Restoration work only a few can do

Want to talk about specialization? How about rebuilding historic wooden ships in a fashion true to the original methods and materials used in their construction? That is the kind of specialization being seen at the Mystic Seaport's H.B. duPont Preservation Shipyard, where a team of shipwrights, riggers and other highly skilled dedicated craftspeople are building a reputation of carrying out restoration jobs in meticulous and breathtaking fashion.

We were reminded of that again this weekend with Saturday’s relaunching at the Seaport of the Mayflower II after a five-year restoration project. Granted, this was not a historic ship but a reproduction. It was originally gifted by England to Plymouth, Mass. in 1957, a replica of the ship that carried English Puritans, or Pilgrims, from Plymouth, England to these shores in 1620.

After a brief anchor in what is now Provincetown on the tip of Cape Cod, the Pilgrims sailed on and founded the Plymouth Colony, signing the Mayflower Compact prior to leaving the ship that established a simple form of democracy, each member committing to the welfare of the community.

This is our history, made tangible to millions of visitors who went aboard the Mayflower II during visits to Plymouth, Mass. over the decades. Time and the elements, however, had led to significant deterioration, leading to the need for the $20 million refurbishing project.

The phrase “better than new” is apt. The skilled laborers replaced about three-quarters of the wood and installed three new masts. Seaworthy and rebuilt in a fashion true to the era of the ship it replicates, the Mayflower II is scheduled to depart next May, sailing to the Charleston Navy Yard in Boston for the Mayflower Sails 2020 celebration, May 14-19. It arrives back in Plymouth on May 21, a few months in advance of the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the original Mayflower in November 1620.

Featured on the restored Mayflower II is a colorful exterior paint job, with planking painted in shades of blue, yellow, green and red. While there is no record of how the original Mayflower was adorned, the restorers based their approach on research of how ships of that era and design were decorated. Who knew the Puritans, known for their somber black and white attire, would sail across the ocean on such a colorful little ship!

The work on the Mayflower II followed the successful restoration of a genuinely historic ship, the Charles W. Morgan, the last surviving wooden whaling ship. Permanently berthed at the Seaport, the Morgan undertook one last voyage after the repair work, before returning to the museum of the sea.

The next large project will be the restoration of the fishing schooner L.A. Dunton, another Seaport artifact. Completed in 1921, the Dunton, at 123-feet in length, is believed to be the last large engine-less fishing schooner to play the Northeast waters.

Successive jobs that have kept this specially trained workforce in place raises the potential to make the region a center for restoration projects, not only for craft held by nonprofits but in private collections. Got an antique wooden yacht that needs a faithful restoration? Southeastern Connecticut has the folks who can get it done.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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