Author: Alethea

Pouring Pitch

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! The crew is celebrating with a traditional dinner (shoutout to Pip for taking on the daunting task of cooking enough corned beef and cabbage rolls for a bunch of sailors), but before that, we have the usual laundry list of work: more serving and seizing down in the rig shop, dressing yards in spar alley, and doing the final fittings on the starboard fore channel before it’s fastened in place. On deck, we’re melting and pouring roofing tar into the seams of the new foredeck planking. Once that’s finished, the foredeck will be sealed up, and we’ll be able to take the forward part of the winter cover off and put the bowsprit and foremast back in.

As always, if you want to see what we’ve been up to, drop by for our weekly work party tomorrow! Muster will be at 0830, as always–no matter how late you’re out celebrating.

Amy standing by the foredeck, waiting for a cauldron of pitch to heat

Pre-Spring Cleaning

The starboard aft waterway timber is back in place. Yesterday, Team Carpentry broke out the epoxy and lag bolts to turn three shaped and scarfed pieces of Douglas Fir into one very big piece of waterway timber. It’s a more complicated version of what we did to make the channel blank, only this time the carpenters were doing all their work on the weather deck, in typically balmy Erie weather (i.e. nineteen degrees and blizzarding outside) instead of in the comfort of spar alley.

Today, with the foredeck planking and the waterway timber in place, we took some time to clean the ship and organize the shop. Over the last few weeks, the contents of the tool room have been slowly but surely migrating to the weather deck, and the shop itself has been getting more and more chaotic–not surprising, since we have a half-dozen people frantically working on twice as many projects.

Now that everything is neat and organized, on Tuesday we’ll be able to clutter it all up again with a clean conscience. The rig shop crew will be just as busy: they’re putting final coats of paint and varnish on the spars, dressing the yards, and prepping for  Crane Day and Cover Day.

(As Chief Mate always says: we couldn’t do any of this without our volunteers, and this time of year that’s especially true. Huge thanks to everyone who came out for sail training and the Saturday work party today, and to all of our regulars who’ve volunteered throughout the week!)

All Decked Out

Niagara has a foredeck again! We installed our shutter plank (the last plank to be fastened in place; also affectionately called the whiskey plank) this afternoon. It’s a little weird to have a deck again. Now we actually have to open the forepeak hatch to do our brig checks, instead of just shimmying down between the deck beams.

The starboard waterway timber is almost back in place, and there are two new pinrails sitting in the woodshop, waiting to be fastened in. Andros is busy shaping the starboard fore channel. The rig shop crew is putting the forestay horse collars (used to attach the forestays to the bowsprit) back together. Since we’ll be hiring a crane to put the bowsprit and foremast back in place, we’re “dressing” both of them while they’re still on the plaza–basically, we want to uprig as much as possible while everything is conveniently on the ground. The summer crew arrives on March 28, so the race to the sailing season is definitely on!

Drew and Amy, working on the waterway timber.

The Gang’s All Here

Niagara‘s  carpentry A-team is officially here! The usual suspects (Adam, Alethea, Amy) and the visiting shipwrights (Andrew, Andros, Aaron) spent the week so far working on the starboard waterway timber, the fore fighting top crosstrees, and the foremast itself. The ship, the woodshop, and spar alley are all humming with activity, and we’ve already started stealing one another’s tools. But if our biggest problem is that we don’t have enough tape measures and sledgehammers to go around, we’re doing pretty well.

Pulling fasteners near the waterway timber (well, the place where the waterway timber used to be. . .) with our fancy new slide hammer.

Also: we finished our plaza fort just in the nick of time! Hours after we covered it with plastic sheeting, it started gusting and pouring rain, and last night, the snow came back. But the parts of the bowsprit and foremast that need work stayed dry and (mostly) cozy.

Team Carpentry would also like to give a very grateful shout-out to volunteer Joe Zimmerman (aka Skip) and his team, who made us our new customized slide hammer for getting out stubborn fasteners. It’s been a lifesaver. Our only complaint is that we didn’t have it six months ago.



Team Carpentry got a new member this week! Drew, a shipwright who’s worked with Niagara for years,  arrived from Seattle to help us rebuild the waterway timber and wrap up some other winter projects. As of today, we’re still in the “making splinters and breaking things” stage of rebuilding, but we’re making good progress. The foredeck is looking more deck-like, too–we’ve reinstalled six planks so far.

