Caulking the Deck


Sealing the Decks for the Summer
One of the best things we can do to keep everyone comfortable on board the J. & E. Riggin is keep things dry. Especially in the cabins. The best way to keep the cabins dry, is to make sure there is plenty of material in between the pine planks that form the deck. The gaps between the planks are called seams and they are packed tightly with cotton and oakum before being sealed with a layer of hot pitch. As the boat sails, it bows and flexes in the water, causing some seams to loosen up over time and begin to leak. In the winter, we do our best to identify problem spots and remove wet material between the planks before replacing it, and sealing it with fresh pitch. This process is called caulking. Captain Schaefer spends a lot of time each winter crawling across the deck fixing seams, so we joined him on deck for a demonstration.


The Right Tools for the Job
Capt. Schaefer makes his way down to the boat with a milk crate containing caulking cotton, oakum, an assortment of caulking & reefing irons of different thicknesses and lengths, and a caulking mallet. The cotton is just very loosely spun fluffy bales of cotton. Oakum is loosely twisted hemp or jute fiber wet with pine tar. The irons are meant to drive the fibers into the v-shaped gaps between planks when struck by the caulking mallet. A caulking mallet is a wooden mallet designed to minimize damage to the irons and to the joints of the user by absorbing the shock of each impact.



Probing and Reefing the Seams
Capt. Schaefer begins by poking the seams with the tip of his knife. If the knife fails to penetrate the seam he knows it is still densely packed. If the tip of the knife sinks right in, he knows he has identified a problem spot. He then uses a reefing iron and a rubber mallet to dig into the seam and extract the rotten fiber. Once all of the rotten fiber has been removed, it is time to start filling it again.


Packing the Seam
Capt. Schaefer chooses the right iron for the seam by inspecting the size of the seam and where it is located. “When I am driving cotton I use a thinner iron to start” he says. He lines up a long strand of cotton and systematically pounds it into the seam, driving it in in small arches that overlap slightly. He will then go back after this initial pass and drive the cotton deeper into the seam.
Once the cotton is in place, he makes a pass with a layer of oakum. “If I am driving oakum, I will use a wider iron which matches the width of the seam I am working on. I even have irons that are slightly bent for those seams that are against the side of a cabin house.” In the same way he drove the cotton, he drives a thick layer of oakum on top so there is only about a quarter of an inch of space from the oakum to the top of the plank.


Sealing the Seam

Now that the seam is packed with fresh fiber, he is ready to add the pitch

and seal it. Captain Schaefer, chisels off a few chunks of pitch from a brick. Pitch is a viscoelastic polymer which is derived from coal tar in the process of its distillation. The pitch is put in a can and heated until it is a liquid. It is poured over the seam and left to harden and cool. Sometimes the word pitch is used interchangeably with the word tar, but tar is generally a bit thinner than pitch, while pitch hardens into a solid.

Once the pitch has hardened any excess is scraped from the surrounding planks. Hopefully, with the problem seams identified and replaced, we will stay cozy and dry in our cabins throughout the summer!

The Tradition of Flags


The tradition of raising flags at 8:00am and lowering them at sunset dates all the way back to the late 1700s in the British Royal Navy. It is still practiced by today’s navy, as well as many merchant and private vessels around the world. The Schooner J. & E. Riggin is no exception. 

We fly an ensign, which in our case as a U.S.-flagged vessel, is the American flag. This is flown off of the peak of our mainsail when it is set, or off of the back of the main boom when the sail is down. It is used to communicate to other vessels where our vessel is registered. It is the first flag up each day, and the last one down.

The name pennant is flown from the top of the mainmast to give everyone who sees us the ability to read our name clearly. 

The house flag is flown at the top of our foremast this is intended to communicate something about the ownership, but until we have a house flag designed, we have decided to use the classic State of Maine Dirigo flag. 

The final flag you can expect to see aboard the Riggin is the “R” or Romeo flag and the First Repeater. We use this combination on the main spreader to communicate the presence of a Riggin Relic aboard a cruise. 

This week we saw the first of many raising of the ship’s colors for the 2021 season. Though historically greeted with the call of a bugle, ours was greeted with excitement and cheers from the crew.

Back in Action

After nearly a year of sitting stationary, the Schooner J. & E. Riggin left the dock yesterday under the direction of her new captains, Justin Schaefer & Jocelyn Schmidt. She was bound for North End Shipyard, for her annual haul out. The crew relished in the cool spring breeze on their faces, something they all had missed in their time away. 


