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Ernestina Update-September 07

Last month we celebrated 25th anniversary of the gifting of the Ernestina to the U.S. by the Republic of Cape Verde. It was a great day filled with emotion and pride—a fitting tribute to a great ship and all the people who sailed in her.

As many of you may be aware, Ernestina/ex-Effie M. Morrissey has not set her sails since 2004 and last appeared at this Festival in 2003. I began my tenure as Executive Director two months ago and have been very impressed with the level of support and encouragement to see to it that this venerable historic vessel will sail once again.

The Goal
Raise $2.5 million to repair and restore the Ernestina based on the results of a survey of her hull completed in November 2006. Surveys of the mechanical and electrical systems as well as her rigging will be carried out over the next eight months. It is presumed that additional monies will be needed in order for Ernestina to be certified by the U.S. Coast Guard by the spring of 2009 so she can participate that summer in Sail Boston and Celebrating Bartlett in Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as the Schooner Festival in Gloucester and the Working Waterfront Festival in New Bedford.

Why Ernestina’s restoration is important
Ernestina/ex Effie M. Morrissey is not a replica. This 113-year-old vessel is a National Historic Landmark that proudly embodies the rich maritime heritage not only of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts but indeed the entire United States. She has served as a successful Grand Banks Gloucester fishing schooner; as an Arctic exploration vessel; as a U.S. Naval vessel in World War II; as a Cape Verde packet ship—the last sailing vessel to bring immigrants to this country; and most recently as a sail training education vessel.

Ernestina is the oldest surviving Grand Banks fishing schooner, one of two surviving 19th century Essex-built Gloucester fishing schooners, and one of two remaining examples of the Fredonia-style schooners that can still be operational. The schooner is also one of only two sailing Arctic exploration vessels left afloat in the United States.

Positive steps already taken
New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park assembled an inter-disciplinary team of maritime experts during a Maritime Summit in May 2006 to develop preservation and operation recommendations for Ernestina. Participants included marine preservation specialists, educators, and executive directors from Mystic Seaport Museum (Dana Hewson), Sea Education Association (John Bullard), American Sail Training Association (Peter Mello), Lake Erie Maritime Museum (Walter Rybka), the National Park Service, and the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. The summit recommended that a condition survey of the vessel be undertaken.

Shortly after the summit, rehabilitation of the keel, frames, futtocks, and replacement of deteriorated keel bolts and planking below the waterline at the cost of $390,000 was completed during the early fall of 2006 at DN Kelley’s Shipyard in Fairhaven, MA. It was funded by the Stewart/Hildreth Charitable Trust with matching funds from the MA. Executive Office of Environmental Affairs “Fix it Friends” program and the Office of Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism.

While the work was being carried out, Captain Paul Haley of Capt. G. W. Full Associates, a marine surveyor firm well respected for its work with historic wooden vessels, conducted the survey recommended by the Maritime Summit which was submitted on November 9, 2006. The report documented substantial deterioration of the forward, midships, and after sections of the vessel due mostly to rot in the forepeak, forecastle, hold, engine room, aft cabin, lazarette, deck, and superstructure areas. In the survey, Capt. Haley concluded, “Ernestina has come to a critical time…Without attention to her condition that has continued over time, she will rapidly continue to deteriorate.”

The survey identified the poor condition of a variety of important structural elements in the bow, stern, midships, and deck. One major contributor to Ernestina’s deterioration is her deck’s poor condition which has, for several years, allowed fresh water to enter the hull and leak down in between framing and planking and over deck beams. Fresh water, in contrast to salt water, which helps preserve wood, is detrimental to a wooden vessel. As a result, Ernestina was exposed to constant moisture resulting in progressive rotting and deterioration within the interior of the vessel. We are in the process of taking measures to stabilize and stem any further deterioration until we can get her in the yards soon for a much needed refit.

Next to USS Constitution, Ernestina is perhaps the most significant surviving sailing vessel in our nation’s maritime history. Her immediate repair and restoration is imperative. As the official vessel of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, we all have an obligation to see to it that “our flagship” rightly serves as the Bay State’s symbol of the hard work, creative genius, industriousness, and generosity of the spirit of its citizens.

Please join us as we chart a new course —Ernestina will sail once again with your help. Tax- deductible contributions can be made to: Schooner Ernestina Commission, Box 2010, New Bedford, MA 02741-2010. For more information, please feel free to contact me at or by calling 508-992-4900.

Best regards,

Paul J. Brawley
Executive Director
Schooner Ernestina