Join us for a sail on an authentic, traditionally built, Gloucester Schooner out of Gloucester’s historic working waterfront. Our vessels, the Schooners Ardelle & Isabella were both designed and built, and are owned and captained by NEA National Heritage Fellow, Master Shipwright Harold Burnham, and his family. During our trips our friendly and knowledgeable crew delight in sharing our region’s rich fishing, shipbuilding and maritime heritage with our passengers.
When I was a young teenager my father started my brother, sister, and me in a business we called the Salt Marsh Dory Company. Over the years we have built and sold over fifty “Salt Marsh Dories,” the wonderful little boats we still carry on the decks of our schooners. In 1992, between trips in the merchant marine, I built a 22 foot fishing sloop boat for myself. I found I needed an excuse to go sailing more, so I started Salt Marsh Charters. Interestingly, after six boats, thirty years, and several DBA’s later, my motivation for the business has still not changed. I still love keeping the traditional art of wooden boat building and preservation going in Essex and keeping these craft working out of Gloucester with friends, family, paying guests, and especially the younger crew who gain so much from the experience.
In 2011, when Ardelle sailed into Maritime Gloucester, their Education Director Mary Kay Taylor, filled the boat with students and jumped on as crew for many programs. Growing up teaching sailing in Nahant, MA, Mary Kay has always been an avid sailor with a passion for developing education programs and teaching on the water. She has worked as Education Director for the Schooner Adventure and Maritime Gloucester, served as Commodore of the American Schooner Association, and has held leadership roles on many boards for maritime and marine science education non-profits. She currently works at Lowell’s Boat Shop as a grant writer and educator. Now not only a driving force behind the business, she is my best friend, and part of my family. With her encouragement and help we took on the stewardship of the Sylvina W. Beal and brought Isabella home and expanded from a one boat operation to a fleet.
Together with our family, friends and community partners Maritime Gloucester and the Essex Shipbuilding Museum we are hoping to get the Sylvina W. Beal rehabilitated over the next several seasons while we pass on the skills to build, maintain, and operate these fine traditional craft to the next generation.
Gloucester’s “Passenger Fisherman”
Part of the appeal of the LANNON, FAME, ARDELLE, ISABELLA and SYLVINA W. BEAL in America’s oldest seaport is that they are all honest, indigenous, commercial craft, and they must earn their keep to survive. For four centuries, Gloucestermen have met the demands, changes and challenges of their time, targeting the most abundant and profitable species of fish. Despite the rewards, this work has often been difficult and dangerous and it left Cape Ann with strong cultural ties to her vessels, her working waterfront, and the ocean beyond.
Each generation brought people from all over the world to fish from Gloucester all of whom helped to give the city its rich ethnic heritage. On the other hand Gloucester most often turned to Essex for its fast, able, and profitable vessels. For the most part, the “passenger fishermen” are no exception.
The idea was simple and straightforward. In the face of ecological and regulatory disaster on the fishing grounds, owners saw a strong demand in people who wanted to preserve and experience our cultural heritage. The “passenger fisherman” were either specifically designed or rehabilitated to meet this demand both as authentic representations of fishing craft from different era’s, and as Coast Guard certified passenger vessels. Since their inception their constant presence in Gloucester harbor has done as much to keep our maritime culture alive as the vessels’ construction or rehabilitation has done to revive Essex’s shipbuilding heritage.
The families that built, own, and operate these vessels risked their time, and money, hoping for a return and they are extremely proud of their investments. Not only have these vessels helped their generation and the next to extract their livelihood from the sea, they give students, residents, and discerning tourists a chance to be part of it and enjoy the land and seascapes long sought out by the country’s leading artists.
As with any real business most of the money that comes in is used to cover costs, reinvested in the vessels, paid to employee’s, or given to support our government in the form of taxes. Like the fishing schooners of the past these vessels are run on grit, economy, and hard work, which are character traits the young crew learn and absorb. This is arguably the greatest return we could ask for, for in these vessels the essence of commercial sail is preserved.
I hope you enjoy them.
Harold A. Burnham