Meanwhile, out on the plaza, we’re building a little house to protect the foremast and bowsprit while they get painted and repaired. (As the captain pointed out, at certain stages in the process our frames looked suspiciously like an upside-down boat. Like Adam says: we can build you anything you want, as long as it’s ship-shaped.)

The rig shop crew is making good progress, too. For months now, they’ve been working through pallet after pallet of blocks, lines, and assorted rigging, but the end is finally in sight–they’re almost finished with the pallets. That’s definitely not the end of winter maintenance, but it’s a huge step in the right direction.

Note: Our next sail training day is Saturday, March 11! If you’re new to our sail training program, you can email to talk to our second mate, Chris, about getting involved.





Putting It Together, Taking It Apart

We’re still cleaning up from Wintertime at the Maritime, but it doesn’t feel very wintery out—the temperature rocketed into the sixties today. We took advantage of the warm weather to do some work on the bowsprit, which has been waiting patiently on the plaza since we downrigged it, and to (finally!) finish installing those edge plank pieces on the foredeck. We  even took some pictures to commemorate the occasion.

While the epoxy dries, Team Carpentry will be working back aft, demolishing a piece of the starboard waterway timber. (For reference, you can see part of the forward waterway timbers in the pictures above; they’re the red pieces running along the edge of the deck on both port and starboard). Apparently, there’s only so much repair work we can manage before we start feeling the irrepressible urge  to break out the prybars and jigsaws for some good old-fashioned demo.






To the Rig Shop, with Love

Out on the plaza, preparations for Wintertime at the Maritime are underway, and I’ve heard rumors floating around about building some specialized equipment for ice bowling.  In the woodshop, Team Carpentry has been making blanks to replace some of the pinrails on the port side of the ship. We’re also finishing up the last pieces of edge planking for the foredeck, which means that soon we’ll be able to start putting in the new deck planking, and it won’t be quite so easy to accidentally drop pencils (and chisels, and rulers, and fasteners, and drill bits. . .) into the forepeak.

After work, though, Team Carpentry scrounged up a belated Valentine’s Day present for the rig shop crew. They had a chair that needed some repair work, and we had a can of pink spray paint. It turned out about like you’d expect.

Happy (belated) Valentine’s Day to you, too. We’ll see you down at the museum tomorrow night for Wintertime at the Maritime! Bundle up, and bring your funkiest hat.

Wintertime at the Maritime

Next week will be a busy one at the museum. This coming Friday, February 17th, is our fourth annual Wintertime at the Maritime, and Saturday the 18th is our next sail training day. So stop by on Friday for ice bowling, hot drinks, and a funky hat competition, and then come back the next morning for Captain Rybka’s lecture on the history of the modern Niagara!

Until then, we’ll be keeping busy down in the rig shop. Here are a few snapshots of what we’ve been up to:




Boston Bound

Things are quiet in the office and down in the rig shop today. The office staff, the captain, and two of our mates are headed to Boston for the 44th annual Tall Ships Conference.  They’ll be gone all week, so Adam and Bosun are taking charge in the meantime. (Chief Mate told us before he left that we had to keep the museum clean, that we could only have friends over on Saturdays, and that we most definitely could not take the brig out for a spin.)

We haven’t gotten ourselves into too much trouble in their absence–yet. We hung both royals and the fore topgallant on the model in the museum: we’re using it like a giant clothesline to air out the sails, since the rig shop is too crowded right now to make space for them. Team Carpentry is also shaping the last few pieces of planking for the foredeck—soon, we’ll be ready to start installation!


Forklift Adventures

This week, we’ve been busy with spar repairs (we’re spending a lot of quality time with epoxy and sanding blocks) and sorting lumber. Four thousand pounds of Douglas Fir arrived at our doorstep on Monday, and finding a place to put it was, as always, an adventure. Adam, the forklift wizard in this picture, wants to thank our supplier Edensaw Woods, and he promises to put all of our gorgeous new stock to good use.

Meanwhile, the rig shop crew is busy working through pallets, which means lots of fine grit sandpaper, tar, net dip, and patch service. If those words don’t mean anything to you, come down on Saturdays to volunteer for an hour or two, and you’ll get a crash course on what it takes to maintain Niagara‘s rig!

Note: The next sail training class is January 18th; Captain Rybka will talk about the history of the modern Niagara, and you’ll also learn a few new knots. As always, email if you’re interested in the sail training program.

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.