National Historic Landmark Vessel Enters New Phase of Restoration
Mystic Seaport shipwrights installed the first plank on the exterior of the 1841 whaleship Charles W. Morgan today. The plank marks a significant milestone in the multi-year restoration of the ship.
The Morgan has been undergoing a comprehensive restoration in the Museum’s Henry B. duPont Preservation Shipyard since 2008. This is the fourth phase of the project. To date, the vessel has been thoroughly documented, the structure of her lower hull has been restored, and interior planking has been replaced.
The current phase involves planking the external hull below the waterline. Much of the material dates to her original construction.
Installing a plank requires carefully shaping and “dry-fitting” it to its eventual location on the hull. The planks are then steamed for at least 3 hours to make them flexible. At that point they are quickly hauled into position, braced and wedged into place. The plank is subsequently fastened with bronze spikes and large wooden pegs called treenails (pronounced “trunnels”). Time is of the essence as the steam-induced flexibility wears off quickly and planks can crack or split.
The planks are longleaf yellow pine and massive. Today’s plank measured more than 36-feet long, was 4 inches thick, and weighed more than 500 pounds.
With the hiring of additional shipwrights this past winter, the Museum aims to complete this phase by late fall along with some structural restoration work on the bow and the transom area at the stern. This will be the most extensive restoration of the vessel since she arrived at Mystic Seaport in 1941.
“We are very pleased that we have been able to retain a substantial percentage of the original wood,” said Shipyard director Quentin Snediker. “It is great to see the new wood side-by-side with the old and know that we are ensuring her existence for another 170 years.”
“It is very exciting to see the ship come together as we reach these milestones. Each plank puts us that much closer to our goal to take her back to sea, and it is a testament to the remarkable skills and talents of our shipwrights that we are reaching that goal on time and on budget,” said Mystic Seaport president Steve White.
White urged visitors to come and see the ship during the restoration. “This is a unique opportunity to see the skills and technology at work that helped launch America’s global economy. Once the structure is covered up, no one in our lifetime will ever see it again,” he said.
The Morgan sailed on 37 voyages around the globe during an 80-year whaling career. She came to Mystic Seaport in 1941 and was named a National Historic Landmark in 1966. The Morgan is the oldest surviving American commercial vessel still afloat.
The $7 million project is on schedule to launch her on July 21, 2013, the 172nd anniversary of her first trip down the ways in 1841. Mystic Seaport will return the Morgan to sea for a ceremonial 38th Voyage to historic ports on the East Coast in the late spring and summer of 2014.
The public is invited to help support the project by visiting mysticseaport.org/morgansupport.
Images available upon request.
About Mystic Seaport
Mystic Seaport is America’s leading maritime museum. Founded in 1929, the Museum is home to four National Historic Landmark vessels, including the 1841 whaleship Charles W. Morgan, the oldest American commercial vessel still afloat. For more information, please visit https://mysticseaport.wpengine.com/.