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Almost all our majestic ships had been downsized to coal-barges, shamefully towed from one harbor to another, while numerous esteemed captains found solace in Sailors’ Snug Harbor.

The following day, I arrived in Fairhaven, just across from New Bedford, only to discover my friend had pulled a fast one on me. For the past seven years, the joke had been squarely on him. What I expected to be a “ship” turned out to be a quaintly obsolete sloop named the Spray, which local lore claimed was constructed in the year one.

She lay, endearingly supported by props in a field far from the sea, her form obscured by canvas. The residents of Fairhaven, known for their thrift and keen observation, had spent seven years pondering, ‘What in the world does Captain Eben Pierce plan with the old Spray?

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