In Brooklin, Maine

This is a tale about historical ingenuity and classical beauty. It begins in the late 19th Century, when lobster fishermen worked the sea in cumbersome sail boats and dories, often alone. Our heroes are Wilbur Morse and a few of his contemporaries whose names seem to have been lost.  They were fishing boat designers and builders on Maine’s mid-coast. Wilbur, the most famous, worked out of the small harbor town of Friendship.

In the 1880s, after years of trying, Wilbur and a few others evolved small-crew fishing boats into more efficient, affordable, classic beauties. (That's the rough equivalent of turning a modern tractor into a more efficient work vehicle that looks like a Ferrari and can be afforded by those who work the land.) These new Maine fishing boats soon became known as Friendship Sloops. They revolutionized lobster fishing and beautified our coastal waters for decades, until motorization made the Friendship Sloops collector’s items for pleasure sailing by those with historical tastes.

Friendships never were a pedigreed “class” of boat that has to meet a host of design standards.  They simply have certain things in common that make them an “I-know-one-when-I-see-one” thing.

A Friendship Sloop has a high, sharp clipper bow that can part waves and reduce pitching and rolling. The boat’s sides sweep down gracefully from the bow to an elliptical stern; and, the gunwales are low to the water, which helps in taking traps or nets in and out of the sea. The highly maneuverable main sail is four-cornered and hoisted on an angled spar pole called a “gaff”; thus, a Friendship is “gaff-rigged.” Above the mainsail, there is a main topsail attached to the topmast when the boat is fully rigged.

An important feature of the Friendship is its  self-tacking staysail (or self-tending jib) above the bow; this three-cornered sail is connected by rope and pulleys to the mainsail apparatus. It frees a solo sailor from the need to go forward and furl or otherwise control jibs; he (and now she) can use a staysail as a jib and let it swing in coordination with the main sail, which is controlled from the cockpit.

And now the story-within-the-story.  The Friendship Sloop shown here is the Belford Gray, which has its own distinctive history. Jon Wilson, the visionary founder of WoodenBoat Publications and the WoodenBoat School, found small-scale plans for her in a 1907 magazine.

Noted naval architect Joel White created construction drawings from the magazine plans, at Jon’s request. These drawings were used by WoodenBoat School students to build the Belford Gray – during six summers of five two-week classes and one four-week class. She was named after a highly regarded Brooklin boat builder and launched in 1992.

For those who are fascinated by nautical numbers, here are some of the Belford Gray’s:

     o   Overall Length: 28’ 6”;

     o   Beam:9’ 6”;

     o   Draft: 5’ 4”;

     o   Sail Area: 636 sq. ft.

She's constructed with northern white cedar on white oak frames.

The many lines and sheets of the Belford Gray are now used as part of a WoodenBoat course on Craft of Sail.  In the images here, instructor Daniel Bennett and his class recently were sailing her fully-rigged in very light air – a beautiful sight, to be sure. But, some would say, the time to see the sensuous beauty of this Friendship Sloop is when she is alone and undressed:

Larger versions of the above images and a few others can be viewed by clicking the link below.  We recommend that your initial screening be a full-frame slideshow.  (To make that happen, click on the Slideshow button [>] above the featured [largest] image on the gallery page to which the link will take you.)  Here's the link:


Barbara and Dick Leighton