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Building the Adventure

Excerpted from Joe Garland's Adventure, Queen of the Windjammers

Like the thorax built on the backbone, Adventure's ribs , her frames, rose up on her keel, which was a composite of a couple of mammoth lengths of oak scarfed together by the union of complementary horizontal bevels and laid at a slight incline toward the mother waters on the crosspieces of the building ways.

These frames were the essence of her. They made her shape, and theirs was created by the wisdom and poetry of their designer. Therein lurked the secrets of her capaciousness, her stability, her ability against wave, collision, ledge, and sandbar, her speed, and-who knows?-her longevity.

For she had the right genes, Adventure did. Her prototype, the Oretha F. Spinney, was the creation of Tom McManus of Boston, built by the same yard six years previously and no doubt moulded by Essex's virtuoso of that art, Archer B. Poland. The mould was a construction pattern of light wood fastened to the exact dimensions of each frame over the lines that the moulder had enlarged from the designer's plans to life size on the floor of his loft. From each mould the carpenters sawed and fitted together in precise replication the interlocking pieces of each frame. The Spinney's moulds must have been saved by Poland or by the builder and dusted off for the Adventure.

Jeff (Thomas) decided, in fact, to deviate only very slightly from the Spinney's lines. Two or three frames were left out to shorten the clone's overall length a trifle, to 121.5 feet, although the waterline lengths of the two remained nearly the same: Adventure was 107 feet, the Spinney, 107.2. Captain Thomas broadened his version in the quarters a little, giving her 24,5 feet of beam, six inches more than the Spinney's, and reduced Adventure's depth by two, to 11.1 feet. . . .

Each of Adventure's frames is a subtly different cross section of her hull ... The sectional curves vary widely - from the tight, shallow tumblehome at the very stern, through the broad, full, deep contours amidships, where she carries her cargo, and the ever-steeper, narrow, flatter shape of the forefoot to the long, slicing, streamlined knockabout bow.

In order to manage such complex curves in wood, the frames are made up of as many as eleven pieces at the midsection, starting with the heavy crosswise floor that rests on the keel and working up either side, each overlapping the other, through the navel timber, the first and second futtocks, or flitches, the top timber, the planksheer, and ultimately the stanchion above the deck. These were laminated into an immensely strong and rigid unit by boring through-holes and fastening them with pounded trunnels (as long usage corrupted the pegs of locust called treenails). As each successive frame was finished on the ground, the cry went out, "Frame-up!" and the rest of the workers would drop what they were doing and muster to carry it to its place on the keel, raise it. and secure it temporarily with battens.

Most of Adventure's frames are extra heavy - six inches as cut but twelve wide when doubled up, varying in thickness from five inches at the deck to a foot or more at the keel. Then the great oak stem piece, all scarfed, was hoisted up on a pair of shears and bolted to the keel, pointing superciliously at the Essex causeway and the passing, pausing Model-T Fords. And then the sternpost was raised upright and the deadwood timbers filled in and fastened ahead of it to the keel, the graceful transom soaring above the high water of the creek.*

The frames at the extreme ends, the cants, were beveled and bolted to the stem and stern pieces, after which the heavy laminated keelson was laid over the floor timbers and bolted clear through the keel, tying everything together and doubling the backbone.

A few courses of battens called ribbands were then nailed lengthwise to the frames (which were temporarily secured athwartships as well) to hold them in place, and the "dubbers" went to work with adze and shoulder power, dubbing, fairing off the outer surface so that every plank would lay against every frame as it should. Then came the planking, a complex procedure involving carefully worked out "lining" for taper with the changing shape, and reliance on the steam box and a battery of great clamps to twist the hot , damp, limbered boards around the hard bends while it was tunneled. White oak three inches thick, as wide as eighteen and up to forty feet long, shaped with not a half-inch to spare. A job requiring the eye of a Hepplewhite and the arm of a Hercules! **

As each plank, or strake, was laid, fitted, and clamped, the borer moved along with his hand-cranked auger, a penny a hole, four holes to a frame, each trunnel pounded home through the frame by the "driver", sawed off flush, and the head split and wedged to hold forever, if need be. And then on the inside planking, the ceiling: hard pine, and in Adventure all of four inches thick and up to ten wide, more loosely fit to let air circulate, and trunneled. Doubly strong now, she has taken her full shape.

