North Shore residents and visitors alike have climbed the gangplanks to whale watches and fishing charters. But there’s another reason many go on deck: a growing interest in the area’s maritime history and the sailcraft and shipbuilding that made it happen.
“All indications are that there is an extraordinary interest in schooners and sailing,” said Tom Balf, executive director of Maritime Gloucester, the cultural and educational center at 23 Harbor Loop in downtown Gloucester.
Balf notes that a record number of schooners, more than 20, appear set for the 29th annual Gloucester Schooner Festival on Labor Day weekend, a magnet for wooden boat fans and visitors of all stripes. You can find details at www.gloucesterschoonerfestival.net.
Gloucester is the center of classic ship cruising in the area, and a few hours on the water gives visitors a chance for “reflecting upon the fishermen, artists, and mariners who have defined this harbor for generations,” Balf says.
The Ardelle, a 57-foot “pinky” schooner, was built by traditional methods at H.A. Burnham shipyard in Essex and launched there in 2011. Owned by Harold Burnham, it now sails at least once daily during the season from the dock at Maritime Gloucester. Details: 978-281-0470, maritimegloucester.org.
The Thomas E. Lannon is a 65-foot schooner that takes visitors on two-hour sails and a variety of music, sunset, and other specialty cruises from its dock at 41 Rogers St. in Gloucester, next to the landmark Gloucester House Restaurant. Details: 978-281-6634 or www.schooner.org.
Also hoped to be under sail for the schooner festival is the Adventure, the last of the great Gloucester fishing schooners, a 122-footer built in Essex in 1926. The Adventure has been under rebuilding on and off since 1988, but the pace has quickened the last couple of years. After cabin plumbing, electrical work, and some other tasks, supporters hope the ship will be approved by the Coast Guard for cruises later this summer. A variety of dock events are scheduled until cruising begins. Details: 978-281-8079, schooner-adventure.org.
In Salem, meanwhile, visitors can take a cruise on the Burnham-built Fame, a replica of a Chebacco fishing schooner from the 1800s. The original Fame turned privateer in the war of 1812 and made more than 20 captures before being wrecked in the Bay of Fundy two years later. The new Fame was named best day sail by Yankee Magazine this year and leaves from Pickering Wharf Marina in downtown Salem. Tickets: 800-979-3370 or www.schoonerfame.com.
There are several land destinations you might want to visit before you hit the water. Maritime Gloucester, the Cape Ann Museum, the Peabody Essex Museum, and the Salem Maritime National Historic Site each do their part in highlighting the history of fishing, exploration, and maritime trade that put the North Shore on the map worldwide.
The Salem Maritime site is home to the Friendship, a 1990s reconstruction of a 171-foot three-masted Salem East Indiaman that first sailed in 1797. The Friendship now spends most of its time docked at Derby Wharf where it is open for tours daily during the season. But it occasionally sails for special events. Details on tours: 978-740-1650, www.nps.gov.
“The building and repairing of wooden boats is perhaps an extension of a society looking to rediscover the joy of building stuff,” notes Balf. Two other stops, in Essex and Amesbury, give a look into the shipbuilding process.
The Essex Shipbuilding Museum highlights that community’s remarkably large role in outfitting the fishing industry. Museum members sometimes get to sail on the replica Lewis H. Story, a 30-foot Chebacco boat built by Burnham for the museum. Details: www.essexshipbuildingmuseum.org.
Just across an Essex River inlet, the Burnham shipyard continues the craft that has involved the family for more than three centuries, although Burnham is more often at the helm of the Ardelle these days.
Meanwhile, Lowell’s Boat Shop in Amesbury still makes dories and other small craft the way they’ve been made there since 1793, including the Banks Dory favored by Gloucester fishermen and lowered from all those schooners. Members of the nonprofit organization get the chance to row one of the craft outside the shop on the Merrimack River. Details: www.lowellsboatshop.com.Joel Brown is the author of the Essex Coastal Byway Guide. He can be reached at jbnbpt@