A team of four oxen from Cox Kennel and Farm in Woodstock pull the 118-year-old, rebuilt Friendship sloop Blackjack to a public boat ramp in Rockland Saturday. ISLANDER PHOTO BY LIZ GRAVES

Oxen pull Blackjack to launch at museum

ROCKLAND — The Friendship sloop Blackjack, originally built in 1900 by Wilbur Morse, was launched Saturday the same way it was rebuilt over the last three years: with teamwork.

A team of four oxen pulled the boat on a large wooden cradle several hundred feet from beside the Sail, Power and Steam Museum building on Mechanic Street to the public boat ramp—10 feet or so at a time. Each time the cradle rolled off the rear roller, handlers of the oxen directed them to stop pulling and volunteers brought the roller around to the front. A few times they put long pry bars to good use getting the cradle back up on the rollers when it fell.

Many of them were the same people who worked to rebuild the boat. Local shipwrights Clark & Eisele were hired to direct the effort, which involved replacing everything except the transom and half of the stem.

Blackjack is a familiar sight to some longtime Mount Desert Island boaters. The sloop was the first traditional wooden Friendship Sloop to take passengers on sailing trips in Northeast Harbor, beginning in the late 1970s. It was owned by Wilson and Alison Fletcher of Bar Harbor.

Blackjack leaving the dock in Northeast Harbor in the 1980s. Wilson and Alison Fletcher offered day sails on the boat here for many years.

The Douglas fir mast the boat had before the restoration dated back two owners before the Fletchers, Wilson Fletcher told the Islander in 2014. As the story goes, in the 1930s, the boat’s owner Arthur Jackson 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 in 2014 they wouldn’t afford the needed restoration, they contacted the Friendship Sloop Society. Commodore Noel March convinced them to donate it to the Rockland museum.

“The last time the Friendship Sloop Society came to visit, I invited them to make our museum their permanent home,” museum Director Capt. Jim Sharp told the Islander at the time. “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.”


Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Managing Editor at Mount Desert Islander
Liz Graves is managing editor of the Islander. She's a California native who came to Maine as a schooner sailor.lgraves@mdislander.com

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