"Lucky Whaler: Restoring the Last American Whaling Ship"
"Restoration Shipwrights Shed New Light on the Charles W. Morgan"
WoodenBoat Magazine, May/June 2012
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Charles W. Morgan Restoration
Over the last three decades, the Charles W. Morgan has undergone two regimes of partial restoration along with annual maintenance. Despite these efforts, the inevitable effects of time on the wooden fabric of the vessel's structure demand additional extensive restoration. If left unchecked, these deficiencies will threaten the structural integrity of the Morgan and her use as a primary artifact in Mystic Seaport's interpretive programs.
Follow the Morgan's current restoration journey by reading the latest updates below and take a behind-the-scenes look at the project through our Shipwright's Blog.
April 19, 2013
Planking of the hull is nearly finished. Seven planks plus the shutter plank remain to be placed. The shutter plank should be installed during the first week of May. The plastic shelter covering the hull will be removed in late May and the Morgan moved onto to the lift dock in early June. All is on track for launching July 21. Meanwhile a check list of tasks is being undertaken in preparation for launch. The keel blocks, which were shifted to permit installation of copper sheathing, are being renewed. New oak blocks are being positioned under the keel at proper spacing. Each oak block assembly is capped with a soft wood crush pad to allow the keel to settle appropriately. As the caulking is being finished, the first coats of bottom paint will be applied. Work on caulking and paint requires constant reshuffling of the stanchions which support the hull. Work on assembling the gammon knee has commenced. The gammon knee, unlike the other knees which are one piece, is made up of several pieces and forms the foremost part of the bow above the stem and below the bowsprit.
System design on the generators, pumps, heads, and navigation equipments continues. These systems will be placed in the Morgan while in the water tied up alongside the lift dock. The rig will be installed over the winter of 2014. When built, this was a relatively short and straightforward process. But because the Morgan now has a mix of old and new materials and has been out of the water drying out for four and a half years, the installation of the spars will be quite methodical. The lower masts will be placed and this will settle the vessel deeper into the water. Shipwrights will check for leaks and additional ballast will be placed in the hold to compensate for the weight of the spars. This process will be repeated as new parts of the masts and yards are added. As the individual spars are installed, the shape of Morgan's hull will shift necessitating a constant retuning of her rigging. In the spring of 2014 an incline experiment will be conducted on the Morgan to determine her center of gravity and righting arm. She is due to depart for New London's City Pier on Saturday, May 17, 2014.
March 22, 2013
As the planking continues, the starboard side is slightly ahead of the port side. It is anticipated that the shutter plank (the last plank) will be located in the port quarter and will be placed late April to early May. Progress in the bow is also evident. The port side cathead has been installed and work commenced on the starboard one. The catheads support the anchors while the ship is underway. Another important component of the bow assembly, the Gammon Knee, is being worked on in the shop. This piece has been recycled and was on the Morgan before. The Gammon Knee defines the upper curve of the bow. It is fastened outside the stem under the bowsprit. The billethead, which is a decorative piece, will then be affixed to the fore end of the Gammon Knee.
Also in the bow work on the hawse pipes will commence shortly. These are large holes in the forward bulwark at deck level. Although they look like an ellipse they are in fact standard circular holes and must be drilled at a precise angle or the vessel could look a bit cross-eyed. In the stern the inner transom above main deck level has been faired and caulked. Work on the exterior transom is progressing well. The outer board is done.
The placement of copper sheathing is complete on both sides of the keel. The bottom of the keel will be sheathed next, but this will require movement of the keel blocks in sequence to permit installation. A team of volunteers continues their yeoman's work on the topside paint, first stripping and then priming in readiness for the final coat.
