“En route to England, the Centennial swamped twice in storms, was righted in warm Gulf Stream water and bailed out.”
Six-year-old Coral Withe leaning against Centennial II on the Fourth of July said, “This is beautiful.” Assembled family and friends, gathered for the launching of builder Dan Noyes’ copy of a famous sailing dory, agreed.
Last year, Dan and the old Closeteer visited the first Centennial at Cape Ann’s lovely museum near City Hall in Gloucester. In 1776, patriotic fisherman Alfred Johnson built and then sailed her across the Atlantic to the country we had broken away from a century before.
Dan carefully took the measurements off Johnson’s still intact 20-foot dory while the Closeteer roamed the museum, admiring other boats and fishing schooner models of note, and especially Fitz Henry Lane’s well-known paintings of Gloucester harbor in the days of sail.
A year passed as Dan’s new Centennial II, still not yet named, took shape in his small boat shop. Finally, almost finished, she was launched at high tide the morning of July 4, 2017, 241 years after our nation’s independence had been so bravely declared.
Dan left her in cord grass at the old Newbury Landing on the Parker River as the water slipped away. In spanking new red, white and blue paint, she would lay until Dan returned at high tide in the evening to anchor her just off the river channel.
On her second night on the water, he would sleep on the narrow floor between centerboard and side planks where Johnson had slept — or tried to — for 52 days in the summer of 1876. Dan has no plans for crossing.
Since Johnson’s, the first-recorded crossing sailing in a dory alone, a dozen or more solitary rowers and sailors have followed in small boats. No radios or other modern safety devices helped the early fishermen who toiled in thousands of dories without even lifejackets.
En route to England, the Centennial swamped twice in storms, was righted in warm Gulf Stream water and bailed out. The renowned Centennial voyage averaged 70 or so miles per day under three sails, a large main and two foresails and oars now and then.
We are now eager to see her 21st century replica under sail. Dan, who is currently dealing with sail makers, has plans for several hundred pounds of ballast on the keel. Johnson had successfully designed his for quick righting if tipped over at sea.
What the Closeteer temporarily calls Centennial II may have a name by first sailing, the builder has solicited suggestions. The Closeteer has put forth "Togetheragain," thus celebrating not rebellion but a team of stalwart allies in the two world wars and beyond. This year under new administrations, a Brexit one in Great Britain and a "Make America Great Again" here, there have been strains.
We wonder how Johnson’s arrival seemingly celebrating separation was received upon arrival in Abercastle, Wales, on Aug. 12, 1876, and in Liverpool on Aug. 21.
Togetheragain, Britain-America, like Sevenovus, a name given Dan’s great-grandfather Henry Woodard’s new fishing boat, out of Rings Island in the 1940s, has a positive message. Henry’s daughter Ruth named her dad’s new boat for the seven members of her family.
“Abercastle” where Johnson safely landed on British soil, is being mulled over, along with other names by Dan.
Whatever her name, she, as little daughter Coral Withe from a boatbuilding family of six exclaimed, is a beauty.
Her low-key launching by family on the Parker’s lovely summer bank was, in the Closeteer’s opinion, a better Fourth than ones with patriotic speeches, gun salutes or fireworks displays. The ebb quietly flowed over her new planks, painted with our colors and via the Gulf Stream, will follow in Johnson’s wake to England, our mother country.
It’s too bad the late John Lennon from Liverpool isn’t around to write a song about her.
Pike Messenger is a member of the environmental organization Middleton Stream Team. For more on the organization, go to middletonstreamteam.org. This first appeared in the group's Weekly Water Closet newsletter.