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    Monday, March 20, 2023

    Mystic Seaport shipyard juggling major projects

    From left, Lead Shipwright Scott Gifford talks to John Fahlbush, a marine surveyor with Castlerock Risk Services, and Thomas Krempecki, marine department senior vice president of Epic Insurance Brokers and Consultants on Friday, Dec. 9, 2022 about work done on the Coronet before it arrived at the Mystic Seaport shipyard. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    The Catherine M. Wedmore, right, and the Sabino, two of the restoration projects taking place at Mystic Seaport shipyard, on Friday, Dec. 9, 2022. at the Mystic Seaport shipyard. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Shipwrights work on the keel blocking for the cradle of the L.A. Dunton, in background, on Friday, Dec. 9, 2022 in the Mystic Seaport shipyard. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Carpenter Trevor Allen works below deck while installing the mechanical room floor of the Sabino on Friday, Dec. 9, 2022 in the Mystic Seaport shipyard. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    The Coronet, docked, on Friday, Dec. 9, 2022 at the Mystic Seaport shipyard. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Shipwright Casey Cochran works with other shipwrights, not shown, while building the keel blocking for the cradle of the L.A. Dunton, in background, on Friday, Dec. 9, 2022 in the Mystic Seaport shipyard. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Mystic ― With two major projects beginning this month, a number of smaller projects at various stages of completion, and future projects in the works, Mystic Seaport Museum’s 50-year-old Henry B. duPont Preservation Shipyard is not resting on its laurels.

    While other shipyards are welding and grinding metal and working with fiberglass, the first shipyard in America built with preservation in mind has a very different environment, full of the smells of wood being cut and the sound of saws.

    “The shipyard here is pretty unique,” said Chris Gasiorek, the museum’s senior vice president of operations and watercraft. “It really ties together the present and the past ― how you work with different materials.”

    Over the last five years, Gasiorek estimates the shipyard has done work on hundreds of the museum’s own vessels, and 30 or more outside boats, and the next handful of years are shaping up to be even busier.

    “This will be the most number of big projects we’ll have going at one time. Normally it’s one or two; this will be more like five for the next few years,” he said.

    The newest major project, the Coronet, a 131-foot schooner built in 1885 and thought to be the last of the Gilded-Age yachts, arrived at the shipyard on Monday from Newport, R.I. where it has been under restoration at the IYRS School of Technology and Trades since 1995.

    "Right now, it’s basically a shell of a seaworthy hull with nothing in it and nothing above it,” Gasiorek said. The complete rebuild of the boat is anticipated to take three years.

    Gasiorek said the shipyard will work with a naval architecture and design firm over the winter to prepare to rebuild all the interior spaces on the nearly 140-year-old vessel including the galley and cabins and installing the mast, rigging and engine.

    “It will mostly be the same as the original inside, with a few design modifications,” he said.

    Maintaining the historic integrity is important to the shipyard, though the Coronet will have some modern necessities, like running water, added before it joins the fleet of ships owned by New York based Crew, including the 124-foot-long Pilot and its sister ship, the schooner Sherman Zwicker, both of which have also spent time at the shipyard.

    “We are going to do it to industry and historic preservation guidelines and industry standards. That is the bar we won’t go below,” he said.

    The shipyard is also preparing to undertake a complete restoration of the 123-foot fishing schooner, the LA Dunton, recognized as a National Landmark in 1991. Built in 1921 with speed in mind, the Dunton was one of the last ships of its kind built without an engine. It had seen a lifetime of service as a fishing and freighting vessel when it was acquired by the museum in 1963.

    Gasiorek said the Coronet and the Dunton work are two huge projects, and either one of them would have been a banner project for the shipyard. In this case the two projects are starting within the span of two weeks.

    To have space for the 121-year-old Dunton’s restoration, the shipyard has converted an area formerly used as a lumberyard to house it when it is hauled from the water in mid-December, using two 600-ton cranes.

    “The vessel has lost a whole lot of its original shape over the years,” he said, and explained that the shipwrights will go through the entire ship and take each frame out and replace it if necessary.

    “You never totally disassemble the boat and build a new one. You’re just kind of doing it piece by piece,” Gasiorek explained.

    The type of work the LA Dunton will require is precisely why the shipyard was created in the first place. As the museum began acquiring larger display vessels, maintainence costs increased, and the number of shipyards that were willing or able to complete the work decreased.

    The Seaport decided to operate its own shipyard as a way to reduce expenses and provide further opportunities for the museum’s visitors to learn about construction methods on wooden ships.

    For the vessels in the Seaport’s fleet, a full restoration is undertaken approximately every 50 years with a partial restoration performed every 25, and the bigger boats are hauled out of the water for maintenance every three years.

    “If we’re going to work on the Charles W. Morgan once every 25 years, and we have to find the staff every 25 years, that’s a generation. You’re going to lose those skills. You can’t just wait 25 years and bring those same people back,” Gasiorek said.

    Though outside work doesn’t entirely offset the costs of staff and maintenance of the Seaport’s fleet, it does allow the shipyard to maintain a full-time staff and ensure that, when it is time for the next major overhaul of one of its display vessels, like the LA Dunton, the manpower and skills are available.

    In addition to the major work on the Coronet and the Dunton, the shipyard is also working with owners to finalize a complete restoration of the 1925 tall ship Roseway, a national historical landmark operated as a floating classroom by the World Ocean School.

    Meanwhile, shipwrights are hard at work finishing structural repairs and adding electric power to the steam-powered excursion vessel Sabino, which has operated at the museum since 1972.

    A 1924 working commercial oystering vessel, the Catherine M. Wedmore is currently undergoing a partial rebuild, the Seaport’s oystering vessel, the Nellie, is also getting a rebuild, and the schooner Virginia is slated for work later this summer.

    To manage all of the work over the next few years, Gasiorek said the shipyard would be adding a handful of new employees. He said it added a few this year and will probably add a few more, bringing the number of staff to approximately 50 in the coming years.

    “We are looking at some equipment upgrades, but mostly it’s just scaling it with staff,” he said.

    Though the shipyard does use modern tools and methods for much of its work, some work still has to be completed by hand.

    “On a wooden boat, the final part, anything that you see has been shaped by a hand tool,” he said, adding, “if we had to do it completely original, it would take us 20 years without resorting to the labor practices of the 19th century,” he said, referring to a time when child labor was prevalent and shipwrights could work 14-hour days, 7 days a week.

    Gasiorek reflected on the significance of maintaining and preserving wooden ships saying, “a lot of them tell an important story of American history.”

    “The wooden ones have a lot of soul, and I think it’s important to maintain that, and some of them, like the Coronet that we’re working on, are historic landmarks,” he said, adding, “the other side is that there’s just something neat about them.”

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