Since the advent and acceptance of modern materials (mainly fiberglass and steel) for boats and ship building, the wooden shipbuilding industry has all but disappeared, and many of the supporting industries, requisite skills, and means of passing them on have gone with it. Countering this narrative is master shipwright, designer, and mariner Harold A. Burnham, whose family has carried on a shipbuilding tradition dating back to the 1630s in the small town of Essex, Massachusetts.
As an 11th generation shipbuilder in an era where there is little market for new wooden ships, Harold has been able to carve out a career building, restoring, and operating traditional wooden vessels. His son, Alden, has participated in the family business over the past few years sailing the schooner Ardelle and is uniquely positioned to carry on the wooden boatbuilding tradition.
During their FY17 apprenticeship, father and son will work to restore a 23-foot lobster smack, the first boat Alden's grandfather built. The process will involve replacing half of the vessel's keel and centerline structure, sistering all of her timbers, re-planking her hull, replacing her deck and cabin, installing an engine and systems, building new spars and rigging, and making sails for the vessel.
The wooden shipbuilding tradition is in good hands in Massachusetts and this apprenticeship will help keep it in the Burnham family for another generation.