An old Friendship native has come home.
Eagle, built by Wilbur Morse of Friendship in 1915, is now undergoing repairs at Spruce Head. And the latest owner, Dick Rapalyea of Thomaston, is finding out that an old boat, like his 18th century house, requires a lot of time and energy, not to mention money.
Rapalyea fell in love with the 32-foot Friendship Sloop a couple of years ago, and figured this would be his semi-retirement project. He discovered that Eagle’s spruce planking on steamed oak frames is mostly sound, but the deck beams are rotten. You pull out a weak board and you uncover some other problem, he says. More rot. Rusted fastenings, for example, and the wood around them gets punky or “nail sick.”
Yet in Rapalyea’s eyes Eagle is “a beautiful boat,” a curvaceous vessel that displays the classic lines of a workboat first intended for fishing under sail. Eagle now has a diesel engine, but no shiny varnish or brass.
Friendships are characterized by their clipper bow, gaff rig with tops’l and beamy hull. Some carry tops’ls on their wooden spars, and Rapalyea — who has sailed a Friendship — says they can practically self-steer. That was an important feature back when the boats were used for lobstering.
A local carpenter is helping with Eagle’s restoration. The boat has long been listed in the register of the Friendship Sloop Society, and Rapalyea has joined that group. The society holds an annual regatta in Rockland.
Rapalyea admits to some discouraging moments but hangs onto the dream of sailing a classic boat that cost him just $15,000. The previous owner, Don Huston of Nahant, Massachusetts, rebuilt Eagle many decades ago and spent 40 years sailing her whenever he could.
“Old boats are by far the most fabulous buy on the market if you’re willing to do the work yourself,” Rapalyea said. He thought he’d be sailing Eagle by last summer. Now he thinks he’ll be lucky to launch next summer.
He juggles his work on the boat with a three-day-per-week job at Sage Market in Rockland. Weather can play havoc with boat work, just as it does with sailing.
He and his wife, Diane, retired from horticultural sales work in Pennsylvania, where they lived before buying their 1785 waterfront home in Thomaston, with views of the St. George River from nearly every window.
One of their Thomaston neighbors is Wayne Cronin, whose Friendship Sloop, Rights of Man, is stored for the winter beside the house.
Diane, who prefers staying on shore, works at Anderson Farms, a greenhouse in Edgecomb.
At Spruce Head, Eagle stands on jacks across the yard from another ancient Friendship Sloop, the 35-foot Omaha, owned by Adrian Hooydonk of Spruce Head. Built in 1901 by Norris Carter, it’s one of oldest Friendships still around.
Speaking of friendship, Hooydonk and Huston are old friends and have cruised aboard Eagle.
riendship Sloops have general characteristics that earn them that name. The town of Friendship was one of several Muscongus Bay locations where these work boats were built, starting in the 1880s.
Original Friendships were as small as 21 feet and up to 50 feet, sharing lines with Gloucester fishing schooners, according to Betty Roberts, historian for the Friendship Sloop Society. Most sloops were 30-40 feet, although replica sloops are often smaller.
In 1903, no less than 22 sloops were under construction on Bremen Long Island alone, Roberts said. Lobstering was just one use for these sloops that could be single-handed. They were also used to catch cod, herring, mackerel and swordfish — in the days when those fish were plentiful.