March 1, 2013
Planking is moving along nicely, having reached above the waterline. As the planking rises above the waterline, the thickness changes from 3 1/2 inches to 4 inches. These are the so-called wale strakes. Above the main deck level in the bulwark the planking changes yet again to 1 1/2 inches. Aft the transom planking both on the inside and the outside above the main deck is finished and caulked. Forward the shipwrights are working on the cap rail, which sits on top of the bulwark. The wormshoe is complete. The wormshoe is affixed to the false keel, which, in turn, is affixed to the keel. When she was at Chubb's Wharf, the Morgan sported a six-foot band of copper around her waterline. While in commercial service, her hull was fully sheathed with copper. The sheathing protects against gribble and shipworm damage, but it also hides whatever damage has occurred particularly to the caulking. As a preservation practice, therefore, the sheathing other than a band around the waterline was not installed. However, because the keel is original to the vessel and it is not caulked (thus less need for inspection), the copper sheathing will be affixed to the keel this time around.
The spars with the exception of the bowsprit and lower forward have been delivered. Sanding and painting of them will start soon and the ironwork installed. With the advent of some warmer weather, caulking continues on the hull and the spray system to swell up the hull has been turned back on. Visitors often ask what is done with the material removed from the vessel. Most of it is catalogued and stored away. However, one of the replaced live oak knees is going to the New Bedford Whaling Museum to be on permanent display in the Morgan exhibit. As the planking moves up the hull, the scaffolding has been reconfigured and the scaffolding in the hold is being removed. The design of the mechanicals for the 38th Voyage is proceeding. Placement of the butt rivets on the planking below the waterline is over 50% completed and caulked. As originally built, the butt ends of the planking each had two metal fasteners. When the Morgan moved to San Francisco the insurance companies required a third rivet be placed one frame away from the butt ends.
Friday, March 1 marks 100 working days until launch. All is track to meet our schedule for launch this July and sailing the 38th Voyage in 2014.
February 1, 2013
"The Morgan is on target for a July 21, 2013 launch," said Quentin Snediker, Director of the Shipyard. Up forward the final outer stem piece will be installed today. This will complete the rebuilding of the foremost part of the bow consisting of the apron, stem and outer stem. This assembly is made up of several large pieces of wood, either white oak or live oak, some weighing over fifteen hundred pounds. Further up in the bow the bulwark ceiling is complete and the shipwrights are working on the outer planking. Similar good progress is being made aft. The covering boards in the transom are done and both inner and outer planking are proceeding nicely. Overall between 24 and 30 new planks remain to be fitted. While this is excellent progress, there is a lot of fairing of new material and caulking to be done once the planks are in.
Meanwhile at the very lowest portion of the vessel a new wormshoe is being placed. This piece is affixed to the false keel, which in turn is attached to the keel. The shipwrights will return to the original dimensions of the wormshoe. It was five inches thick when built, but in the 1970's a three inch replacement was installed. The process is tricky as the keel blocks supporting the ship must be removed to permit the installation of new material. In a recently made decision the shipwrights will copper the entire keel structure both to help preserve it (all of it is original dating from 1841) and to seal it from water. Shipwrights are also installing the butt-end copper rivets on planks below the waterline. These rivets reinforce the butt-end seams of the planks to help prevent them from loosening and springing out. They were not part of the original construction but were required by the insurance companies in the 1880s when the Morgan moved to San Francisco as her new homeport.
All the hanging knees in the hold are complete and two new deck beams, whose ends are scarfed to old deck beams, have been installed. The scaffolding in the hold will be removed shortly and mountings for the 38th Voyage mechanicals will be located just aft of the mainmast on the starboard side. The rough turned spars are now due for delivery in late February. One, the lower foremast, may further delayed, but the new bowsprit, which is the largest in diameter and hard to find, will be part of the shipment.
The Lake Champlain Maritime Museum has committed to build a whaleboat, which is the 10th one being constructed by outside parties. The museum hopes to have three or four on display or in the waster at the WoodenBoat Show in June.
December 14, 2012
Planking on the Morgan continues in earnest. In a typical week three to four planks can be placed. The last of what the shipwrights call the "hockey stick" planks have been installed in the upper transom area. These planks not only have a curve and a twist but the aft most end has a dramatic jog thus the name "hockey stick." The last of the knees will be placed after the new year with the installation of a new deck beam fashioned from yellow pine salvaged from a Connecticut mill. The other knees have been fully riveted. Once the last knee is in place, the scaffolding in the hold will be removed to permit installation of the various systems to be used on the 38th Voyage. Design for the systems is well underway and will consist of a generator, pumps, emergency and navigational lighting, heads and safety equipment necessary to conform to Coast Guard regulations. The storeroom in the hurricane house will be turned into a navigation station and utility room.
