Blackjack launched with fanfare in Rockland

By Stephen Betts | Jul 07, 2018
Photo by: Stephen Betts Four oxen tow the Friendship sloop Blackjack along Snow Marine Park Saturday, July 7.

Rockland — Rockland's South End waterfront went back in time Saturday, July 7, as a completely restored 1900-built Friendship sloop was launched.

Hundreds of people turned out for the launching of the 33-foot long Blackjack at Snow Marine Park. The launching capped the three-year restoration of one of the "pickup trucks" of maritime transportation for the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Blackjack was towed several hundred yards by a team of oxen from the Sail, Power & Steam Museum adjacent to Snow Marine Park to the water.

Museum founder Capt. Jim Sharp said he wanted the launching to be done as it would have been when the Blackjack was originally built in Friendship by Wilbur Morse. He said Morse was the Henry Ford of sloop production, building one every two weeks at the peak of his work. Morse built more than 500 Friendship sloops from 1890 to 1910.

The Blackjack's restoration was a labor of love for a few master builders and many volunteers over the past three years, Sharp said. The boat was rebuilt from the keel up, using only the tools available to Morse and his crews in 1900, he said.

The Blackjack was saved when its former owners, Kelly and Diane Magee, of Bristol, R.I., determined that restoring the sloop was beyond their resources and expertise. The boat had not been in the water since 2006. The couple put out a call to members of the Friendship Sloop Society.

In 2014, then-Friendship Sloop Society Commodore Noel March, the former U.S. marshal for Maine, met with Sharp and they moved quickly and the Magees ended up donating the vessel to the museum in Rockland.

The Blackjack is considered one of the oldest, if not the oldest, existing Friendship sloop.

The Friendship sloops were meant to be extremely seaworthy because they were often used by island residents for lobstering, catching cod, visiting on other islands, or to transport cows. March said back in 2014 that they also were designed to be handled by one person. They were the primary boats used for lobstering until boats were equipped with engines, which became widespread after 1910.

Sharp said the Blackjack will be used by the museum to take passengers out in Rockland harbor to lobster with old wooden traps. The Blackjack has sails and no engine.

The museum was opened 10 years ago by Sharp and his wife, Meg Sharp.

She christened the Blackjack just before the sloop entered the water.

Four oxen from from Cox Kennel and Farm in Woodstock did the heavy pulling, taking about 90 minutes to move the several hundred feet to the water. Paul Cox Jr. said this was the first time their oxen were used to tow a sloop.

Eight fiddlers and a banjo player from Belfast Bay Fiddlers performed for the festivities, as did a bagpiper.

Comments (5)
Posted by: Ben and Leslie Fuller | Jul 13, 2018 06:42

Great project and congratulations. Expect to see a sweep at the Friendship races.

Now what about turning attention to the Lighthorseman which has been buffeted outside by rain/ snow/ and sun. And doesn't deserve it. Plenty of exploration left to be done. And we know what happens to wooden boats that are neglected. Slide her into the building bay and have at it.


Posted by: Kathy Westra | Jul 08, 2018 10:36

Congratulations to Captain Jim and Meg Sharp, and to all who made this possible. What a wonderful project and celebration of our maritime history, made possible by Jim and Meg's great labor of love, the Sail, Power and Steam Museum. Here's to you, Jim and Meg. Thank you for all you do for Rockland!!

Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Jul 07, 2018 17:52

not sure if they have ever been Lobster Festival parade marshals or not. If not, it is way beyond time.

Posted by: Sandra Schramm | Jul 07, 2018 17:22

Such a delightful event this was. Captain Sharp and Meg never fail to delight a crowd! The Museum is a tremendous asset to Rockland.  At 11:00 AM there was a crowd gathering then suddenly the entire area and both sides of the street was jammed with cars and people. The fiddlers and the bagpipe music surely added to the fanfare. The oxen got a huge round of applause!  Looking forward to seeing the Blackjack sailing the Bay! Indeed the type of tourist attraction that so aptly fits Rockland, its harbor and our Bay. This restoration was a winner for all!


Posted by: Lynne A Barnard | Jul 07, 2018 15:58

Thank you for this story and thank you Cap't Jim Sharp and Meg for all you do to keep our Rockland traditions alive.   This is what our Harbor is about -- a community of fishing, sailing, craftsmen of all kinds, musicians, and story tellers and volunteers of all kinds.  And thank you Paul Cox, Jr. and your oxen.  It couldn't have been a better day for the launch.

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