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Sandbagger sloop back on the water

Connecticut’s Mystic Seaport re-launched the vessel as part of its 75th birthday celebration

Connecticut’s Mystic Seaport re-launched the vessel as part of its 75th birthday celebration

In 1931 Annie, a 28-foot 1880 sandbagger sloop, was acquired by the Mystic (Conn.) Seaport and became the organization’s first vessel. Since then, she has remained on dry land and undergone a number of labor-intensive renovations.

That all changed Sept. 21 when, as part of the seaport’s 75th anniversary, a crew of 12 Seaport staffmembers took Annie down the Mystic River into Fisher’s Island Sound for her first sail in at least 74 years.

“It was like taking a Formula One race car on the road for the very first time,” says Quentin Snediker, director of the Seaport’s Henry B. duPont Preservation Shipyard. “Sandbaggers have a reputation for being difficult to sail. Annie is a handful, no doubt, but having sailed her we know she’s manageable. As we continue to sail her we hope to get better at it.”

Just before 1 p.m. — after the boat was towed into the Sound — the crew hoisted Annie’s nearly 1,500-square-feet of sails. She caught a puff of wind and took off, cruising through the water at about 10 knots. Other museum employees and members of the media followed in two chase boats.

“The wind was nice, between 12 and 15 knots,” Snediker says. “She really planes when you’re on a broad reach. We had her under sail for about three hours. It was an excellent experience.”

Annie was built in 1880 at the D.O. Richmond Yard in Mystic just south of where the Seaport stands today. She was launched and originally owned by Henry H. Tift, who raced her on Long Island Sound, and in Georgia and Florida in the winter.

Because of a sandbagger’s massive sail area the boats are fast, and it’s necessary for crews to carry weighted sandbags on board to help keep the boat from capsizing. It’s no different for Annie, which measures nearly 70 feet from the bowsprit to the tip of her boom. The crew carried ten 40-pound bags filled with water.

“Those boats could really move,” says Dana Hewson, the seaport’s senior curator for watercraft. “Racing sandbaggers was popular in the 1800s, especially from the 1860s to the 1890s. The rules of racing changed, though, and the boats fell out of favor. Many then fell into disrepair. Annie is one of the few left today in great condition.”

When Annie was donated to the Seaport in 1931, she was put on display outdoors, according to Snediker. Over the years the staff has performed a number of restorations on the boat. Among the work done, Annie has new frames, a new deck, new planks, a new plank keel and a new replica tiller. The most recent renovation was completed last year.

“We’ve paid close attention to historical details to make sure Annie’s shape and form are as accurate as possible,” Snediker says.

Mystic Seaport staffmembers say Annie will be sailed a few times a year during special events.

“Annie is going to be an icon,” Snediker says. “She will join our other vessels here and represent the museum to a broad audience.”