Two inner transom planks have been placed and in the bow fairing for planking continues. The forward inner bulwark planking is complete and is being caulked. The shipwrights will shortly start on the worm shoe. This is sacrificial material fastened to the bottom of the false keel. To accomplish this the hull will be suspended, while several pieces of white oak are placed along the length of the keel. Even in the Mystic River worm damage is an ongoing issue. Tests on the rudder's gudgeons and pintails were successful. The rudder, which was fabricated in the 1970s using what is believed to be are original or nearly original hardware, is on the floor of the main shed covered in burlap to keep it wet.
The new spars are being delivered mid-January. At the end of November we received a load of longleaf pine from Georgia. Another arrived mid-December. Milling of materials for the Morgan's whaleboats has commenced. In all, nine whaleboats are being built (or are committed to be built) by third parties including the Lowell Boat Shop and the Philadelphia Independence Seaport Museum.
November 9, 2012
Installation of futtocks to correct the so-called "zipper" line has been completed and the new pieces faired in preparation for planking. Before the planking can continue the shipwrights will relocate the construction scaffolding higher up alongside the hull. Six of the ten replacement knees have been positioned, but they are not yet completely riveted. Using iron bar fasteners salvaged from the Memphis Zoo's tiger cages, the shipwrights will attach the knees by driving the fastener through the knee and then through the adjoining frames. A ring will be placed at each end of the fastener and the ends pounded home to form the rivet. On the exterior side of the frame planking will cover the outer end of the rivet.
Covering boards are being installed in the transom in preparation for planking that part of the vessel. The starboard side interior bulwark planking is complete. The port side is about 60% finished. Caulking of the main deck is nearly done. To undertake this we have hired an independent contractor who specializes in caulking. His routine of two weeks at Mystic and then one week elsewhere is not unlike that of the caulking gangs who would rotate from job to job among the many shipyards on the Mystic River. The rudder's hinge-like gudgeons, pintails and bronze castings, which attach the rudder to the ship, are being readied for testing.
We had hoped to have the order of spars delivered by now. Unfortunately it has been delayed and will arrive in late December. When the Morgan sails on her 38th Voyage, it is planned for her to carry a full complement of seven whaleboats. These are being assembled by boat building teams in a widely dispersed geographic area from New Bedford, Massachusetts, to the Great Lakes, to Alexandria, Virginia. Whaling either directly or indirectly touched these locales. For instance, the vast network of lighthouses on the Great Lakes was lit with whale oil at one time.
October 19, 2012
Restoration of the zipper line is complete correcting the less than optimal staggering of the futtocks which make up the framing near the waterline. This step was necessary to ensure the proper strength of the hull for the Morgan's 38th Voyage and for display at Chubb's Wharf with partial sail set. With this important milestone the shipwrights will start the final placement of exterior planking on the hull. Meanwhile 5 of the 10 hanging knees have been set. They are through fastened with cast iron rivets salvaged from the tiger cages at the old Memphis, Tennessee, zoo. Finding additional knees is proving to be somewhat of a challenge. A large piece of Katrina live oak was milled, but rot pockets were discovered and this piece will have to be discarded. Several other candidates for knees have been identified, however.
Two ends of one of the mid-deck beams will be fitted with white pine recycled from other vessels. Usually the deck beam is a solid piece, but because the ends often decay faster than the center section of the beam, the shipwrights will marry the salvaged material using a strong scarf joint. Work on rebuilding the foc'sle has commenced and the stern is being closed in. Part of this process includes the fabrication of a new rudder box. This is a watertight trunk for the rudder stock. The hurricane house will be fitted with a new canvas cover.
In preparation for her 38th Voyage, naval engineers are designing the power and navigation/communication systems. A master caulker and team is fast at work recaulking the main deck. We expect delivery of the first of the new spars soon.
