The Fame of Salem

Fame Schooner

In January of 2001 Michael Rutstien commissioned us to do a preliminary design and detailed cost estimate for a representation of the schooner HANNAH. (America’s first naval warship) What Mike intended to do with this vessel was to use it as a charter vessel out of Beverly, MA. Unfortunately, when everything was added up it turned out that the HANNAH was going to be a larger investment than Michael could afford and the city of Beverly was not quite ready for such an endeavor so Michael started looking at other options.

Later that year Michael found what he thought was a suitable charter vessel on the west coast and negotiated both to buy the vessels and for use of a dock at Pickering Warf in Salem for his charter business. Before Michael went out to close the deal on his new vessel he stopped by the shop and I asked him why he didn’t have me build him a boat. Michael answered “your boats are too expensive.” Of course I replied “the HANNAH was to expensive.” Luckily the surveyors and the coast guard didn’t like the boat Michael wanted as much as he did and we began talking again shortly after that.

Given Michael’s interest in history and the fact that he had located his business in Salem I knew what Michael would want was a representation of a historically important Salem vessel that would fit his business plan and his budget. As luck would have it there was a picture of just such a vessel in Dana Story’s SHIPBUILDER’S OF ESSEX. This vessel was the thirty ton Chebacco boat FAME which went on to become a very successful privateer out of Salem. Because I had already done exhaustive research on Chebacco boats (when I designed and built the LEWIS H. STORY in 1998) I was able to immediately start working out a preliminary design and cost projection while Mike did further research on FAME.

Michael came up with a great deal of information not only about the original FAME but also about those that built and sailed her as well. (See his book FAME A SALEM PRIVATEER for more details) Interestingly enough given FAME’s tonnage the boat I came up with didn’t look anything like the one in Dana’s book and in the end Michael discovered that the boat in the picture was in fact not the 30 ton Chebacco FAME at all but a much larger and earlier vessel. Another little tidbit about the original FAME that Michael came up with was that contrary to what other historians believed was that that vessel was actually pink sterned and not square sterned and so we changed the design accordingly.

Fame Schooner after planking
Jib Boom at Saw Mill

Regardless of all the research Mike did, I titled the original drawings for the vessel ” 30 ton Jigger” and not schooner FAME. The reason I did this was to avoid confusion over the fact that there was not nearly enough information about the original FAME for anyone to build an accurate replica. Further I think anyone serious about historic ship design should note that in spite of my efforts to keep the vessel authentic to the period it was my intent to make her first and foremost a safe comfortable and commercially viable charter vessel.

It was for these reasons that we decided to build the hull using sawn frames and trunnel fastenings. These traditional materials and methods are still the most effective and efficient way to produce a low maintenance and long lived vessel. Like wise the decision to use traditional plywood practical purposes as well. Builder Brad Story introduced this type of decking in the Essex yards and they have proven themselves to the point were they are now considered the standard Essex method as opposed to the obsolete plank type deck that has not been seriously used for a generation.

Above the water the new FAME’s looks about like what we believe a typical Chebacco boat would look like. She is full forward, fine aft and caries a high but typical pink stern. For the safety of her passengers she carries a bit more freeboard and slightly higher bulwarks but this is easily hidden by different collared cap rails bulwarks wales and scupper streaks hide her freeboard well.

Although Chebacco boats and pinkies were known for having a slightly raised foc’sle deck, FAME’s fore deck is raised slightly higher than most to allow for six foot two inch head room in her foc’sle and to make the break in her deck chair height for passenger seating. It should also be noted that although constructed in a typical fashion as fish hatches that both the engine room and main hatches are slightly larger than what they would have been and are also at chair height for more passenger seating. Although enormous by the standards of the day the FAME carries a typically proportioned binnacle box just forward of the tiller. This box serves a multitude of purposes. First it’s close proximity to the tiller helps serve as a barricade to keep passengers forward of the helm and sheets in clear view of the operator of the vessel. Secondly, under the binnacle box is housed the engine room ventilation and the required shut-off’s. Thirdly, the binnacle box houses the bilge alarms and bilge pump switches which are required by low to be within in full view of the helmsman. And finally the box houses the engine panel, controls, radar and other electronics necessary for the safe operation of the vessel. Interestingly enough, when all was said and done there was no room in the binnacle box for the binnacle so as the coast guard suggested the owner mounted a modern brass compass on top of the box.

Sail Plan

The vessel’s auxiliary power is from a hundred and sixty-horse Yanmar diesel turning a twenty two-inch x 12 inch pitch two-blade propeller.

As far as the vessel’s rig is concerned it is very typical of the type of rig that the original FAME likely carried although it is slightly cut down so that the vessel is easier to handle and so that that she exceeds Coast Guard stability regulations. The standing rigging is made of galvanized with wormed parceled and served and the running rigging is made of three strand Dacron. The spars are made from solid spruce cut on near by Hog Island. And the sails were made of 9oz Oceanus ships cloth in the loft on days when it was to cold to work outside.

Construction started on FAME in October of 2002 and she was launched on June 14, 2003. She made her maiden voyage from Essex to Gloucester on July 4, 2003 during which she was sailed through out of the basin and most of the way down the river. What is more is that she has enjoyed a good career carrying passenger on historic charters out of Salem ever since.

As a final note it should be mentioned that in the spring of 2004 she came back and had her focsle fitted very nicely with 4 bunks, a head, a table and settee and a galley.

H.A. Burnham, Boat Building & Design 11 Burnham Court , Essex, Massachusetts 01929
Phone: 978.768.2569 | Email: