L.A. Dunton: Fishing Schooner

Open: Thursday – Sunday,  10:00 am  – 3:30 pm

The L.A. Dunton which stands 123 feet, 3 inches over all, is one of the few remaining vessels of her type in the country. Sailing schooners were forced from the Grand Banks off Newfoundland and Georges Bank outside of Cape Cod more than 50 years ago, despite the fact that their design made them the fastest and ablest fishing vessels in the world.

Designed by Thomas F. McManus, the L.A. Dunton was built by Arthur D. Story and launched from his well-known yard at Essex, Mass., in 1921. Built after auxiliary gasoline power had become common in schooners, the Dunton was probably the last large engine-less fishing schooner (a few later ones were built primarily for racing). The Dunton was used in the haddock and halibut fisheries, landing her catches in Boston. 

By 1923 she was equipped with a 100 H.P. Fairbanks, Morse and Co. C-O engine, and when the Great Depression worsened she was sold to Newfoundland owners in 1934. For 30 years she was used as a fishing and freighting vessel, eventually being converted to a motor vessel with auxiliary sail. In this form she was acquired by Mystic Seaport Museum in 1963.

Soon after the Dunton’s arrival, restoration to her original design was undertaken. Subsequent work has ensured that her structural integrity is maintained. Between 1974 and 1985, her engine was removed, her stern restored to the correct appearance, deck beams, deck planking and frames replaced, and her topsides were replanked. This work was necessary to maintain the Dunton as an example of the finest type of American fishing schooner and a testimonial to the hard-working fishermen who manned her. The L. A. Dunton was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1993.

On the Banks

On the continental shelf, between the warm waters of the Gulf Stream and the cold flow of the Labrador Current, shallow plateaus called banks are fertile grounds for marine life. For more than 500 years, fishermen have come to the banks seeking the natural bounty of cod, haddock, halibut, and other edible fish. Sailing from the principal New England fishing ports of Gloucester and Boston, the L.A. Dunton worked all these waters, from Georges Bank 100 miles east of Cape Cod, to the Grand Bank of Newfoundland, 800 miles east-northeast of Gloucester.

When New England fishermen began to work shallow, rough Georges Bank in the 1830s, it was the most productive fishing bank in the North Atlantic. The L.A. Dunton usually fished these waters between Labor Day and Easter, catching haddock, cod, hake, cusk, pollock, and halibut to be sold fresh in Boston. By the end of the Dunton‘s American career in the early 1930s, the effects of overfishing on Georges had been noticed, but the fishing effort increased. The net form of fishing represented by the Museum’s eastern-rig dragger Roann, practiced through the 1960s and 1970s by huge foreign fishing ships as well as U.S. and Canadian vessels, depleted the most popular species. In 1994, most of Georges Bank was closed to fishing in hopes that the haddock, cod, and flounder populations would recover.

L.A. Dunton Restoration Blog

The foundation of any good job is planning, and a good foundation.

Back in December 2022 we hauled the LA Dunton and blocked her up near the entrance to the shipyard. That’s where she will stay for the duration of a long-awaited, multi-year restoration. We’ve built stairs up to the top deck so that visitors can come aboard and see the work we’re doing, and we’ll also be installing a small elevator up through the hull to make the boat accessable to all!

[Insert MSM video re: the haulout from the LAD page]

But wait, is she just sitting up on the land? Can the ground really support her, especially so close to the edge of the water?

Good question. Glad you asked!

The short answer is, no, there’s no way she could just be placed on blocking on the ground, especially that close to the bulkhead. Much of the shipyard is constructed on fill, and while that’s great for most things, it would not do well with such a concentrated load. So, to make sure that the LAD had a rock-solid foundation below her, we built a special platform beneath all of the keel blocks and side supports.

It started with a shallow trench, shaped like a long line with wings coming out along its length. We hired a local company that specializes in driving dock pilings, and they drove long pressure treated pilings deep into the ground throughout the trench.


Once they were driven in, the tops were cut off below the eventual surface of the pad.


After that, a crew came in to set up forms, rebar, and pour the concrete.



You can see LAD tied up in the background, waiting for haul out day. Or if you were a drone…

Worksite 03

While she was patiently waiting, a group of Coast Guard cadets came by and helped to offload all of her movable lead and concrete block ballast.


They were super energetic and the crane and forklift could barely keep up with them.


A team of shipwrights built blocking and set up poppets on top of the concrete pad to support her. You can also see the massive lifting gear and one of the cranes brought in to lift her out of the water and onto the blocking.


Oh yes, the lifting gear.

Lifting a boat the size and age of the Dunton is a tricky operation. Early on we recognized that a single crane would not be a feasible option, given the limitations of the site and the depth of the river. We worked with ___ to design a lifting setup that relied on two massive land-based cranes. The


And so, by first week of December, 2022, the LA Dunton was riding high in the water, ready to be moved to her new home for the next few years. It’s not readily apparent how much work was involved to bring her to this moment, and that’s usually the sign of good planning.

The Very Big Lift and the Great Emptying begins


Once she was securely in her new home, the first task was to clear out her interior. We’re not just talking about taking out the bedding and chairs, we’re talking about taking out EVERYTHING. This means the bunks, the tables, the stoves, the walls (called bulkheads in boat world), the flooring (called the sole), and the poured concrete ballast. What will be left is a hollow hull with all of the planking and framing exposed and available for inspection.

