MDI Friendship fans celebrate ‘Blackjack’ restoration


ROCKLAND — A piece of Mount Desert Island maritime history is set to be preserved with the acquisition of the 1900 Wilbur Morse sloop Blackjack last month by the Friendship Sloop Society (FSS) and Sail, Power and Steam Museum. The sloop was the first traditional wooden Friendship Sloop to take passengers on sailing trips in Northeast Harbor, beginning in the late 1970s.

A crew of volunteers plans to restore Blackjack and use it as a “frontispiece” for the museum and the FSS, said Captain Jim Sharp, who runs the museum. Eventually, he said, she will take passengers sailing once again, this time from Rockland. They’ll learn how fishermen hauled lobster traps by hand from these boats for generations.

“The last time the FSS came to visit, I invited them to make our museum their permanent home,” Sharp said. “At the same time, the Blackjack came up for sale. Our volunteers looked it over and decided it would be a feather in our cap to be able to restore it. The owners donated it to the museum under the watchful eye of the FSS.”

Wilson Fletcher of Bar Harbor and his late wife Alison bought Blackjack in the mid-1970s. At the time, they were leasing a small motel called the Sea Breeze and racing their Luders, Raven, in their spare time.

“We thought of making sailing our job,” Fletcher told the Islander last week. “We started looking for a boat to take people sailing.”

They found Blackjack at the Brooklin Boat Yard. Its owner was Bill Pendleton, one of the founders of the FSS. “He hated to sell it,” Fletcher said, “but it was a maintenance monster.”

They began to advertise right away, Fletcher said. At the time, the only sailing vessels offering day trips on MDI were in Bar Harbor: Janet May, a two-masted schooner owned by Captain Steve Pagels, and a fiberglass Friendship Sloop operating from the dock at the Golden Anchor Inn.

A ticket for a trip on Blackjack was $9 in the early years. At the time, a trip on Sea Princess was only $1.50. “We were full every trip and were turning people away,” Fletcher said. “In peak season, we were running five trips a day.”

The Fletchers happily joined in when in 1992, Miff Lauriat, Marjory Russakoff and Alex Forbes launched the annual Southwest Harbor Friendship Sloop Rendezvous and Race.

Their kids were their crew, helping on deck as able while the younger ones often played below decks during trips. The oldest, Carroll David, carries on the family tradition, running charters on the fiberglass ketch Greensleeves.

“I think it’s nice it could be saved,” Fletcher said of the restoration project.

The boat carries a lot of history. “A lot of people recognized it, out sailing or on the docks,” he said. “It was like being in a time warp sometimes.” The Fletchers even got Wilbur Morse’s grandniece out for a sail.

In 2001, they took the boat to Bass Harbor Boat Inc. for a major refit project. Robert “Chummy” Rich and his crew added sister frames to reinforce weak ones and replaced many of the cedar planks.

The Douglas fir mast dates back to the owner before Pendleton, Fletcher said. His name was Arthur Jackson. As the story goes, in the 1930s, he bought the mast for $800, more than he paid to put his son through college. “After that” Fletcher said, “he referred to the mast as ‘my son Douglas.’”

The Fletchers sold the boat in 2010 to Kelly and Diane Magee of Rhode Island. When the Magees decided earlier this year they wouldn’t be able to afford the needed restoration, they contacted the FSS. Commodore Noel March convinced them to donate it to the Rockland museum.

Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Carroll David Harris’ name. He is the oldest, not the youngest, of Wilson Fletcher’s children and stepchildren.

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Liz is an award-winning journalist who has been with the Islander since 2013. She grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor. [email protected]

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