Thursday, October 9, 2014

1904 Dictator model

Muscongus Bay Sloop - Roger Duncan
The Friendship Sloop began as a fishing sloop in the very late 1800's and into the new century before being replaced by the advent of power. In a story reminiscent of today, Maine fishermen found that, to keep their catch volume up, they were moving farther and farther from shore and their open dories were no longer up to the task. The need for a boat that could go farther offshore, provide a stable platform and a small cuddy gave way to the Muscongus Bay sloop and, shortly thereafter, a larger version which became the Friendship.

Friendship Sloop
One unique characteristic of the Friendships is they had many builders - built by the very men who used them to make their living.  Fishermen would build a sloop in the winter, fish her during the summer, then sell her and build another the next winter. Thus, there is no one set of hard specifications of what a Friendship must have to be a Friendship. According to the Friendship Sloop Society, these sloops varied in length from 21' to 50' with an average between 30' to 40'. That said, there are some commonalities among them. They all had elliptical sterns and a pronounced counter.  This way, nets dropped over the stern did not snag on the quarters or rudder. Additionally, most Friendships had a clipper bow, were gaff rigged and their beam is roughly one third of their length. The mast was equal to the length overall plus one half the draft.

"Success has many Fathers . . . "

While Friendships had many fathers, the names of a few builders loom large.  Of these, William Morse is probably the most commonly cited because of the sheer number of sloops that came off his ways. It is said that the name Friendship Sloop is due largely to the location of Morse's yard in Friendship, Maine.

For our purposes, however, the other prominent name in Friendship design is Robert McClain. In The Classic Boat, the editors of Time-Life state: "some marine historians consider [McClain] the originator of the Friendship Sloop."  One must be wary of what "some" experts say, but what is clear is that it is unclear exactly who is responsible for the design. The truth is, the Friendship was built for function by those that performed that function and refined to reflect the needs of the individual skipper. Ultimately, it's not important if there was (or wasn't) a definite "who." What's important is that there is still intense interest in this design more than 100 years after its introduction because what made it a good work boat, makes it, simply, a good boat.

While people can argue about who originated the design of the Friendship Sloop, there is no argument that Robert McClain designed and built Dictator. McClain was a shipwright who lived on an island in Muscongus Bay with his wife and son. I have heard the island was Bremen Island, but cannot confirm that. In 1904 he built two vessels - one he kept for himself, the second, Dictator, he sold to lobsterman, Stephen Grey. Over the next 20 years she would be sold to various other fishermen, finally winding up with Dr. Alan Chesney, a summer resident of Deer Isle. The Chesneys owned Dictator for the next 46 years.

Jarvis Newman

Dictator probably would have been lost to the Friendship world had it not been for Jarvis Newman. Newman, a builder of fiberglass boats in Southwest Harbor, found Dictator forlorn and neglected in Francis Williams's boatyard in Stonington. The portside garboard was missing and she had a significant hole in her starboard bow. Moreover, her decks and ceilings were rotten. Many of us are guilty of boat lust. It is what makes us buy boats and it is what allows us to sell them (because someone else has it too).  It seems that Newman had it in spades because he bought Dictator for $1,000 (about $5,800 in 2014).

The trip from Williams's boatyard in Stonington to Newman's in Southwest Harbor is the kind of story one expects from the Burt and I crowd and it is well told in Time-Life's The Classic Boat.  Rather than risk damaging the boat by a bumpy and uncertain overland trip, Newman decided to tow her by water. In November. With holes in her (temporary patches were made and canvas fothered under her bows, but still). To hedge his bets Newman added blocks of styrofoam under her cockpit deck to add buoyancy. She arrived. Just. And Newman hauled her out.

At this point, Newman brought on Ralph Stanley who had more experience in wooden craft. For anyone interested in the details of the restoration, I recommend the section about Dictator's restoration in The Classic Boat.

Dictator, circa 1920
However, I think it is fair to say that Jarvis Newman not only saved Dictator, the sloop, but created what we commonly think of today when we think of McClain's 1904 Dictator.

The early pictures of Dictator (of which there are precious few) show an almost flush-decked sloop. One does not see the cabin top with the pronounced arc that is common in the design today. Moreover, the cockpit is separate from the cabin hatchway which was likely more a hold for fish than a cabin.

Part of Newman's restoration was to create a boat suitable for family sailing which included a livable cabin instead of a fishhold.  Additionally, Newman upgraded the materials: Cedar on Oak, Spruce spars, Douglas Fir bowsprit and bronze fittings throughout - including a bronze billethead of an eagle.

Bronze billethead on "Liberty"
From his restoration of Dictator, Newman took her lines and created several fiberglass versions of her. In so doing, he "fixed" the specifications for this model of Friendship such that when one talks of a Friendship Sloop of the 1904 Dictator type, the dimensions and accommodations are well known.

The original Dictator still exists. The Friendship Sloop Society lists her home port as Deer Isle ME and she boasts sail number 2.

Jarvis Newman Dictator model (fiberglass)
Desiree is patterned on this model. In fact, she is a sister ship to Liberty built by Dick Salter and many of her bronze fittings were from Liberty's castings. As has been the case with Friendships from the beginning, Desiree's builder made some minor modifications to suit his use of the vessel. Specifically, Desiree's accomodations down below differ slightly from both Dictator's and Liberty's, but the length overall, her beam, draft and mast height are all standard Dictator. 


1.)  The Classic Boat, Time-Life Books, 1977  pp.79-100
3.)  Friendship Sloop Society
4.)  Richard Stanley and Wooden Boats: From Legacy to Beyond, Laurie Schreiber
5.)  Dorothy Elizabeth, Building a Traditional Wooden Schooner, Roger Duncan
6.)  Friendship Sloops, by Roger Duncan

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