Christmas Tree Ship

The Niagara and the Erie Maritime Museum get a little quieter in the winter, once the sailing season ends and the ship’s seasonal crew scatters. The winter maintenance crew is small—a few people working in the rig shop, a few more doing carpentry—but there’s never any shortage of work to do.

Once Niagara returned from shipyard in Cleveland, the winter crew’s first priority was to get the ship ready for whatever weather Erie might send our way. Our engineer winterized the engines, generators, and other ship’s systems, while volunteers came down almost every day to help build the winter cover that protects the ship from the worst of the wind and snow. First, a framework of wooden beams went up along the entire deck, and then huge pieces of heavy canvas were stretched across the frame and lashed in place. To anyone passing by Niagara’s slip in the last few weeks, it probably looked like we were building a house on top of the ship.

Thanks to our volunteers, we finished the winter cover just in time for the first big snowstorm of the season—and just in time for Christmas Tree Ship, Captain Sabatini’s favorite event of the year. The crew strung multicolored lights along the shrouds, hauled a decorated Christmas tree up to the top of the mainmast, and spruced up the ship to prepare for a visit from Santa and his reindeer. Then, on Friday December 9th, more than eight hundred excited kids and their parents filled the ship, the plaza, and the Erie Maritime Museum to join us for a giant Christmas party.

It was a blustery night, with snow filling the air, but the hot cocoa and cookies never ran out, and the reindeer didn’t seem to mind the cold. When it came time to light up the ship, the crew held their collective breath while the crowd counted down—and at “zero!”the Christmas lights flashed on, just as planned. The kids around us cheered. We all breathed a sigh of relief.

Today, it’s back to work as usual on the ship. The winter crew is busy sanding, painting, hammering, and cleaning. We’ll keep you posted about our ongoing projects over the next few months. If you want to take a closer look at what Niagara‘s winter season is like, stop by the museum and join us for a day! There are even some leftover cookies in the break room.

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