History of Ownership

An Alden 309 circa 1929 History From 1926 to 1930, seventeen auxiliary centerboard schooners were built to the specifications of Alden’s design number 309, of which Blackbird was the last. A 309 R was designed but never built. The popularity of the 309 design with cruising yachtsmen stemmed from their comfortable accommodations, handsome appearance and ease of handling under a variety of conditions. The 309 was developed from several previous Alden designs, including Golden Hind, (# 266) and Hearts Desire (# 253)and the popular 43-foot 270’s. Blackbird was built by the Goudy and Stevens yard in 1930, for the price of $10,000, commissioned and delivered in Marion MA for Myron Arms. Charles Arms son of Myron Arms still remembers the day of her arrival with an Alden provided captain and cabin boy who stayed on board for the summer. The time of the vessel’s building coincided with the Great Depression and the Prohibition in the United States. Consequently her liquor cabinet was fashioned as a hidden door in the head of the centerboard trunk. As the Great Depression worsened in 1930 and 1931, and the decline of economic activity continued, Blackbird’s ownership changed quickly; having been sold to Arthur Verseay of Haverhill, MA in 1931, and then to Hubert Toppin, the Commodore of the Essex Yacht Club in Connecticut in 1935. Blackbird was Toppin’s pride and joy, sailing her to first place in EYC’s 1937 regatta. In September of 1938, still under his care and ownership, she rode the 140 mph fury of the Great Hurricane of New England secured to the yacht club pier. Yachting Magazine, December 1938 September 21, "Blackbird" Commodore Huber Toppin's 43-foot schooner pounding against the pier of the Essex Y.C. The cutter "Typhoon" has sunk outside her. This photograph was taken at 3:45. H.M. Baker As the tale goes, only one vessel remained floating at Essex when the hurricane had passed. That vessel was supposedly an Alden on charter, who's skipper remained on board all night shifting anchors. A photograph of the devastation, taken purportedly by the skipper of that vessel the next morning and handed down by H. Littlejohn, shows only Blackbird’s masts above the flood waters, flying a tattered burgee, over the tangled wreckage of two other yachts which were thrown clear onto the club lawn. Essex Yacht Club Essex CT, September 22, 1938 Aftermath of the 1938 Hurricane Blackbird sunk at EYC Pier Commodore Toppin had his schooner re-floated and repaired. Suprisingly, the damage was limited and only required replacement of a small section of the shear strake, and adjoining covering board, bulwark and cap rail. Her lines retain a slight lift in her shear along the port side at the location of the main chain plates where she was battered against a piling at Essex. Several of what appear to be Blackbird’s original sails, bearing Toppin’s name are still aboard and are still used, weather permitting. Toppin went on to sail his schooner another twelve years in Long Island Sound until 1950, when the boat was sold to Charles Phinney of Manchester by the Sea, Massachusetts. Since then she has changed owners six times, being purchased by Joshua Spaulding in 1960, Stephen Parsons in 1963, Charles Hamblett of Kittery, Maine in 1965 where she was a well known landmark at Kittery Point. Larry Wheeler purchased her in 1983, and removed the centerboard. Wheeler sold the boat to Collin Eggleton in 1989 and she was finally purchased by her present owners, Sandy and Peter Thompson in 1993. The centerboard was recovered from a barn in Cumberland, Maine in 1997 and will be relagated to a life as a garden ornament. Blackbird is known, and not surprisingly so, to a number of people up and down the New England Coast, and always enjoyed her annual romp to visit her former owner’s Charles and Eve Hamblett of Deer Isle, Maine. The Hamblett's have became close friends, though Charles regrettably passed away a few years back. In 1995, Blackbird had the distinct pleasure of having Frank Eaton, Jr. aboard at the Bucks Harbor Yacht Club; whose father once owned the sister ship 309 L, Nordlys, in the 1940’s. 309 L is now in Ohio. Over the past 18 years, Blackbird has introduced us many of her friends and acquaintances which has been one of the great pleasures received in exchange for care given in the restoration of this wonderful old cruising schooner. In her 81st year Blackbird is a humble testimony to quality of the design, workmanship and materials of her period. With good sensible care by many owners, she still retains all of her original planking except her garboards, her original rig and interior, and is undergoing replacement of her horntimber, sternpost, keel, refastening and refurbishment of her iron ballast, centerboard trunk and centerboard, frames and floor timbers, deck, cockpit coaming and coach roof canvas. In every sense of the word she has been fortunate enough to remain, faithfully in originality and appearance, one of the ruggedly built, 43 foot Alden cruising schooners. To our knowledge, 5 other 309s are in sailing condition, though most appear to have been moderately to sigificantly altered with respect to rig, hull and interior layout. When Blackbird returns soon to the water she will have her original interior, the cabin sole and ceilings will be replaced with identical materials as original (except with the use of Angellique in her keel structure and trunk), original spars, cabinhouse, rails and bulwark, and original planking with exception of the garboards, and original iron ballast. Frames, fasteners, floors, keelbolts, keel timber, centerboard trunk, centerboard, deadwood, rudder and deck will be new.

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