Saturday, September 13, 2008

Schooner Preserves Oswego's Maritime Heritage

By Richard Palmer
During the mid-19th century, Oswego was a major port on the Great Lakes. More than 100 schooners were owned here and the harbor was a beehive of activity. There were also several shipyards.
Such stirring scenes as a half-dozen ships sailing into the harbor have long since vanished. But this heritage is being reborn in the form of the Oswego Maritime Foundation's pride and joy, the "OMF Ontario," which is to proudly sails out of the harbor into Lake Ontario as in days of old.
The story of how this "tall ship" evolved dates back to 1983 when now OMF President Henry Spang brought up the idea at the foundation's annual meeting. The schooner would be the focal point of the Education Through Involvement Program.
The ship would foster an appreciation of Oswego's maritime heritage, advance the knowledge of the Great Lakes, enlarge the understanding of Great Lakes resources; and promote an awareness of the fragile nature of the aquatic ecosystem.
During the summer of 1985 the Canadian brigantine "St. Lawrence II " was used to run a simulation of the proposed program with OMF youth sailing students as participants. In the spring of 1988 a 100-year-old restored ship's wheel presented for use on the schooner, once it was built.
The official laying of the keel was held on June 25 1988 with local, state and national dignitaries partcipating. During that summer and fall, preliminary framing was completing. The following year, bulkheads were installed and plating began. Hull work continued over the next several years.
On July 2, 1994, the hull of this 85-foot vessel slid into the water 115 years to the day the last schooner, "Leadville," was launched at the same site - then the Goble shipyard in Oswego.The schooner was christened and named that day, "OMF Ontario," by a great-grandson of George Goble, with two grand-nieces in attendance. The name was chosen as a result of a name-that-schooner contest among fourth graders throughout Oswego County. A specially-appointed committee did the judging. There were 100 entries.
Although the launchings were coincidental, the sizes were not. The Leadville, built for Michael J. Cummings, was 142 feet, six inches long, 28-foot, three-inches beam; and had a 12-foot hold. It could carry 770 tons and spread 9,357 square feet of canvas. The foremast was 86 feet ; mainmast, 88feet and mizzen-mast, 76 feet. The fore and main topmasts weere 60 feet and the spar aft topmast was 50 feet.
Work continued on the present vessel for several years, mostly on weekends by volunteers. Deck houses were built; bulwark caps, chainplates, mooring bits, and tanks constructed; ballast totaling 20,000 pounds was completed (half is lead, and half consists of scale weights from the former Oswego grain elevator scales adding a bit more history to the project).
In 1998, on site spar construction began as welders finished their work on the hull. The bowsprit, jib boom, and aft lower mast were completed. That October, final hulkl work was completed.
But much crucial work remained. In 1999, the main lower mast, both topmasts and main boom were completed while other spars were built by individuals and groups off site. The engine moved aboard during the fall of 1999, and all tank work was readied for Coast Guard inspection.
Details of "OMF Ontario"
A deck-mounted windlass and access hatch are located above the forward chain locker. This will be used for chain, line, and anchor storage and is isolated from the crew area by a watertight collision bulkhead. The crew cabin has four full-size berths, enclosed head, hanging locker, and personal gear storage. Access to the crew cabin is provided by two deck hatches and ladders.
The main cabin, also known as the classroom, features group seating around a large table, perimeter shelving for the ship's library, and a laboratory research station. Access to this section is through two companionways. A large raised skylight above the table will provide light and ventilation.
The engine compartment contains the 100 horsepower diesel engine, generator and controls for the electrical, plumbing and mechanical systems. Adequate working space and headroom here will insure a safe and efficient power system. In the wardroom are a settee, galley, and head with access to the dog house (desk house) above, which serves as the navigation station.
Two double cabins, each with two berths, are officer accommodations that open to the wardroom and deck through a large skylight in the raised trunk aft of the deck house. The watertight collision bulkhead separates the aft storage compartment from the officer cabins. This compartment will accommodate steering gear and will hold lines, fenders, and other mooring and docking gear.
During the winter of 1999-2000, finishing touches were given to the mahogany woodwork while work was done on the hatch ways. sky lights and other wood components. The years since then have focused on making the ship 100 percent seaworthy and some readjustments to the standing and running rigging. Actual sea trials are occurring this year.
Spang said:
"It should be noted that this steel hulled Coast Guard inspected 'T' vessel has been built entirely by volunteers financed by private donations and in-kind services. When completed she will be the proud possession of the Oswego Maritime Foundation and those who built her.
"More than 95 percent of the work has been done on site at the OMF Boating Education Center. Volunteers work March through October four hours on each Saturday and Sunday as weather permits. This is a true tribute to what dedicated volunteerism and community spirit can accomplish."

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