Christmas Channel

By lunchtime on December 23rd—our last day of work before the holidays—I was convinced that I’d cursed us all. “Remember how I wrote that we’d get the channel off today?” I said to Amy, my fellow apprentice carpenter. We’d spend the morning trying, and failing, to pull fasteners from the starboard fore channel.  “I shouldn’t have said anything. It was bad luck.”

“No, we’ve got this,” Amy insisted. Even she sounded skeptical; at that point, we’d been working for almost three hours without any noticeable progress. The fasteners refused to budge. If things continued at this rate, we’d be lucky to get even one fastener pulled before the end of the day, much less get the entire channel off.

But Amy was right. By some Christmas miracle, before the end of the workday, all of the fasteners were out and the channel was balanced on the forks of our sturdy little Clark forklift. Amy and I watched with baited breath while Adam, the ship’s carpenter, backed the forklift away from the ship…and the channel pulled smoothly away from the hull. It was surreal to see such a fundamental piece of the ship taken apart, even though we’d spent the last several days working hard to make it happen.

But as we carefully transferred the channel from the forklift to a table in the workshop, my foremost thought was: well, at least I didn’t curse us.

(This is our first week back from the holiday break, and now that the channel is off, our next big project is to get the fighting top off the foremast. I won’t make any predictions about how long it’s going to take, though—just in case.)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


We took advantage of today’s warm(er) weather to get back outside, and spent the morning breaking ice off the ship’s offshore lines and getting ready to pull our paint floats out of the water for the season. No matter what the weather is like on land, the water is bitterly cold this late in the year, so we wear Mustang exposure suits anytime we’re working on the paint floats or in the small boats. Mustang suits are awkward to move in and miserable to get out of, but they’re certainly warm, and they make our work that much safer—even if, as one crewmember pointed out, they make us look like bright orange marshmallows.

On the other side of the plaza, Team Carpentry spent the day demolishing parts of the old starboard fore channel, a 17ft long piece of wood that runs horizontally outboard of the bulwarks. The starboard fore shroud legs, which keep the foremast from moving side to side, are attached to the channel. The channels are a fundamental piece of our entire rig. Building and installing the replacement will be tricky. But for now, our goal is to have the old channel removed before the holiday break.

Speaking of the holidays: there’s no volunteer work party scheduled for either this Saturday December 24th, or for Saturday December 31st.  We’ll see you all after the New Year!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Spar Alley Shuffle

Most of our winter maintenance work happens on the lower two floors of the museum:  in spar alley, the carpenter’s workshop, and the rig shop. Things are always crowded, but once Niagara is downrigged and all of her supplies are stored inside for the winter, there’s not even room to swing the proverbial cat. So on Thursday, when the ship’s carpenter pulled up to the museum with 3,000 pounds of lumber stacked in the back of a U-Haul, one of his first problems was figuring out where to put it.

In the end, a few crewmembers and volunteers spent Friday shuffling and re-shuffling spars and stacks of wood. We spent a lot of time staring at individual pieces of oak or fir and saying things like “Well, if we moved that short piece to the other side, and found a wedge for that angled plank, and re-stacked everything six inches to the left, maybe everything will fit?” And somehow, everything eventually did.

The rig shop crew spent the rest of Friday sanding spars to get them ready for fresh coats of varnish and stretching out the shrouds in the rig shop so we can do maintenance and repair work on them. Meanwhile, Team Carpentry was building a new and hopefully improved system for pulling the last of the fasteners left behind from the recently-removed deck planks. (Our best prybar had an unfortunate on-the-job accident.)


The good news: at least we know those fasteners were solidly in place!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Snow Days

Like almost everyone in Erie, Niagara’s winter maintenance crew spends a lot of time moving snow from one inconvenient place to another, only slightly less inconvenient, place. This morning, we cleared all of the weekend’s snow and ice from around the foremast, which is where we’ll be working until the next big snowstorm drives us back inside the rig shop.   When we downrigged the ship in early October, we used a crane to lift the foremast up, swing it out over the plaza, and lower it down to the concrete. It’s been waiting there ever since, and now we finally have a chance to start working on it.

Meanwhile, Team Carpentry has been busy with one of their favorite things—deconstruction. Almost all of the deck planking at the bow of the ship, forward of the forepeak, has been removed. Over the next few weeks, the carpenters will be busy putting new deck planks in place. Of course, taking the planks out is straightforward; with saws, hammers, prybars, power tools, and a few determined people, it’s almost easy. Milling and shaping the replacements won’t be so simple. But that’s a problem for another day.

Note: This coming Saturday, December 17, is our last volunteer work party before the shop closes for the holidays. Muster is at 0830, and as usual, the coffee will be plentiful.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

2017 Winter Sail Training Poster.jpg

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Niagara crew member will sail Atlantic Ocean in tiny boat

GoErie Clip.JPG

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“Sailing into an Erie Adventure on the U.S. Brig Niagara”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Fond Farewells


Our Viking guests are leaving this afternoon, but they left Captain Sabatini with a rather large parting gift! (He had the boarding axe lying around the office already.)

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

“World’s largest Viking ship sails into Erie”

Video at the link below:

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment