Our Blog

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 volunteer@flagshipniagara.org, 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.

Cover Day(s)

The forward section of the winter cover is off, the first of our seasonal crew arrived just in time for Sandwich Saturday (hi, Sara!) and the fighting top is back on the foremast. In other words: we’re danger-close to uprig.

The rest of the crew will be arriving over the weekend, and our first full muster of the 2017 season will be on Tuesday the 28th at 0800. On Monday the 27th, we’ll have our annual meeting at 1730 in the orientation theater, and a meet and greet (or “crew and brew”) at the Brewerie after the meeting is finished. Volunteers: come by to say hello to the returning seasonal crew, meet our new crew members, and enjoy the cozy indoors before uprig begins in earnest!

On the carpentry side of things, we’ve said goodbye to Aaron and Andros, and we’re braced for Drew’s departure at the end of next week. But we’ve installed two new deck planks, as well as half of the starboard spirketing plank above the new waterway timber. The two new pinrails on port side have gotten their first coats of varnish, too.

All the other pinrails are jealous.

As the captain said at muster today, we’re going to need all the help we can get heading into uprig, so if you can come down to help out, please do, whether it’s on a Saturday or a weekday, for a full day or just a couple hours. And for everyone who pitched in today: thank you so much. We’re turning Niagara back into a ship after her winter spent disguised as a very strange houseboat. It’s a lot of work, but it’ll all be worth it when we finally start sailing.

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 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.