, Salem, MA

May 20, 2013

Preserving a Friendship

Repairs to Salem's historic vessel are ongoing

Bethany Bray
The Salem News

---- — SALEM — A series of repairs to the Friendship will be completed this month, but National Park Service staff say work on the three-masted ship will stretch to infinity.

It’s the nature of the beast for a wooden vessel like Friendship, said Jeremy Bumagin, chief of the marine division at the Salem Maritime National Historic Site.

Friendship, the icon of Salem’s Derby Wharf, is a replica of an 1797 “East Indiaman” merchant vessel.

Park staff will always be doing piecemeal repairs, Bumagin said, checking for deterioration and replacing portions of wood. Through the summer, they’ll focus on reworking the bulwark — the railing-type structure around the deck.

“We have to be unbelievably proactive with finding water infiltration,” said Bumagin, who has worked on the Friendship since 1998.

“... These are the repairs that never end,” he said, gesturing to a Friendship staffer who was removing bits of wood from the bulwark Thursday.

A series of repairs by contractor F.J. Dion will finish this month, said Bumagin. The Salem company worked August through February, and again this month, removing and replacing wood from the ship’s hull and frames.

Dion’s work replaced 5 to 10 percent of the hull, most of it original, 15-year-old wood, said Bumagin.

Last week, the Salem Maritime National Historic Site hosted a program for the public highlighting the recent repairs. Established in 1938, the site is celebrating its 75th anniversary.

The Friendship went to a shipyard in Fairhaven for a six-month “haul out” for repairs in 2012.

The Friendship will leave for another haul out in November 2014, Bumagin said. Before and after the haul out, the ship will have a major “down rigging,” said Bumagin, when the masts are removed for repair.

The National Park Service will keep the Friendship docked until “a repair of unknown scope” below the water line can be addressed in the 2014 haul out, Bumagin said. While the problem is not getting any worse, it’s impossible to know its extent while Friendship sits in the water.

“We’re choosing not to sail because we don’t know how bad it is,” Bumagin said. “... The prudent choice is not to.”

Depending on a number of factors, including finances, the Friendship’s next sail could be summer 2015, he said.

The Coast Guard has de-activated Friendship’s certification to carry passengers at sea during the repairs; Bumagin said he expects the certification to be reinstated after the 2014 haul out.

Friendship has had five haul outs in its 15-year history, said Bumagin.

This year marks the first time they’ve had hull carpentry done while keeping the ship in Salem. The park service has made a conscious decision to do as much repair work in Salem as possible — both as a money-saving tactic but also to allow visitors to see the work being done, said Jonathan Parker, public information officer for the National Park Service.

Ongoing ship repairs would have been part of Derby Wharf life in centuries past, Parker said.

“Having (Friendship) here and visible is great, and better for everyone,” he said. “... The goal is to have Friendship available to the public and as accessible as possible.”

“We’re doing every bit of work we can do in Salem, in Salem,” Bumagin said. “The biggest reason is so we can keep it open for programming ... We’ve made a decision to change the way we do (repairs), and it’s worked out quite well.”

Finding problem spots — where water seeps in and eventually causes rot — proves difficult because Friendship has a four layer hull. Deterioration is sometimes seen on the exterior, but not the interior, or vice versa, or sometimes it’s inside the hull and can’t be seen until you pull layers away, said Bumagin.

“Finding the problem is quite a challenge,” he said.

The modern Friendship, built between 1996 and 2002 in a collaboration between the National Park Service and several community groups, is a replica of a merchant vessel launched in 1797.

The original Friendship sailed to India, China, South America, the Caribbean and Europe before she was captured as a prize of war by the British sloop of war HMS Rosamond in September 1812.

Bethany Bray can be reached at and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.