The Saga of the Tall Ship Friends Good Will at Middle Bass Island, September, 2013

Article by Jean Gora - followed by Mike Gora's photos

Middle Bass was scheduled to have a visit from only one tall ship – the Madeline – as part of the celebration of the bicentennial of the Battle of Lake Erie.  Instead it received a visit from two: the Friends Good Will as well as the Madeline.  The Friends Good Will, based in South Harbor, Michigan, at the Michigan Maritime Museum is a 2004 replica of an 1811 sloop with the same name.  The original U.S. merchant square-topsail sloop, which had been seized by the British on July 17, 1812, participated in the battle under the British flag with the name Little Belt.  When Perry said, "We have met the enemy and they are ours; two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop," the Friends Good Will / Little Belt was that sloop.  In the September 2, 2013, battle reenactment, the replica Friends Good Will played the role of Little Belt.   One of the smallest ships in the reenactment (length on deck 56’ 5”), it was the lead vessel in the British squadron. It reached the American ships first and fired the first shot in the battle. Of the 15 tall ships that participated in the reenactment, the Friends Good Will is the only one in addition to the US Brig Niagara that is a replica of a ship that participated in the original battle.  The Niagara is, of course, the ship Perry used to win the original battle.

Before participating in the reenactment, the Friends Good Will spent August 30 to September 2 at Amherstburg, Ontario, along with the Lynx as part of the TALL SHIPS CHALLENGE® celebrating the bicentennial of the War of 1812.  After the reenactment, it  continued on to Erie, Pennsylvania, to participate in its September 5 - 8 Tall Ships festival.

The Friends Good Will ran aground during day sails at Erie. Its transmission was old and worn and was about to fail, also causing damage to motor mounts. It made its way west from Erie and as it was passing North Bass Island it had to be towed by the Coast Guard to Put-in-Bay, where it arrived on September 10.  The Jet Express staff helped it get access to a fabricator for the necessary parts.  Its problems were in the process of being solved.

Instead, its problems grew worse. At Put-in-Bay, the vessel was tied on the north side of the C dock to await repairs.  By Thursday, September 12, a wind of 20-25 knots began blowing from the north.  The wind and waves bashed the Friends Good Will repeatedly into the C dock, injuring initially the ship’s fenders and then the ship’s starboard channel.  A tall ship’s channel keeps tension in the shroud (a set of ropes) that supports the ship’s mast and rigging, and it also keeps the shroud away from the side of the ship.  If a shroud fails, a ship’s mast and rigging can fall, making the ship uncontrollable.   The wind was so intense that waves went over the hull of the Friends Good Will, over the C dock, and over the Tollycraft yacht belonging to Tammy and Robert Collins and moored nearby on the inner side of the C dock.

The Friends Good Will is owned and operated by the Michigan Maritime Museum, a nonprofit organization funded by contributions. Its crew members are trained volunteers.  By September 10, many of these people had already been on duty for two weeks and were exhausted. The ship’s food supply had dwindled. Its budget for the trip had of course been exceeded. The cook quit.

Mr. and Mrs. Collins, wanting to aid the Friends Good Will, sought help in Put-in-Bay.  After seeking and failing to get it from the police, they found it from a man named Ed at Put-in-Bay’s only gas station, the Pit Stop.  He made 16 old tires available temporarily to the Good Will as fenders. Several people helped get the tires to the dock.  The Good Will also needed ice, and the Collins found some blocks of ice abandoned on the street.  They transported the ice to the dock in a mobile dumpster.  The crew of the Friends Good Will called the Collins their angels.

The north wind that was bashing the ship continued to blow and bash it into the C dock.  The tires helped but not enough.  Thursday night, September 12, Friends Good Will contacted Jake Dunfee of Rescue Marine, which towed the ship from the dock into Schoolhouse Bay on the south east side of Middle Bass, which was protected from the main force of the north wind.  Friday morning, the ship entered the Middle Bass Island Marina, running aground briefly on a previously unknown sand bar before docking at the outer slip of the Middle Bass Island Yacht Club. When the commodore of the yacht club, Tony Dolejn, discovered the ship’s situation, he offered to let it stay there gratis until necessary repairs could be made. By the early evening of Saturday, September 14, the wind had dropped significantly.  The ship’s channel had been repaired with a temporary fix and the transmission was working again, and so it departed for Port Huron, cheered on by a handful of boaters and Middle Bass residents.

The troubles of the Friends Good Will were to our gain because we were able to meet its captain, Adele Arlitt, and several of its knowledgeable volunteers, notably John Crisler and Mary Dezelsky.  They paused in their work to show us the ship and its interior and to answer questions about it.  They were eager to see our photos of the battle reenactment on our iPad.  They had not yet seen any, and they were so busy working during the reenactment that they were curious about what had been going on outside their field of vision.  We asked Captain Adele how she avoided keeping the Friends Good Will from colliding with some of the hundreds of other ships present at the reenactment, she said she had learned to sail in the harbor of Chicago.  In that harbor, you either learn to avoid hitting other boats or you stop sailing.  She learned.

To thank Captain Adele and her crew for their kindness to us we brought them some Uncle Joe’s Pizza from the Middle Bass General Store for their departing voyage.
See the photos posted by Katherine Bleil on the Michigan Maritime Museum’s Facebook page for the crew of the Friends Good Will during the battle reenactment. 

Here is a summary of the participating ships and the roles they played:

As noted above, the Friends Good Will preceded the rest of the British squadron into the battle reenactment.  The other British ships were the Sorlandet, playing the role of the Detroit, the Unicorn as the General Hunter, the Pathfinder as the Lady Prevost, the Playfair as the Queen Charlotte, and the Liana’s Ransom as the Chippewa

In addition to the Niagara, other tall ships in the US squadron at the reenactment were the Windy as the Lawrence, the Pride of Baltimore II as the Caledonia, the Lynx as the Ariel, the Appledore IV as the Scorpion, the Halie & Matthew as the Porcupine, the Denis Sullivan as the Tigress, the Hindu as the Trippe, and the Madeline as the Somers.

Another tall ship, the Peacemaker, carried members of the media at the battle reenactment.

They were all beautiful. We hope they come back.



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