Historic sail-making techniques April 10

Mar 30, 2014
Schooners Pride of Baltimore and Virginia, with full suits of Nathaniel S. Wilson sails.

Camden — Sail-maker and lobsterman Eben Wilson will give a talk at the Camden Public Library on the centuries-old techniques of building sails and rigging by hand.

The slide talk, part of the library’s Maritime Month lecture series, will be Thursday, April 10, at 7 p.m.

Wilson will talk about his trade making traditional sails without the use of computers and modern technology. As an apprentice at his father Nathaniel S. Wilson’s East Boothbay sail loft for the past 16 years, Wilson has sewn, roped, and spliced rigging for dozens of vessels including the U.S.S. Constitution, U.S. Coast Guard Eagle, topsail schooners Pride of Baltimore and Lynx, the ship Friendship of Salem, many of the working sail vessels of the East Coast including schooners American Eagle, Victory Chimes, Virginia, and Bowdoin, brig Niagara, barque Wavertree, sloop Clearwater, and the Herreshoff NY 50 sailing yacht Spartan, to name just a few. Maritime Month is supported in part by Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors magazine.

Through a slideshow presentation, Wilson will recount his experiences building quality sails and rigging using time-tested techniques and tools that have changed little since the 1700s. Wilson will focus on the history of sail-making in Maine and on the working schooners such as those that still sail from Camden, Rockport, and Rockland. Sailmaking tools will be on display and the audience will learn how cotton canvas, hemp, synthetic materials, custom-made hardware, leather, and wire rope are manipulated to create beautiful, highly-functioning sails in countless shapes and sizes to suit many different rigs. The Constitution, for example, could carry up to 46 sails and over an acre of canvas, and it all had to be held together with natural fabric and rigging before the days of synthetics. The vintage sail-making techniques used by the Wilsons replicate the sails and lines that must be fabricated to take immense stress to drive the ship forward.

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