Next came the massive oak beams supported by the heavy "clamp" plank secured the length of either side to the top of the frames above the ceiling. The deck beams are faintly arched, or cambered to shrug off water through the scuppers. At about amidships James' men slid in the aptly named great beam, or break beam, the mightiest athwartships support of the deck and topsides, close to the mainmast, the point of severest strain. It serves as well to mark the break, the step from which the quarterdeck rises aft to the stern; this elevation raises the view from the helm and increases the sheer and hence the freeboard aft to the taffrail and headroom in the main cabin. As the deckbeams were cut and hove aboard, room was left for the main cabin trunk, hatch, companionway, and mast openings, which were framed in with the longitudinal timbers called carlings,

On to the decking of white pine three inches thick, four or five wide, laid on either side of the strongback, or mast bed, which imparts to the entire topside structure great additional strength against the enormous strain of spars while under sail or in a seaway. Adventure's strongback (measured by Chapelle) consists of a twelve-inch plank along the centerline and two eight-inchers on either side-forty-four inches wide altogether and four inches thick. Around the edge of the deck, at the base of the bulwarks, run the waterways, heavy planks running the curve of the topsides.

Coamings, hatches and hatch covers, cabin trunk, companionways, hawsepipes, rails, pinrails, sheet horses, deck blocks, stovepipes, rudder, wheelbox, windlass, chainplates, penboards, and deck pumps. Iron Stoddart steering wheel shafted and secured, trademark of the Gloucesterman.

The outboard joiners planed the hull lengthwise and crosswise, traversing, every stroke by hand. The clarion clank of the mallet, the beetle, rang through the yard as the caulkers attacked the seams with two or three miles of oakum, then caulked the deck and played it with pitch. Down below, the inside joiners set up the bulkheads between fishhold and living space: main cabin with lockers and bunks for Captain Jeff, Bos'n Emory Doane, Engineer Fred, and a chosen few, with nice touches of cypress and fiddleback maple. Ahead of that, the engine room. The long, nervous, pinpoint boring through the deadwood for the shaft. Fuel tanks. Stern bearing. Propeller.

A second bulkhead separates off the cavernous fishhold, capacity 160,000 pounds in the pens, ceiling here of hard pine caulked and sheathed with tin for more effective cleaning. Then the forward bulkhead and beyond that the gangway, the galley, the big black woodstove, the wood locker, food and stores lockers, ice chest, counters. The fo'c'sle, with a long, tapered table ahead of the foremast, bunks stacked on both sides of the bow and right up into the peak, into the eyes of her.

About the time the keel was laid in April, Captain Jeff had returned to halibuting in the Elmer E. Gray for Gorton-Pew. But as Adventure materialized on the stocks that summer of 1926 he was keeping an eye on every detail, beating a path back and forth between the Thomas frame house in Washington Square, three blocks from the waterfront, and the James yard.

By the end of August, she was nearly finished-deck oiled, deck structures and bulwarks white, waterline struck, topsides black, varnish and stain and white paint below. Moving into September, her bottom was painted with red copper antifouling compound that without a doubt came from Tarr and Wonson's red factory, a landmark on the end of Rocky Neck in Gloucester Harbor.

Announcement of impending event, Gloucester Times, September 15, 1926:


Schooner Adventure, being built at Essex for Capt. Jeffrey Thomas, will be
launched from the yard of James & Son at high tide tomorrow evening.

* At least some of the framing, Jim Sharp was informed by a member of the James family, was of a special "blue-white oak" cut in Taunton, south of Boston, and was left over from the smaller schooner Roseway, launced by James only the previous November 21. Leo Hynes heard that her timbers were so extra-heavy because a number of them were originally intended for a large three-masted coasting schooner. Perhaps the result is a mixture. A lot of the oak, Sharp was told, came out of West Virginia, where they were clearing for the Skyline Drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains.

** Howard Chapelle inspected Adventure and made numerous measurements while she was at the Boston Fish Pier on August 5, 1934, and again when she was hauled out. He included several of them in his definitive The American Fishing Schooners 1825-1935. Chapelle counted twenty-one starkes from her keel to her deck, varying in width from eight to eighteen inches, all of which he described as of yellow pine, perhaps erroneously; Sharp found her all white oak-planked when he bought her.

Updated by OBS on July 4, 1996; comments to