October 5, 2012
Planking remains on hold while the shipwrights replace the futtocks in the zipper line. This step is necessary to reinforce the Morgan's framing in anticipation of her 38th Voyage and return to Chubb's Wharf. Ten futtocks on each side of the vessel will be replaced. This process will be completed on one side of the vessel in about two weeks' time and planking will then recommence. Work on the bow's inner bulwark planking is progressing well. One plank remains to be installed on the starboard side and the port side is half done. Work on the transom was delayed as the shipwrights assigned where diverted to undertake necessary repairs on the Roann. She is now good and work on the transom will start again next week. Two of Morgan's between deck knees are partially fastened and a third knee will be placed soon.
In their effort to keep the hull and new planking wet, the shipwrights have erected a tent around the lower hull. The misting system inside has proven to be very effective, maintaining a high level of humidity. It will be moved up the hull as more new strakes are placed. Work on recaulking the main deck will commence soon. Generally the deck is in good condition but there is some leaking. Planks in high traffic areas will also be replaced. Hopefully a new stock of southern long leaf pine has been found. Some trees have been identified in Georgia which appear to have the necessary dimensions. However, we won't be certain until they are felled and the thickness of the heartwood at the core of the tree underneath the sapwood can be measured. Fourteen to 16 inches of thickness is required.
September 14, 2012
The restoration of the Morgan has reached another important milestone. Sixty-five planks representing over 50% of the new planking have been installed. Thirteen strakes are complete. Planking work will now move further up the vessel. This has necessitated relocating many of the stanchions which support the vessel from positions higher in the hull to places lower in the hull. Scaffolding is being repositioned higher up in the hull near the "between decks" and the waterline. Work will soon commence on the so-called "zipper line."
Framing of the Morgan consists of many paired assemblies of material. Each frame consists of really two frames. The components of the frames, called futtocks, are 4 to 6 feet in length. The joints of these frames are butt ended, which is an inherently weak joint. To compensate for this weakness the frames are paired, the joints staggered and the pairs fastened horizontally with trunnels.
During previous restorations, which were less extensive in scope, new material was sometimes installed without the appropriate staggering. To make the Morgan secure for future display and sailing on her 38th Voyage, the zipper line needs to be remediated. Initially the shipwrights had thought they might need to replace 20 futtocks on each side of the vessel. They now believe this number is closer to 10 on each side. Not only will this save on materials and man hours, but it will eliminate the requirement to remove relatively new planking material in order to access the frames/futtocks.
Work on the bow and stern continues. Approximately 50% of the new planking on the inner side of the bulwark is in place. Fairing of the transom framing is nearly complete and a large rot pocket found in the aft-most deck timber is being fitted with a dutchman.
New rigging progresses. Seventeen spars have been ordered and work has commenced on a lathe to shape them. A third rigger will join the team October 1. The lower mizzen is on the floor of the main shed having its paint removed after which it will be recaulked and painted. Although more than 20 years old, this piece has been in storage and never stepped in the vessel.
August 10, 2012
This past week four new planks were installed, continuing good progress. These planks are somewhat narrower than previous ones, thus they are easier to install. Planking is the largest component of the project, absorbing the most manpower and materials, and has progressed far enough so that the shipwrights will be resetting the scaffolding to permit work higher up in the hull. The newly reset scaffolding will also facilitate work on the so-called "zipper line" of futtocks to be replaced in the frames. Thirty five to forty new futtocks will be installed, which will eliminate the zipper line and dramatically strengthen the hull.
Work on the transom is proceeding. As reported previously the 2,000 pound transom timber is in place. A transom rider has been added and the two quarter timbers and eight tail feathers are in place completing the framing of the upper part of the stern. Fairing of the quarter timbers and the tail feathers has commenced. This will prepare the transom for planking.
July 20, 2012
One year and one day from now, July 21, 2013, the Morgan will be launched. This will be a significant milestone in her over five year restoration and eventual 38th Voyage. From a day-to-day perspective, excellent progress is being made on all aspects. The cant frames, which form the shape of the bow, have been replaced as have the stem and the apron, which sits on top of the stem. These are two large pieces, each weighing more than 1,600 pounds. Placed together with a scarf joint, they run from the keel to just under the bowsprit. Their installation permits the shipwrights to affix new planks to the hull in the bow structure. Installation of the bulwark ceiling has commenced.
