About The Boat

The Schooner Thomas E. Lannon

The Thomas E. Lannon is named for owner Tom Ellis’ maternal grandfather, who fished out of Gloucester from 1901-1943.

She is framed with white oak and black locust, from trees grown locally and donated by the Essex County Greenbelt Association and private landowners. She is held together with 2000 black locust treenails (pronounced trunnels) and with silicon bronze fasteners. She is planked with white oak below the waterline, mahogany above the waterline, has white pine bulwarks and white oak rail caps. The white spruce used for the original masts, gaffs, and booms came from trees grown on Hog Island, Essex that were donated by the Trustees of Reservations. The mainmast, foremast, and bowsprit have since been replaced with new sticks that Tom made out of laminated Douglas fir. The gaffs and booms were replaced in 2011 with new ones that Tom and Heath made out of spruce. The first trees to be used for the Lannon were felled in October, 1996.The Lannon was launched a few minutes before midnight on June 21, 1997 and received her Coast Guard certification on July 18, 1997.

She is licensed to carry 49 passengers. The Lannon was designed by Capt. Harold A. Burnham, whose family has been building boats in Essex since 1650. The Thomas E. Lannon’s lines are based on those of the Gloucester fishing schooner Nokomis, designed by Capt. George Melville McClain in 1903. Several changes were made by Capt. Burnham. The Nokomis was built in Essex in the Tarr & James Yard (now the site of Perkins Marine). Mel McClain captained 35 Gloucester schooners over the course of 56 years. Over 100 vessels are believed to have been built to his designs.

Boat Image


Length on Deck: 64.5 ft

Length Overall: 90 ft

Beam: 18 ft

Main Top Mast Height: 73 ft

Fore Top Mast Height: 70 ft.

Tonnage: 48 tons

Displacement: 54 tons

Draft: 9 ft.

The Story of Building the Lannon

Like lots of others before him, Tom Ellis had wanted to own a schooner for a good part of his life. One day in the spring of 1996, Tom was invited to sail aboard the Ellida with Jeff and Inga King and several other Annisquam buddies. That sail was what did it for Tom. He decided that that was about the size boat he wanted (Ellida is 63 feet on deck). Having been around boats most of his life and having been in the construction business for years, Tom knew that he wanted to build a new boat. He also knew that the only way he could afford to own such a vessel would be to make it a commercial venture. He had been working on his wife, Kay, for many years to try and get her to agree to build a schooner. What convinced Kay of the prospect of success was actually the sea kayak business Tom had started with two partners three years before. After managing the kayak business for two years, Kay realized that the tourists were coming to Cape Ann in great numbers each summer. And tourists are always looking for fun things to do while they’re on vacation. She too came to believe that there was potential for a successful venture with a schooner taking people for sails around Gloucester harbor.

Planning and Financing

So Tom spent a good part of the summer thinking his plan through. He developed a business plan and talked to anyone who would listen about what he had come up with. Of course, financing the project would be a major hurdle, though Tom didn’t realize then how big a hurdle it would be. Buoyed by an extremely positive response by a Boston financier introduced to him by Sen. Bruce Tarr, Tom decided to go ahead and start building the boat with his own savings, confident that he’d be able to get the money necessary to finish her later on.

A Burnham Design, Built in Essex

Tom had been talking with Brad Story for years about having Brad build the schooner, but when it came time, Brad was tied up with other projects and couldn’t get himself free. Brad recommended Harold Burnham, another Essex character who had been around boatyards and who had been building and restoring boats all his life. In fact, Harold’s family had been building wooden fishing schooners in Essex since about 1650. Harold jumped at the chance to design and build a big schooner. Tom felt strongly that the only place to build the schooner was at the Essex Shipbuilding Museum’s Shipyard, (formerly the A. D. Story shipyard, founded in 1813). The folks at the Museum thought it was a grand idea too. So, after meeting with the town boards to satisfy their concerns, a deal was struck. The Schooner would be built in Essex and would then take her place in a long line of fine Essex-built Gloucester fishing schooners.


