Everybody should go to a launch and thrill, too, as a new hull gently, imperceptibly at first, starts down the ways, gaining until, as Poet Longfellow precisely says, she "leaps into the ocean's arms." Longfellow knew what he was talking about, as witness his rhyme of "stanch" with "launch." It's the Maine way, and Maine was ever the place for lanches. The first craft lofted and lanched in the New World was the "Virginia," 1607 at Popham. Popham is just one bay over from Friendship, where bo'ts have been splashing nearly as long, and we all went the other day to see the "Leeman" slide out of the ramshackle Lash Boat Works into Hatchet Cove. She's not the prettiest thing the Lashes ever built, but she's a sturdy and also stanch dragger. Now that she's overboard, she'll be fitted with heavy masts and great winches (that's' "Wenches,"m you know) to handle the nets for the Deep Ground. She's a fisherman.
So, too, were some of the prettier boats the Lashes have lanched, but those were other times. The most numerous sailing boats of the Maine Coast were the sloops. Back in 1622 when the Pilgrim Fathers came up from Plymouth to look Maine over, thinking they were the total population of New England, Governor Winthrop was astonished at the activity along "the main" and amongst the islands. His journal tells of the unexpected numbers of sloops coming and going. Gaff-rigged, these handy and trusty small work-boats developed into the down-east schooners that came later -- the Marblehead, the chebacco, the dogbody , the pinkie, the file bottom, and also whalers like the Tancook. Coasting and fishing, the schooners had their era. And the basic sloop was also developed into the lovely Friendship Sloop by the boat crafters of this region -- Muscongus Bay. The Lash yard has made many.
But the more recent Friendships were not made for seining and lobst'ring, as were the originals a century ago, but for the recreational sailor who admires the style and line. The friendship sloop survives today much as does the Model T --kept by buffs who have their esoteric values. One of the more lovely Friendships is "Dirigo," built by Lash in 1964 -- she's a summer boat and was never meant to work. But the oldtime sloops of which the "dirigo" is a replica could be taken to sea by one man, jogged from lobster trap to lobster trap, and left to their own tethers while traps were hauled and baited. 'Tis said they responded to spoken commands, like dogs or oxen, so carefully were they suited to their purpose. Some few years have passed since Lash got an order for a sloop, but a couple of goodsized draggers have appeared, and everybody was there to cheer the "Leeman."
The "ramshackle" boat shed has nothing to do with the quality of the product. Even summer artists pass up the Lash shed as being too much for credibility. The "Leeman" has a high house, so they just shoved her through the roof and worked all winter under a plastic canopy. Where shingles buckle, tar paper takes up the slack. "It's been like that ever since I can remember," said an elderly man. All of which is unimportant -- the Lashes are boat carpenters, not whatever it may be the saws studs and climbs around on rafters -- because nobody around tidewater goes to a lanch to look at gables. When the "Leeman" was freed , she daintily, for all her heft, rode down the ways and was cheered in the customary manner. When snubbed, she stood high at the stern, because her ballast and derricks had not yet been added. How does a craftsman lay down a boat so she'll ride true when, after lanching and after finishing, she is ready for sea? I must ask Win Lash some day, not that I need to know, but that I would expect his answer to be worth hearing.
After a lanch, a moment is spent looking at the boat, and then there is visiting. Now one may look about to see who else is there. Sort of old-home stuff. Sometimes, before the lanch crowd has gone away, the keel of a next boat is being moved along.Sometimes, such is the truth about wooden boats now, it may be some time before another good lanch. Which is a good reason not to miss one if you get the chance. I was pleased, and I'm sure you will be, to learn that a lanch, in Friendship, is still an occasion for a school holiday. As we came up from Lash's yard, we stood aside as our teachers herded the small fry down over the timbers to the shore. Everybody had picnic baskets.