By MICHAEL FRETT
St. Albans Messenger Staff Writer
GEORGIA – Friend Ship’s name, painted in white along the ship’s finely-angled bow, is a pun with layers.
There’s the obvious link between “ship” and “friendship,” of course, but that wasn’t even the boat maker’s intention when he first christened it, current owner Matthias Dubilier noted. Instead, the boat’s shipwright took the name from the Friend Ship’s class of sloop, which in turn lifted a name from its Maine hometown.
Dubilier, a lifetime sailor and owner of Whistling Man Schooner Company, has been overseeing the boat’s restoration in Georgia over the last two years alongside Hannah “Diddy” Langsdale, one of Friend Ship’s five captains.
Though the boat was pulled together again for last summer’s sailing season, the Friend Ship has spent the better part of the last two years in pieces, strewn across Whistling Man’s warehouse near Georgia’s Arrowhead Industrial Park.
Friendship sloop is a style popularized by Maine fishermen at the turn of the 19th century. Its simplified rigging meant it only took a single fisherman to pilot one, and their low profile and large hull made hauling nets easy and guaranteed room for a fisherman’s catch.
“They were essentially the pick-up trucks of their day,” Dubilier said.
The friendship has a curved profile to its hull, its bow bending upward to resemble the larger clipper ships that dominated 19th century seas.
With a hull carved from fiberglass in 1981, the Friend Ship is a copy of a Maine original. That boat’s owner, an avowed fan of the friendship sloop, had made several recreations of the 1904 boat, including the hulls that would later become Friend Ship and its sister Friendship.
Whistling Man is the fifth owner of Friend Ship, using it to take passenger charters out onto Lake Champlain from its homeport in Burlington. The boat is one of the only ships on Champlain permitted to do so, with only the Spirit of Ethan Allen and another ship near Ticonderoga sporting the same U.S. Coast Guard certifications that allow it to take passengers out en masse.
Dubilier and Langsdale, alongside three captains and two crewmembers, host tours that wrap around landmarks like Juniper Island and Lone Rock Point. The ship’s sails, a gaff rigging that runs fore-to-aft rather than left-to-right, afford it the ability to cut into the wind to some degree, giving it some liberty as far as where it can bring its passengers.
“We bring the boat out to tell people why we love the lake,” Dubilier explained.
“And why they should love it,” Langsdale added.
Dubilier is a longtime sailor, inheriting the profession from his mother’s side of his family that had sailed for generations. He’s sailed for 40 years at this point, having manned “every type of vessel on Lake Champlain.”
“I was shoved into a dinghy when I was 12 and hollered at until I figured out what I was doing,” Dubilier said. “I never really figured it out until years later.”
He figured it out in time to purchase his own coastal sailing boat the same size as Friend Ship, and eventually embark on what he called “an Odyssean voyage” that sent him and his crew of three across the Atlantic to ports as far away as Turkey and Greece.
“I experienced a life in a whole new way,” Dubilier reflected. “You go back in time. All of a sudden I wasn’t just sailing in Greece, I was sailing where Odysseus sailed, where the Phoenicians sailed.”
Since joining Whistling Man, Langsdale’s accumulated enough hours at sea and passed the exams needed to achieve the rank of captain. The tests, she said, were brutal – in a class of 12, Langsdale was the only one to pass. Once the dust settled, though, she was officially certified as the Friend Ship’s fifth captain.
Her first boat, a 1989 yawl, is set up alongside the Friend Ship in Whistling Man’s workshop, also undergoing restoration.
A whiteboard in the Whistling Man warehouse declares a fully-restored Friend Ship should return to the water sometime in next month. That deadline is non-negotiable for the boat’s owners, who only have a small seasonal window to charter tours before weather once again grounds the vessel in the fall.
With only the summer to sail, profit margins for these companies can be slim. The result is the restoration, which Dubilier prices at about $50,000, will carve a large hole in Whistling Man’s pockets. But with restorations winding up and the boat readying for launch, Dubilier and Langsdale predict it will be a long time before the boat has to undergo another costly restoration.
Besides, they add, there’s more to restoring Friend Ship than business.
“We’re not really owners of boats. We’re stewards of boats,” Dubilier said. “If we take care of boats, they’ll long outlive us … You fall in love with the ship, and you do what she deserves.”
“And you definitely fall in love with her the more you work on her,” Langsdale said.