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2012 awardee, South Haven (Van Buren County), marlinspike seamanship
This 2012 Michigan Heritage Award honors a group of men and women who volunteer as a maritime crew aboard the historic vessel Friends Good Will as part of the Michigan Maritime Museum. Known as “A Ship’s Company,” the group has approximately 100 members who conduct educational sails for the public. Underlying this service is their proficiency and skill in the traditional art and craft of “marlinespike” seamanship, or traditional knotting, splicing and knotwork, as well as woodworking and up and down rigging that are vital to the operation of the vessel.
Practiced by the entire crew, the knot tying skills of marlinespike and rigging are passed on by experienced knot tyers to novices in ways traditional to a longstanding maritime community of sailors. The ship’s bosun (boatswain’s mate) has a key role in teaching others. Over 1,000 hours of work goes into maintaining the ship’s rigs and spars compared to 400-600 hours of sailing time. Company members that have been key to passing down the traditions of marlinespike to the crew have included Eric Standen, the current bosun, Al Kempf Jr., who graduated from the California Maritime Academy, Ed Pratt, who served in the U.S. Merchant Marines as a bosun, and Sam Sikkema who began working in the boat shed as a high school student. Marsha Flynn is a “topman” who goes aloft to rig and set the sails and David Ludwig is the ship’s carpenter and director of the museum’s boat shed.
Occupational traditions are often continued by groups of coworkers. Together the crewmembers tie knots and make rope grommets, blocks, numerous rigging pieces, hearts (wood blocks), hanks (wood clips that hold the jib sail to the headstay), rope mats, puddings or bow cushions, bumpers, cleats, and nets. Their devotion to the perpetuation of this living and historical traditional art, with a long continuity on the Great Lakes in many commercial and recreational sailing settings, is what makes The Ship’s Company a standout maritime crew. Back to top of page