By the early 1840s, Essex no longer had its own fishing fleet, but had turned to year-round shipbuilding fostering a symbiotic relationship with the successful fishermen in Gloucester. Captains traveled from other ports to the town of Essex, MA and contracted for a new vessel because the Essex shipbuilders possessed unsurpassed skill and craftsmanship. Much of the skills required of shipwrights or shipbuilders were obtained through on-the-job-training, and many of the earliest shipyards and boat shops operated as family businesses passed down from generation to generation.The town became widely recognized as North America’s leading producer of the popular “schooners,” which enabled fishermen to sail far offshore and withstand rough seas. These large wooden vessels featured two masts carrying two principal sails supported by booms and gaffs and had one or more triangular head sails rigged to a bowsprit. By the 1850s, 15 Essex shipyards launched more than 50 vessels a year, most of which were built for the Gloucester fleet. (From the National Park Service site)
This very entertaining mid-20th Century documentary is shown at the Essex Shipbuilding Museum, just a short drive from Ipswich. Viewing time: 12 minutes.
Over 4000 wooden vessels were launched from Essex, including many schooners that sailed from nearby Gloucester, once the largest fishing port in the United States. View below, “Legacy: Shipbuilders, Fishermen and the Age of the Gloucester Schooners” (58 minutes) produced by Jim and Laura Lowell.
The 55-foot pinky schooner Ardelle was designed and built by Harold Burnham of Burnham Boat Building in Essex MA using locally harvested wood and hand tools and similar techniques to those that Colonial-era shipbuilders used. Hundreds of spectators watched from the Essex Shipbuilding Museum in 2011 for the launching of the Ardelle into the Essex River.