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Launching Nautical History A 19th-Century Style Wooden Fishing Schooner Is Built and Sets Sail off the Coast of Massachusetts

By Susan Sweetnam, Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, September 15, 1997 | Go to article overview

Launching Nautical History A 19th-Century Style Wooden Fishing Schooner Is Built and Sets Sail off the Coast of Massachusetts


Susan Sweetnam, Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Jim Lane, a retired telephone-company employee, remembers fishing schooners under construction in shipyards along the Essex River when he was a youngster in the 1940s. Then only two or three schooners were built a year. In the mid-1800s, at the height of the industry, as many as 50 vessels a year were built by 15 to 20 shipyards that operated along the Massachusetts river.

The call for wooden fishing boats declined as modern technology took hold, forcing most yards to close. The A.D. Story Shipyard, however, operated as a marina where Mr. Lane kept his boat for many years. When the shipyard became part of the Essex Shipbuilding Museum in 1994, he still hung around, immersing himself in the history of boat building.

"I thought the museum should be building a ship; after all we call it a working museum," Lane says. And then along came Tom Ellis, a native of Gloucester, Mass. - the oldest fishing port in the country, explains Lane. He proposed building a wooden fishing schooner and using it as a tool for teaching children and adults about this vital piece of American history. Mr. Ellis wanted the museum to be the site, and he would provide the materials and workers. "I've heard stories all my life about my grandfather who was a fisherman," says Ellis. "I've been in the business of selling pieces of history in my antique store, and I've always been interested in sailing." Ellis named the schooner after his grandfather, Thomas E. Lannon, who fished out of Gloucester from 1901 to 1943. For Ellis, building the Lannon at the museum shipyard where the industry began was a logical first step in bringing the area's history back to life. Gloucester was known up and down the Eastern seaboard for its fleet of schooners - the envy of sailors everywhere. They were built in nearby Essex shipyards and towed down the Essex River to Gloucester to be fitted before they set sail. Of the more than 4,000 built, a handful remain. "Building the schooner is not just a dream to have a big toy to sail around in," says Ellis's wife, Kay, who along with her husband is a principal in this project. "The only way to afford a boat like the Lannon is to run it as a commercial venture. We know that we have to make this enterprise a business success." In that vein, passengers are able to hear stories about the 1800s and try their hand at jigging for cod, as well as join Sunday brunch tours or moonlight sails.

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