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Classics: Friendship Sloop

Illustration by Jim Ewing 

Illustration by Jim Ewing 

In the late 19th century, Wilbur Morse, a boatbuilder in Friendship, Maine, was turning out an unprecedented number of working sailboats of similar design. As Betty Roberts writes in her history of the Friendship sloop, the boats were gaff-rigged with a clipper bow and a graceful (and practical) elliptical stern. Working craft, they were likely developed from the fishing boats of Gloucester, Massachusetts, and were used for most any kind of fishing, whether hand-lining for cod, seining for herring or hauling lobster traps.

Though Morse is credited with building the most “Friendships,” fishermen all over Maine — Thomaston, Cushing, Morse Island, Muscongus — were building the versatile, capable and seaworthy boats. Most were 30 to 40 feet, built using a formula that allowed for varying sizes. Beam was related to length, and mast height was related to length and draft. Thus, they could be built to any length from 21 to 50 feet. All had the elliptical stern.

Builders would cut their own wood, bring it to a sawmill and float the milled lumber to a boathouse using dories. “Each builder had some little secret innovation, which, in his estimation, made his model better than the others,” Roberts writes. The idea was to launch in spring, fish in summer, sell in the fall and build another. Used boats might fetch $300 to $500, the average cost of building.

The Friendship sloop remained in use as a fishing boat into the early 20th century, when motorized boats began replacing them. Before the Friendship faded from history, however, a devoted group that admired its look and sailing qualities seized upon it. The Friendship Sloop Society was founded in 1961, and the first of its annual sloop regattas, held in Friendship, Maine, drew 14 entries. Today, there are gatherings in Connecticut and Massachusetts, as well.

For more on the Friendship sloop, visit the society website at

This article originally appeared in the August 2017 issue.



VIDEO: The Friendship Sloop

The beautiful and graceful Friendship Sloop evolved from hardscrabble fishing boats used to harvest lobster and fin fish in Maine.