Gloucester Schooner Festival Celebrates Essex Schooners

The story line of this year’s 31st annual Gloucester Schooner Festival, which runs from September 4th to September 6th, is all about Essex built and Essex inspired schooners. And the arrival of the 610’ USS Fort McHenry, but we’ll get to that.

The Schooner Columbia-- yesterday and today

The Schooner Columbia– yesterday and today

The signature or attraction schooner at this year’s Festival is the replica Columbia. The original Columbia was a 141’ classic Gloucester Fishing Schooner built at the historic A.D. Story shipyard of Essex, Massachusetts in 1923. That fall, the Columbia, designed for speed,  challenged the Bluenose, Canada’s legendary schooner in the International Fishermen’s Cup Races in Halifax. Nearly winning the title, the Columbia was narrowly defeated by the Bluenose and was one of the few American schooners to provide a challenge to Bluenose. (The other being the Gertrude Thebaud which beat the Bluenose in the Lipton Cup in 1930. The trophy is on display at Maritime Gloucester.). The replica Columbia was built by Brian D’Isernia at his boat yard, Eastern Shipbuilding Group, in Panama City, Florida. The Schooner is currently sailing to Sable Island, where the vessel was lost with all hands in a gale on August 24, 1927.  Following a memorial service at sea, the Columbia will make the return trip to Gloucester that never occurred. The Columbia is slated to arrive in Gloucester on August 27, 2015 in advance of the Schooner Festival.  “This is such a great story,” says Schooner Committee Chair, Daisy Nell Collinson. “We hope the public will come out in great numbers to welcome the Columbia and, over the weekend, celebrate the great history of schooners from Essex and Gloucester.”

This year’s schooner race also includes three of the remaining five Essex-built working schooners. The schooners Adventure (1926), Lettie G. Howard (1893), and the Roseway (1925) will all be racing this year. The Highlander Sea (1924) will be resting comfortably at the Gloucester Marine Railways as it enviously observes its wooden brethren compete for the Esperanto Cup. Of the remaining “intact” Essex-Built Schooners, only the Ernestina-Morrissey will be missing from this austere group. The Massachusetts owned schooner is being rebuilt in the state of Maine. Joining their elders will be the schooners Thomas Lannon, Ardelle and the Fame, all built over the last 20 years by 11th generation boat builder Harold Burnham at his boat yard in Essex.

USS Fort McHenry

USS Fort McHenry

The Schooner Festival will also feature a major attraction vessel — the USS Fort McHenry (LSD-43), which is a Whidbey Island-class dock landing ship of the United States Navy. She was named for Fort McHenry, in Baltimore, Maryland, the 1814 defense of which inspired The Star-Spangled Banner. This 610’ vessel is actively deployed around the world for combat and humanitarian purposes. It carries as many as 22 officers and 391 enlisted sailors. The ship will be available for public tours on Friday afternoon, Saturday and Sunday. “The City of Gloucester is honored to have the USS Fort McHenry in our historic harbor,” says Gloucester Mayor Sefatia Romeo-Theken. “We hope the community and weekend visitors take this opportunity to board the ship and honor the great men and women serving our country.” For more information about this Navy vessel, go to

For a complete list of the Gloucester Schooner Festival schedule, go to

Lead sponsors of the Festival include: the City of Gloucester, First Ipswich Bank, Market Basket and Institution for Savings. For a full list of sponsors, go to the Festival’s website. The Festival raises much needed funds from the community by offering Schooner Festival raffle in addition to corporate support. Please purchase raffle tickets (available at Maritime Gloucester) or during Maritime Heritage Day. These funds directly support our efforts to put kids on the water.

Maritime Gloucester is a 501(c) (3) non-profit institution whose mission is to inspire students and visitors to value marine science, maritime heritage and environmental stewardship through hands-on education and experiences. Its one-acre campus is located on Gloucester Harbor at 23 Harbor Loop, adjacent to the Coast Guard Station. For more information go to or like us on Facebook.