“It would have been powerful to take her off the dock for the first time regardless of whether or not she had sailed last year.” Jocelyn said. “There was something exceptionally powerful about getting to be the ones to take her out, even just for the short run to the shipyard knowing that it was the first time in a year she had had the chance to stretch her legs. It feels like the start of a really special summer, and the reality of being able to have a season this year is pretty emotional for us.” 

This haul-out will be brief, just to put fresh paint on the bottom and replace the zincs which protect the metal beneath the water from electrolysis. 

“It feels good to be back out on the water and to return to a familiar routine with the vessel after a year of lying dormant,” said Captain Schaefer. “Generations of Riggin crew spanning several seasons came out to offer their collective support & wisdom which made for an extremely special day.” 




Highlights from Race Week 2018 – What a Special Day

Every Race Week is special, but this year’s was one for the books.  The captains decided the course in the morning at the traditional captain’s meeting.  Even as we started the race at the sound of the cannon, we were at the head of the pack.  After a full day of tacking and strategizing, we were on the last leg and just under the hills of Rockport off Indian Head Light.  The sky was clear and the wind had died to a whiff, and we were all yearning for the forecast 15 knots.  We’d had moments of excitement throughout the day, but they’d come and gone as the wind eased.  With only two vessels in front of us, we saw wind begin to skim the surface of the water.  Seconds later, the vessels ahead of us began to heal and then heal hard.  And the wind was upon us.  The Riggin gently healed over and when the physics of her majestic sails began to dominate, she started to move forward and pick up speed.  The wind drove her with such purpose as we went from a relaxed, everyday sail to a thrilling chase that had us pulling ahead of one of the two vessels.  With all of us cheering her on the Riggin finished 2nd in her class and overall!  What a moment!

maine windjammer fleet race week

maine windjammer fleet race week

maine windjammer fleet race week

maine windjammer fleet race week

maine windjammer fleet race week

Photos by Susan Land (guest extraordinaire and long time Riggin Relic)

Maine Windjammer Race Week – Such a Special Time

Its true that we love every trip on the Riggin, but there’s just something extra magical about Race Week.  The majesty of our Maine windjammer fleet sailing in company with all the canvas and flags flying and looking spectacular is unrivaled.  Coming together to share a day of friendly racing can only be seen in our very own Penobscot Bay from some sort of boat.  Best, of course, experienced from the Riggin, this 6-day trip culminates in race day, when the games truly begin.

maine windjammer race week

But before that there are shenanigans.   

maine windjammer race week

And Forth of July. 

maine windjammer race week

And our traditional lobster bake on an uninhabited island. 

maine windjammer race week

And time for simply relaxing in the sun while the crew hones their craft of sail so that we can be in the running for the win!  

maine windjammer race week

The fleet gathers, usually in beautiful and spacious Gilkey’s Harbor, off Islesboro.  The first order of business after our usual feast of appetizers, dinner, and dessert is the crew small boat races.  Only open to crew and guests of the vessels (no captains allowed) the flotilla of small boats are either sailed, rowed, or paddled around the anchored fleet with prizes for the most creative costumes and the fastest time around the course.  Our gang routinely gets into the spirit of things and as you can see below, dresses for the occasion.  As the races come to an end, we are always treated to the most amazing sunset from this vantage point.  

maine windjammer race week

maine windjammer race week

As race day dawns and the sun begins to kiss the cabin houses of our historic vessels, the captains rise and gather for coffee and some shop talk.  There they decide what the race course is for the day based on the weather conditions.  One by one, the vessels raise anchor and head to the starting line which is an invisible line from a buoy to a point of land.   The boats are split into classes based on their size and speed and one by one, the slowest to the fastest classes are given their 5 minute warning cannon and then their start cannon and the races begin!  

maine windjammer race week

How everyone does is based on the wind and tide, their specific vessels, and how the captains accommodate for both.  Winning take both luck and skill and we’ve had our share of both over the years.  For the Riggin, who doesn’t have topsails, the best weather conditions are 18 to 20 knots where the advantage of that extra sail area begins to become a disadvantage.   Last year we were proud to come in second in both our class and the fleet over all.  Quite an accomplishment and with the most exciting finish we can remember in years.  

At the end of the day, the whole fleet gathers on shore for music, awards, and a little bite of something sweet.  When we all head back to our respective schooners, it’s with joy and satisfaction for a day well done. 

maine windjammer race week

maine windjammer race week

We hope this year’s race brings all this and more!  Let’s see if we can rival last year’s Maine windjammer race, it was one for the captain’s log for sure.

Photos by Susan Land (guest extraordinaire and long time Riggin Relic)