Generations of the Schooner

August 31, 2021 / A Local Favorite, Good to Know, History/Maritime, Outdoor Adventures, Things to Do & See

For more than three centuries, the schooner has been the enduring icon of Cape Ann’s seagoing heritage. Fast and able, these sailing vessels capture the imagination of visitors and locals alike. Sailing on a schooner is exhilarating. No other type of vessel rivals its power and magnificence. It is impossible to climb aboard a schooner without feeling a deep connection to the thousands of daring fishermen who risked everything in search of fortune from the Grand Banks of Newfoundland to the Jersey coast.

Today schooners are so deeply woven into the fabric of this city’s rich maritime tradition, that it is hard to imagine Gloucester’s working waterfront without them. But there was a time, not long ago, when these vessels had nearly disappeared from our harbor. As the fishing fleet modernized and motor driven draggers and trawlers became ubiquitous, the wooden fishing schooner was made obsolete. With the construction of the famed Gertrude L. Thebaud in 1930, the shipyards of Essex had stopped building these vessels and Gloucester’s aging schooner fleet dwindled. By the 1960s almost all had vanished from Cape Ann waters.

Recognizing this great loss to our cultural heritage, a group of dedicated volunteers started the Gloucester Schooner Festival in the mid-80s. Held each Labor Day weekend since, it draws schooners and visitors from across the eastern seaboard to Gloucester Harbor. During the Festival in 1988, the knockabout Schooner Adventure was donated to the City of Gloucester as its flagship. In 1990, the Evelina M. Goulart returned to Essex, where she is preserved as an exhibit at the Essex Shipbuilding Museum. In 1996, Tom and Kay Ellis took a great risk and hired Harold Burnham to build the Schooner Thomas E. Lannon, reproduction of a historic fishing schooner, designed to carry passengers on Gloucester Harbor. She was the first of the passenger schooners. Following her success, the Lewis H. Story, flagship of the Essex Shipbuilding Museum, the Schooner Fame of Salem, and Burnham’s own Schooner Ardelle, flagship of Maritime Gloucester, followed her down the Burnham’s ways in Essex.

Now, a new generation of Cape Ann residents and visitors have grown up with schooners. Thanks to innovative education programs aboard the Lannon and Ardelle, nearly every student in Cape Ann schools has had the opportunity to sail aboard a schooner. Now, the next generation is taking leading role in preserving this important part of our cultural heritage. Captain Heath Ellis, Tom and Kay’s son, has taken ownership of the Lannon and Alden Burnham, Harold’s son, will serve as a captain aboard the Ardelle.

And so it is that tourism has not only helped us share our culture, it has helped us to preserve it. So come on down to Gloucester’s vibrant working waterfront, step aboard a schooner, set sail and enjoy our beautiful harbor.