September / October 2019

The Friendship Sloop BLACKJACK

A faithful, and practical, restoration

BLACKJACK, a 33′ Friendship sloop built in 1900 by Wilbur Morse, sails in her home waters of Rockland, Maine. She was extensively restored by professionals and volunteers at the Sail, Power & Steam Museum, which is her new home.

The Maine sloop-boat, the sailing predecessor to the modern lobsterboat, is an icon of Maine’s maritime heritage. As a professional boatbuilder living and working in Maine who has a particular interest in historic workboats, I had always hoped that I might one day have an opportunity to build or restore one of these so-called Friendship sloops. In the summer of 2016, such an opportunity came my way in the most satisfying way I could imagine: I was asked to restore an original working sloop built by the most notable builder of the type, Wilbur Morse of Friendship, Maine.    

Morse greatly influenced the development of Maine sloop-boats, and he was likely their most prolific builder, having launched some 500 of them in a roughly 20-year span starting in about the 1890s. This number does not even include other types of fishing boats and yachts that he went on to build over the course of his career. While most sloop-boat builders of the time preferred to work alone or with just a helper or two, Morse practiced production-style building, employing several workers and streamlining the process as much as possible.

My restoration project, BLACKJACK, is a 31-footer and one of about a dozen Morse boats surviving today. She was built in 1900, and her original name is lost to time, which leaves her history as a fishing boat undocumented. BLACKJACK seems to have been retired from her role as a working boat in the 1920s, around the same time that most of her contemporaries were, and she subsequently became one of the lucky few that caught the eye of an admiring yachtsman.

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