Local filmmaker Albert Viator joined the crew with plans to create a documentary video of the project. His talents allowed him to become part of the background and to obtain some terrific shots of the crew in all phases of the construction. Lew Joslyn of Ipswich heard about the undertaking and volunteered to shoot still photographs on a daily basis.

Lannon Rescue Story

Growing up in Gloucester, Tom Ellis, owner of the Schooner Thomas E. Lannon, had heard stories of his grandfather Thomas Lannon coming from Newfoundland as a young man, marrying, and settling in Gloucester.

Here he fished on the big schooners until he took sick in 1943, at the age of 65. Thomas Lannon was Tom Ellis’ mother’s father, and although he had passed away before Tom Ellis was born, Tom was named for him. Even though he had never known his grandfather, Tom felt a strong connection to this man. It wasn’t until 1988, when Tom, his wife Kay, their two sons Brian and Heath, and Tom’s parents Lib and Fred Ellis took a summer vacation to Newfoundland, that Tom began to understand the connection.

While visiting relatives in Newfoundland, Tom heard stories about his grandfather. One of his grandfather’s brothers was still alive and running a sawmill there. He told Tom of a story he had heard of his brother’s heroism while fishing in Gloucester in 1908. He went into the house and after rummaging around inside for awhile, returned with a handwritten account of the brave rescue that Tom Lannon had been part of. He gave that handwritten account to Tom and told him that his grandfather had been awarded a medal by the Massachusetts Humane Society.

When Tom got back to Gloucester, he mentioned the story to his first cousin, Ed Lannon. Ed replied that he had never heard the story behind it, but that he in fact, had the medal. It had been handed down to him by his father, Eddie Lannon, Tom Lannon’s only son. When the schooner idea started to become reality, there was no doubt in Tom’s mind what to name the schooner. And so, the Schooner Thomas E. Lannon was named to keep a small part of Gloucester’s history alive. Cousin Ed Lannon told Tom that so long as Tom could keep it in a safe place, their grandfather’s medal should be in Tom’s possession. Ask Tom about it…he’ll be proud to tell you all about it. Read the story of Lannon’s heroic rescue here:
The following is an account of a rescue at sea on October 30, 1908 as recounted by Capt. Albert Larkin of the Schooner Natalie J. Nelson. Spelling errors have not been corrected from the original handwritten account of the unnamed observer. “Desperate Chances Taken. Rescue of Schooner Eric’s Crew a Most Sensational One. Capt. Giffin and Crew of Schooner Conqueror Highly Praised.

Undoubtedly one of the bravest rescues ever attempted by a Gloucester fisherman was that of the saving of the captain and crew of the British Schooner Eric, coal laden, off Nauset a week ago last Friday by the men of the Schooner Conqueror of this port. At the time particulars were not obtainable but recently the story of Capt. Giffin of Schooner Conqueror has been published from which we make the following extracts.

As brave a rescue as men ever made at sea, a feat of indomitable daring for the performance of half of which medals of gold adorn the breasts of hundreds of heroes of the deep…..received scant mention in the news dispatches because a nation was busy with its politics. It was a tale worthy of the telling by a Kipling or a Connolly that Capt. Robertson Giffin recounted when the trawler Conqueror out of Gloucester, put in at Provincetown.

Casually and evenly, merely as describing an incident of the day’s work, he told the habitues on the waterfront of the Cape Cod town how Alonzo Townsend, Charles Decker, William Meuse, Thomas Lannon and Charles White, sturdy seafaring men, defied death in dancing cockle shells of dories to snatch the men of the Schooner Eric, coal laden and low-squatted, from the furies of wind and wave as they clamored for victims off Nauset in the leaden morning of a fall day. When the simple story had been completed, the doughty captain buttoned his oilskins, rowed out to the Conqueror and headed for port with his fare of fish.

No matter though the gale had turned on yet another stop and the ocean’s diapason had become deafening, the trim wind jamming fishing schooner was soon bowling onward, slowly but surely winning her way into the teeth of the gale, and her crew said no more of the rescue. But real men will thrill when they hear the story.

