstan bars, sanded and ready for varnish thanks to Tom Todd and Mary Jo.

One of the aft deck boxes before its Chuck-and-Gail makeover. . .

. . .and after.

Capstan surgery. “Hand me that chisel, doctor. . .”

Winter Break

1. Chad insisted that I get a picture of the “bumblebee stay” that’s currently strung up down in the rig shop. Admittedly, it does look very two-toned and stylish:

2. The rig shop and wood shop will be closed from Saturday, December 24 through Tuesday, January 2. We’ll be back to work on January 3.

3. The glitter from Christmas Tree Ship (which was a rousing success; thank you to everyone who braved the cold and snow to volunteer and/or attend!) is slowly but surely vanishing. Spar Alley is still looking suspiciously sparkly, but the rest of the museum is almost back to normal.

4. Kate’s back! When  I asked her how she felt about returning to work another season of winter maintenance, she glanced down at her paint-splattered Carhartts and said “dirty.”

5. Most of the snow on the plaza has melted, and it looks like it’ll be warm(ish) for the rest of the work week, so for anyone who’s thinking about coming down to volunteer before the holiday break: we probably won’t have to move snow! It’s Erie’s Christmas gift to us.

Happy holidays–and thanks for sticking with us all year long.

The Last Lodging Knee

The whole winter crew (except for Amy, our resident Luke Skywalker superfan) has seen the latest Star Wars movie, so we’re being scrupulously careful not to let any spoilers infiltrate the workplace. Instead, we’re pouring our energy into recoating the lower shrouds with net dip and tar, rebuilding the catharpins, demolishing the two partially rotted lodging knees underneath the waterway timber, and finishing scarf joints. So we have no energy left for talking about how Kylo Ren [censored] [censored] [censored], or that one fight scene where the Millenium Falcon [censored] [censored] [censored] [censored]. Or that moment in the theater when everyone gasped because the rebel alliance [censored] [censored].

The point is: we’re keeping quiet. And keeping busy at work. Come on by tomorrow for our Saturday work party if you want to help out with the lower shrouds, and/or talk in hushed tones about Star Wars.

‘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?

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.