"Down Rigging" Underway For Sailing Ship "Friendship" At Salem Maritime National Historic Site

A crane moves into position for removal of a mast from the Friendship on the morning of November 15. NPS photo.

The sailing ship Friendship of Salem is a popular attraction at Salem Maritime National Historic Site, but visitors to the park in coming months shouldn't be concerned if it appears the vessel has been "demasted." Removal of sections of the masts and rigging began last week as part of a two-year project to inspect key parts of the ship, and make any repairs that are needed.

During the early years of our nation, Salem was one of the most important ports in the United States, and the park "recreates the Golden Age of Salem." The Friendship is a working replica of a historic three-masted sailing ship, and for most of the year is moored at the park, where she's open for public tours.

In addition to its role in telling the park's story, Friendship sails as an ambassador ship for the National Park Service and the Essex National Heritage Area. When she's under sail, the vessel is crewed by about 40 volunteers, most of them from the Salem vicinity.

Staying "Shipshape" Can be a Big Job

Keeping things "shipshape" isn't just a figure of speed, it's a literal description of the regular inspections and maintenance that are essential for any vessel that spends all its time in the water, and that's why the Friendship won't look quite the same in coming months. Portions of the ship's forward and middle masts were removed by a large crane last Friday as part of scheduled maintenance work. Park visitors and local residents were able to observe the lifting operation from the adjacent Hatches and Central Wharves, and park staff members were on-site to answer questions about the lifting operations throughout the day.

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The Topgallant section being removed from the main mast. NPS photo.

This month's work is the beginning of a two-year "down-rigging" period in which the ship's mast, spars and rigging will be systematically removed for inspection, repair and/or replacement as needed.

There's certainly plenty to keep in good shape on a vessel of this size. According to a park publication, "Fully rigged, Friendship flies eleven square sails and six fore-and-aft sails for a total of 17 sails with a total area of nearly a quarter of an acre. Over fifty miles of lines are used to hold the masts, yards, and sails in place and to manipulate the sails."

During the work, the ship will certainly have a different "look," and park staff members note, "The removal of various components of Friendship will significantly alter her appearance during this period of time. The upper sections of the 36-foot, 1-ton fore and main topgallant/royal masts were the first components to be removed."

Downrigging Allows Complete Inspection of Key Parts of the Ship

According to Jeremy Bumagin, the captain of the Friendship, "During the down-rigging we'll closely examine all the components of the wooden masts and their metal hardware for deterioration and decay. It is important to identify potential weaknesses in each mast to ensure the stability of the entire rig—whether we're sailing underway or moored at Derby Wharf during periods of bad weather with high winds. We'll correct any problems we find and re-rig the vessel over the next few years."

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The upper mast section being lowered to the ground. NPS photo.

The version of the Friendship visitors can see at the park is a replica of the original, and was built from 1996 to 1998. She's based on a model of the original ship at the Peabody Essex Museum, as well as several paintings of the ship and numerous documents, including the logs of the ship’s voyages.

The original Friendship was built in 1796-1797 by shipbuilder Enos Briggs at his shipyard across the South River from today’s Salem Maritime National Historic Site. The three-masted, square-rigged, 342-ton vessel made 15 voyages around the world before the War of 1812 ended her activities as an American merchant vessel.

She was captured as a prize of war by the British Sloop of War HMS Rosamond in September 1812. The ship was condemned as a prize by the British and sold at public auction in London on March 17, 1813.

Park Offers a Variety of Free Tours and Programs

A visit aboard today's version of the Friendship is just one of the options for a variety of free ranger-led tours and programs offered at the park Thursday through Monday year-round. Tickets for tours are free, but require a reservation by calling 978-740-1650 or stopping by the Visitor Center on the same day of the tour.

Jonathan Parker, the park's Chief of Interpretation, Education, & Partnerships, says the park will continue to conduct tours of the Friendship while the work on the ship is underway over the next several years.

"There will be a few hours or days when it will be necessary to close the vessel for the work, but those times should be minimal," Parker said.

If you're making a trip specifically for the purpose of touring the ship, you can check the park website or phone 978-740-1650 to confirm the status of the tours for the day or time in question.

You'll find information to help plan a visit, including driving directions, hours of operation and details about free tours at this link.