Capt. Albert Larkin of the Schooner Natalie J. Nelson, which arrived at Boston Saturday, was in this city Saturday evening, and in talking with a number of skippers and vessel owners about the hard weather which had prevailed on the fishing grounds since a week ago Thursday, said that since that date none of the offshore fleet in the Channel or on George’s had a chance to have a set. Referring to the rescue of the crew of the coasting Schooner Eric, during the terrible gale of a week ago Friday, off Chatham, Cape Cod, by Schooner Conqueror Capt. Robertson Giffin of this port and five of his crew, he said, “There are no medals made that are any too large for Giffin and those five fellows. I have seen men and crews saved at sea, and had a hand at it myself, and sometimes under very hard weather conditions, but this act of Giffin and the chaps that went in those two dories was certainly the limit; yes, it was beyond the limit. Mind you, we were right there and saw it, so I know what I’m talking about. The wind that day, you know, was 70 miles an hour at Highland Light, and this was just down of Chatham, and you know no rougher spot could be picked out in a northeast gale. Why, the big Yale, that outsize steamer on the New York line, couldn’t make up around the Highland that day and had to turn back and anchor, yet Giffin brought the Conqueror down abreast of that sinking craft and he was wagging his riding sail, foresail and jumbo. It did not seem possible that they could do any more than lay by until the gale went down and then pick them off.” The Captain of the Eric told in Provincetown afterward that he never expected to see them make the attempt to take them off, and he could hardly believe his eyes when he saw them stick out two dories and row down to them in the face of all that wind and sea. And he took them off to windward mind you, which made it all the harder and all the more desperate. The dories could not get on her leeward side, as all the wreckage, booms, gaffs, etc. were slatting around on that side.”-Capt. Albert Larkin, 1908

And so, the rescue of the men off the Schooner Eric was made off Nauset in 1908. Tom Lannon and his mates each received a medal for their heroic deed. Many other brave men did not fare as well and were not saved when their ships went down to the sea.

Cutting the Trees

Harold soon came up with a design that Tom agreed with, built a half-model of her, and prepared to begin the process of lofting. Meanwhile, Tom had been talking to Jim MacDougall, the land manager for the Essex County Greenbelt Association. Jim was interested in offering the natural resources that Greenbelt had been overseeing (i.e., trees), for the Schooner project. He, Tom, Harold, and Doug Lachance, a local arborist, began walking the Greenbelt properties selecting white oak and black locust trees to cut. Other local landowners got wind of the project and came forward with donations of trees. Starting in October, trees were felled and hauled to the Shipyard, where Sawyer Tony Chaplik of Marblehead had set up a portable sawmill. The Trustees of Reservations even gave Tom permission to cut white spruce trees on Hog Island to be used for the masts, gaffs, and booms. Just before Christmas of 1996, Tom and his band of 28 strong and able friends and relatives set out to Hog Island. After felling the select trees, they slid them down the steep incline of the back side of the island with block and tackle and brute strength, just like they used to do. Then Capt. Bill Lee of Rockport’s Ocean Reporter, towed the load of trees up the Essex River to Perkins Marine, where they were offloaded and taken to Bruce Fortier’s shop in Essex for finishing.

Melting Lead

Tom had hired Jim Lower, an experienced carpenter and shipwright, to help with the felling of the trees. Jim was a hard worker who proved to be a huge asset to the crew. Jim and Tom had been setting up the box for the lead for the keel at the Shipyard. Lead scrap was melted in a huge cauldron, then poured off into the 23-foot long wooden box. Seventeen thousand pounds of lead would serve as the outside ballast.

From Lofting to Framing

The lofting (or drawing) of the boat had been taking place in the loft at the Burnham Shipyard, located right next to the Museum Shipyard. Harold Burnham and Rick Saunders had been carefully creating the lines of the boat from Harold’s half-model. From the lines they developed the molds, which were then used to saw the individual pieces (called futtocks). A good eye was required to find the right piece of wood to be used for each individual futtock used to form the frame, or ribs of the boat.

