Restoration of the Mayflower II on schedule at Mystic Seaport

Mystic — The relaunch of the Mayflower II is less than seven months out and Whit Perry, director of maritime preservation and operations at Plimoth Plantation, is optimistic that the restoration of the replica of the vessel that carried Pilgrims to the New World in 1620 will be ready for that day.

"As long as we can get the bottom caulked and painted, she's going in the water," Perry said of the Sept. 7 launch event.

The vessel was constructed in 1955-56 at the Upham Shipyard in Brixham, England, and presented to the American people — under the stewardship of the living history museum Plimoth Plantation — as a mark of respect for the World War II alliance of the United Kingdom and United States. The goal of the restoration, underway since 2016 at Mystic Seaport Museum's H.B. duPont Preservation Shipyard, is to make the ship seaworthy for festivities marking the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims' 1620 arrival.

Last week the restoration passed a key date in the work schedule. Eight major milestones on the project's work chart, from hull planking, deck planking and other major construction work, were all completed by Feb. 15. Planking to the upper sections of the hull still remains to be done; the list of work also includes ballasting the hull, caulking all the planking and installing the masts.

The metal-framed fabric structure that has protected the vessel and workers will be removed in July, after which the mast installation and loading of ballast can take place.

"Most of the wood (acquisition) hurdles are over. It's been quite a bit of work to keep the wood pipeline flowing," Walter Ansel, senior shipwright at the shipyard, said of the efforts to source the six varieties of wood needed for the work. "This vessel 'eats' wood at an extraordinary rate."

The live oak, white oak, longleaf yellow pine, Douglas fir, black locust and purple heart have come from all over the country. Some of the longleaf yellow pine, for example, came from storage in the mud at the bottom of the Thames River left over from a pier project at the U.S. Navy Submarine Base in Groton. Much of the live oak has come from trees felled by hurricanes in the Gulf Coast region of the U.S.

More than 30 workers, shipwrights and riggers, the vast majority employed by Mystic Seaport Museum, with a handful from Plimoth Plantation, are engaged in the restoration. Many of the museum's staff also worked on the restoration of the historic wooden whaleship Charles W. Morgan between 2008 and 2014. Ansel says that no vessel in the Mystic collection is of the same time period the Mayflower II represents, but the skills of the shipwrights carry over. 

"It's been a strong effort for all of us," Ansel said of the crew. "I can't say enough about the crew's dedication."

The restoration, the first major effort on the vessel since its construction, is expected to last close to 60 years. Thanks to the strong partnership built over the course of this restoration, Perry anticipates Mayflower II returning to Mystic for regular maintenance. "Our plan is that the ship will return every two years for a haircut and shave," he said.

Staff at Plimoth Plantation are still developing the schedule for the 2020 festivities.

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