Oxen pull the newly restored Friendship sloop Blackjack from the Sail, Power and Steam Museum to its launching in Rockland Harbor earlier this month. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTO BY LIZ GRAVES

Oxen help launch restored Friendship sloop Blackjack

ROCKLAND — The Friendship sloop Blackjack, originally built in 1900 by Wilbur Morse, was launched July 7 the same way it was rebuilt over the last three years: with teamwork.

A team of four oxen pulled the boat on a large wooden cradle several hundred feet from beside the Sail, Power and Steam Museum building on Mechanic Street to the public boat ramp — 10 feet or so at a time. Each time the cradle advanced off the rear roller, handlers of the oxen directed them to stop pulling and volunteers brought the roller around to the front. A few times they put long pry bars to use raising the cradle back up on the rollers when it fell.

Many of the helpers at the launching were the same people who worked to rebuild the boat. The shipwrights from Lincolnville-based Clark & Eisele Traditional Boatbuilding were hired to direct the effort, which involved replacing everything except the transom and half of the stem.

Thought to be the oldest surviving Friendship sloop built by Wilbur Morse, considered by many to be the “father” of the design, the 33-foot Blackjack is a familiar sight to longtime Mount Desert Island boaters. The boat was the first traditional wooden Friendship sloop to take passengers on sailing trips in Northeast Harbor, beginning in the late 1970s. It was owned by Wilson and Alison Fletcher of Bar Harbor.

The Douglas fir mast the boat had before the restoration dated back to two owners before the Fletchers, Wilson Fletcher told the Mount Desert Islander in 2014. In the 1930s, so the story goes, Arthur Jackson, the boat’s owner, bought the mast for $800, more than he paid to put his son through college.

“After that,” Fletcher said, “he referred to the mast as ‘my son Douglas.’”

The Fletchers sold Blackjack to Kelly and Diane Magee of Rhode Island in 2010. When the Magees decided in 2014 they wouldn’t be able to afford the needed restoration, they contacted the Friendship Sloop Society. FSS Commodore Noel March convinced them to donate the boat to the Rockland museum.

“The last time the Friendship Sloop Society came to visit, I invited them to make our museum their permanent home,” Museum Director Captain Jim Sharp said at the time. “At the same time, the Blackjack came up for sale. Our volunteers looked it over and decided it would be a feather in our cap to be able to restore it. The owners donated it to the museum under the watchful eye of the FSS.”

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Managing Editor at Mount Desert Islander
Liz Graves is managing editor of the Islander. She's a California native who came to Maine as a schooner sailor.[email protected]

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