Some of the Crew

As word of the project spread, shipwrights began appearing on the scene, looking for work building the boat. Fran Cleary of Rockport, Peter Little of Bath, Maine, Dave Savoie and Bob Parlee of Essex, all experienced shipwrights and carpenters, were added to the crew. Jeff Lane and Heath Ellis, both high-schoolers, were hired to work after school and on Saturdays. Stan Dulong, 77, who has been rigging boats in Gloucester for more than 50 years, was hired to do the rigging. And Lee Sails, of New York, was given the contract to make the sails.

Crew in frames

Frame Up

The entire crew would come running when the words, “Frame-up” were yelled out. Everyone pitched in to raise the heavy rib and put it into place, forming the frame of the boat.


Next came the planking. Because of the curves in the hull, a fair amount of the white oak that was used for the planking below the waterline had to be steamed before it could be fastened to the ribs. Tom’s brother Mike, a regular Saturday volunteer, became known as TrunnelMan. He took on the job of making most of the 2000 treenails, (pronounced trunnels), out of black locust. Treenails are essentially that, wooden pegs that are driven in to secure the planking to the ribs. Above the waterline, mahogany was used for the planking. The final plank, known as the whiskey plank, was put on in mid-April. The story goes that when the old crews would finish the planking, the whiskey would start to flow, as the crew celebrated a major turning point in the construction. The Lannon crew saw no reason to break the tradition, so not much work was accomplished the following day!

Getting Ready for Launch

The construction process continued with the installation of the clamp and shelf, boards put on the inside of the frame at the sheerline to support the deck beams. Then the deck beams and deck were laid. Next, the stanchions, bulwarks, and railing were put in. In order to launch the boat by June 21st and begin taking passengers in July, Tom did not want to take the time to finish her down below, except for installing the head. (Over the next winter, Tom built a galley and simple sleeping quarters for ten passengers. Heath and Nick Ellis (a nephew) helped with the work).

The Launch

The Schooner Lannon was launched on the evening high tide at just a few minutes before midnight on Saturday evening, June 21, 1997. A few hundred onlookers cheered as she slid the last few feet into the water. It was with a huge sigh of relief that owners Tom & Kay Ellis watched her floating for the first time. She stayed anchored in the Essex River Basin for a few days (as her planking swelled up) to let the area’s townspeople who had watched her entire construction see her floating at last.

A few nights before the actual launch, the Essex Shipbuilding Museum threw a great launch party. There was music, beer, and several thousand people who had come to watch the boat slide into the water. However, this was not to be a launch as in the old days, when they cracked the bottle of champagne on her bow and then pushed the boat down the ways into the river to launch her. This time there was no “ways” and no easy way to get this 50 ton vessel into the water. She had to be inched toward the water with heavy equipment, with Tom and Kay holding their breath the entire time. And on this particular night, things just weren’t ready for the launch to happen. So, the partygoers had a great time celebrating the building of this new schooner. People enjoyed themselves even without the actual launch.

A week later she made her way to Gloucester harbor. After her masts were stepped at the Beacon Marine Basin, the Lannon headed to her berth at Seven Seas Wharf at the Gloucester House Restaurant to be rigged.

The First Sail

On Friday, July 18, almost seven months after her keel was laid, the Thomas E. Lannon received her Coast Guard certification and took her first passengers sailing out of Gloucester. The Lannon slid out of her berth at Seven Seas Wharf at 1:30 in the afternoon. After parading around the harbor, she sailed out past Ten Pound Island, Eastern Point, and Dogbar Breakwater, came about, and headed back along the coast toward Stage Fort Park. Onlookers at Cressy’s Beach and Stage Fort were delighted by the view of the schooner sailing past.

As she began to head for Stacy Boulevard, owner Tom Ellis decided to come back around to Half Moon Beach. The Lannon picked up a mooring and dropped a ladder. It was one of those blistering hot, muggy days when the only places to be are on or in the water. Captain, crew, and passengers jumped ship into the cool clear water. Beachgoers cheered the spectacle. After everyone climbed back on board, the Schooner headed back for port. It was the first of many spectacular sails aboard the Lannon.