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From the newspaper
ESSEX, Mass. --Someone compared it to giving birth.
It may not have been quite so painful, but those involved were pretty tense. Nearly 3,000 people stood at attention, listening for the telltale creaks and whines that meant a nearly 40,000-pound wooden schooner vessel had reached its tipping point.
It was built in the Burnham Shipyard, and sent to sea using the traditional side launch method. A wooden skeleton, called a bilge, was built around the vessel. The craft was slowly -- very slowly -- jacked toward greased planks that lined one side of the bilge.
Each creak of wood was followed by a collective gasp. The movements of the vessel were slight, as crewmen pounded wedges under the boat to encourage it to tilt. Then everything stopped.
And with seemingly no provocation, except, perhaps, that of gravity, something gave. The boat slid into the water.
The town of Essex burst into applause.
"How else would you do it?" Harold Burnham asked. "It went textbook. Textbook perfect. Absolutely, textbook."
Burnham, of H. A. Burnham Boat Building and Design, and about a dozen crewmen -- who he refers to as his gang -- spent nine, six-day-a-week months building Isabella.
Around the museum, everyone seems to know that Burnham is an 11th generation shipbuilder. He, however, said he's not keeping track.
"A lot of people mistake ship building ... as a family business and they ask how many generations of a family has been involved," he said after rowing back to shore from Isabella.
"That really doesn't matter. What happened in this town is the ship building became a part of the culture and almost anyone who can trace their heritage to this town in any way shape or form is as closely tied to the industry as I am."
The sentiment was visible in the people drifting in kayaks and lining the banks to watch the launch.
And the sentiment was alive in people like Sarah Gunboot, 21, affectionately referred to as a "grease girl," or "putty god." She worked on the nine-month project in various capacities. Sunday's big feat was greasing up the launch ramp so that Isabella would slide easily into the water.
How did she get involved with the project? She shrugged her shoulders, "I'm an Essex kid," she said.
For 350 years, Essex was a center of wooden schooner construction. More than 4,000 vessels were built here; at the height of production, builders were cranking out about one a week.
The vessel's owner, William Greene, built his first boat when he was 20 -- "With a skill saw and a hammer and a hand drill," he said proudly. Since then, he said, he's owned a few sail boats, he even spent a month in the British Virgin Islands in one. But Isabella, named after his wife's mother, Isabel, was different.
It started when one of his sons asked for advice.
"He asked me, 'Dad, should I get a plastic boat or a wooden boat?'" Greene said.
"I said, 'well, the plastic boat is going to be no problem, but you don't want to get to be a 70-year-old guy who's regretted never having a wooden boat.'"
The 73-year-old man crossed his arms and laughed "Well, even if I am 70, I don't have to regret it, I can get one."
He chose Burnham.
"You can see why I was right," he said, as Isabella bobbed calmly in the water.
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