Here’s a cross-section of the Dunton to give you a general idea of the areas that we’re talking about.

LAD Construction Side View Colored

The pink area is the captain’s cabin, the hold is blue, and the green area is the foc’s’le’ and galley.

Or, for a prettier view, here is a laser scan of the whole boat that was done some time ago.


There is a tremendous amount of work involved in bringing the boat to an empty hull. We’ll start with the biggest, easiest space: the hold.

The hold is divided into a series of fish pens on the outside edges of the boat, with a large open area between. The fish were held in the pens with removable slats.

Laser hold

At the time that the laser scans were done, the fish holds were used to store all sorts of things from ballast blocks to spare cordage. The center of the hold has a staircase and various exhibit-related items like fishing gear and informational photos. Beneath the hold sole are ballast pumps and lots of concrete ballast.

First things first, remove pen slats and empty the fish pens.


Each pen is labeled, photographed and carefully taken apart.


The individual parts are themselves labeled, cataloged, and stored.





As with any disassembly, some pieces can’t be saved; they are rotten, they break during disassembly, or they aren’t historically important. For example, the dark grey vertical spacer slats attached to the inner

planking in the photo above were installed by us to provide an air gap between the concrete blocks stored in the pen and the planking. The air flow helped keep mold at bay in these trapped spaces. They are not original to the boat and are do not need to be saved. However, it’s good to know their sizes and where they were located. The photographs and notes taken during this process preserve that information.

As long as we’re here, let’s point out a few boat parts that will probably come up in the future.

3810 labeled

The boat has 2 layers of planking. The outer planking is what you see when you look at a boat from the outside. There’s another layer of planking on the inside of the boat, called the Ceiling. Both layers are fastened to the boat’s frames. This inner layer of planking strengthens the hull and stiffens the boat.

So, after a lot of time carefully taking all the fish pens and other artifacts, the hold was completely empty. Our volunteers Bob and Andy came in and took hundreds of photos of the space and then used a photogrammetry program to stitch them together into a single 3D model. Here are a couple of screenshots of that model to give you a feel for how the space has transformed.

Looking aft

Main hold screenshot1

Looking forward

Main hold screenshot2

And we’re not done yet by a long stretch…

The disassembly of the ship is a slow careful process.

To orient again:

LAD Construction Side View Colored

In the last entry you saw how the hold disassembly progressed. Forward of the hold is the foc’s’le and galley where the crew ate and slept, and aft is the captain’s cabin.

We’ll start with the captain’s cabin. Here’s a view from a past laser scan

LAD Cabin Scan

And this is what you’d see in real life. Here looking aft and to starboard. The steps are leading down from the deck.


Now looking forward and to port. The steps lead down to the fish hold. This passageway was added by the museum to allow visitor access to the hold, and would have been a solid wall when she was working.


The first thing you’ll notice is that this is a very pretty space; lots of varnished wood paneling, comfy looking bunks, a wood stove. The benches in front of the bunks are supported with turned posts.

A lot of care was made to remove every part with as little damage as possible. Some parts, such as the bulkhead paneling, are not original to the boat.


Nevertheless, we treat them the same as if they were. Each stave was labeled and cataloged for future installation.


We take a lot of photos during this process. Many of these are done in a way that allows them to be combined into a 3D model. This process is called photogrammetry, and the end result is a model that can be viewed from any angle inside the space. It does yield some odd artifacts in places where there is only partial information to build on (i.e., not enough photos of a particular thing were taken), but the overall product is still very interesting and useful. Here are a few views of the captain’s cabin created using this process.

The first is a view from outside of the cabin. Notice is that all of the interior surfaces are visible on the exterior surfaces. The program is using photos to generate surfaces, and it can only see one side of the surface, so it puts the same image on the outside of the model as is on the inside. You can think of it as a glass model where the interior is painted on glass walls.

Aft Cabin 5

A view looking inside the cabin feels more familiar.

Aft Cabin 4

That strange white shape in the center is a post that was only partially photographed. This clearly confused the program.

At the time that these photographs were taken, the cabin was just beginning to be disassembled. You can see the lighter colored wood on the remaining bulkhead pieces where the trim covered them. The benches in front of the bunks had been removed (although the posts are still in place), and you can now see the shape of the boat rising up below the bunks (the dark red area with the blue arrow pointing).

Aft Cabin 6

As the cabin is disassembled, it becomes clear that the cabin itself is a square box sitting within a curved and tapering hull.

Aft Cabin Bulkhead Pano

The disassembly also reveals the extent of many of the problems that we’ve been wanting to address for some time. This is the view looking down the companionway into the captain’s cabin showing the deterioration of the wood above the cabin.


Places where we had only seen slight evidence of water ingress showed the full extent of the problem as ceiling and bulkhead sections were removed.




With the cabin top planks removed, we have a better view of the extent of the damage. Some of the galvanized iron fasteners have degraded as well.



And so, we document, remove, document some more. Soon we’ll be at the bare hull and ready to start the careful process of reconstruction.