Replacing the Schooner Maple Leaf’s Bowsprit

In 2014, we replaced one of the Maple Leaf’s most recognizable attributes: her beautiful bowsprit.

What’s a Bowsprit?

The Maple Leaf's wooden bowsprit. Photo by Greg Shea.

The bowsprit (aka that long pointy bit on the bow of the ship) is like a third mast. It is made of strong, clear Douglas fir wood. The metal stays that help hold the foremast and main mast in place are attached to the bowsprit, and both the jib and the staysail are rigged to the bowsprit. That’s its technical purpose.

Fun: another, non-technical, use for the bowsprit. Photo by Mark Sissons.

But Maple Leaf’s guests also know the bowsprit as one of the most exciting parts of the ship to visit. Walking or sitting out on the bowsprit lets you ‘fly’ over the ocean in front of the ship – an incredibly stimulating experience. Sometimes thousands of tiny moon jellies pass under you in the water below. Sometimes there are porpoises or dolphins.

Every few decades, the bowsprit needs to be replaced. Replacing it is not just about calling up the hardware store and ordering one. As anything with classic wooden ships, it all starts with the tree — and a very skilled shipwright who has trained for years to turn the wood from that tree into a very specific shape for a bowsprit.

Here is the story of replacing Maple Leaf’s bowsprit, in photos.

The block of air-dried, clear, old-growth Douglas fir, sitting in the shipwright's shop. This is a section of a tree that is 13 inches x 13 inches x 27 feet in size, free of heartwood. Photo by Bo Spiller of Commodore's Boats. (Click to enlarge)

Working on the bowsprit in the winter of 2013-14. The Maple Leaf's bowsprit is a very unusual shape: a rectangle on deck, then switching to a tapered octagon to the tip. Photo by Bo Spiller.

Months after the work began, the finished bowsprit, with its unusual shape, weighed over 2000 pounds! The crew coated it with protective Cetol. With the Maple Leaf out of the water, her bow is 20 feet off the ground. Photo by Tavish Campbell.

Captain Greg will guide the sprit under the cap rail and into place on the ship's foredeck. Photo by Tavish Campbell.

Adjusting the angle.

James, on the line guiding the other end of the bowsprit. He looks a bit like he's flying the Maple Leaf like a kite! Photo by Tavish Campbell.

Ashley and Greg carefully slotting the bowsprit into its stainless steel fittings on the Maple Leaf's foredeck. Photo by Tavish Campbell.

Nick looking over the new bowsprit, towards Commodore's Boats shed, where it was built. Photo by Tavish Campbell.

Ashley fastening the staysail stay to the bowsprit. The forestay (tip of the bowsprit), whisker stays (just under) and bobstay (bottom), have already been attached. Photo by Bo Spiller.

The annual ritual of signing the bottom of Maple Leaf's keel at the completion of shipyard. Photo by Tavish Campbell.

The freshly painted Maple Leaf, her new bowsprit secure in place, heads back to the water for her new season. Photo by Tavish Campbell.

A satisfying shipyard. Photo by Tavish Campbell.

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