Similar progress is also apparent in the stern. The transom timber and the two quarter timbers are in place as are three of the tail feathers. The pace of installation of new planking continues with three or more planks being installed each week. Caulking of the new material is ongoing. A Master Caulker, who specializes in caulking, is on the scene, which is reminiscent of how it was done in 1841 when "caulking gangs" rotated among the shipyards.
The search for new materials is ongoing. Because of the recent tropical storm in the south, a truckload of southern longleaf yellow pine was delayed. Hopefully this will be received by the end of July. The first shipment of new spars will be delivered in September and about one half of the new hemp for the rigging has arrived. The mainmast foretop is on the floor of the main shed. Some new material has been added and work on the foremast top will begin soon.
July 2, 2012
The Charles W. Morgan was a special focus of the WoodenBoat Show this year. Over the course of the weekend, shipwrights demonstrated the stages of the planking process: spiling (the method by which the plank's shape is determined), steam bending and fitting, and trunnel driving. In addition, there were presentations on the ship's history, the complex task of rigging her, and the various tools, power and traditional hand, being use in the restoration.
The work area around the base of the vessel was cleared of tools and materials to provide special access for visitors to get right up next to the new planking. This was a very popular feature of the Show, as people could really get a sense of the scale of the project and the special skill and attention to details required for each task.
June 15, 2012
Assembly of the bow is progressing well. The outer stem is being shaped from white oak found at the Charlestown Navy Shipyard three years ago when the timber basin, covered over in 1910, was excavated. This piece weighs 1,600 pounds and will be fastened to the apron. Its installation will permit new planking to be placed higher up in the bow. Meanwhile more planking is being stripped from the hull exposing the so-called zipper line in the framing located near the waterline. During prior restorations the shipwrights did not focus on the correct staggering of the butt ends of the futtocks which make up each frame. Properly done the frames are paired for strength to offset the inherent weakness of a butt end joint. The joints are staggered and the twin frames fastened together with horizontal trunnels. The zipper line must be eliminated to make the Morgan safe for sailing. This work is necessary even if she were simply to return to Chubb's Wharf as a static exhibit. It is especially necessary for her to sail.
Efforts to keep the new planking wet continue. A group of volunteers is pouring a mixture salt, borate, and glycol in the gaps between the frames and caulking of the recently installed planking will commence soon.
At the WoodenBoat Show, hosted June 29 to July 1, the shipwrights will provide demonstrations of spiling and trunnel driving. Spiling is the process by which measurements are taken from the hull framing and transferred onto a new plank. Seemingly straightforward, the driving of a trunnel is in reality a multi-step process to ensure that the fasteners sit snugly in place.
In the stern the two quarter timbers, which frame the upper portion of the transom, have been placed. Shaping of the tail feathers, which go between the quarter timbers, has commenced.
Our naval architect is busily determining the stability of the vessel so that a ballasting plan can be formulated. Unlike a modern vessel for which we can know the weight of materials in the hull, its volume displacement and the weight of its cargo, as in the case of a merchant ship, the Morgan is a sailing ship and stability documentation is sparse. Sails and rigging put additional stress on the hull and the height of the spars affects the center of gravity. All of these considerations will need to go into the ballasting plan. Fortunately we have photographs of the Morgan taken in the early 1900s both in a loaded and unloaded state, so we have some clues. The Morgan will leave the Mystic River with a 12 ½ foot draft to clear the channel's 13-foot depth. At New London more ballast will be added and rigging completed. We believe her maximum draft was 16 feet, but we will probably settle on 14 feet for the voyage.
June 1, 2012
The shipwrights and riggers, assisted by a commercial portable crane operator, installed the jib crane last week. The jib crane will be used to lift heavy timbers for the forward part of the vessel. Taking advantage of the crane's presence, they also installed the apron in the bow structure. The apron is a substantial piece of live oak from Pas Christian, Mississippi. The tree was a victim of Hurricane Katrina and was leaning on a house before it was carefully removed.
Thirty-seven planks have been placed, although the pace slowed somewhat because of focus on the apron and jib crane installation. The tempo will increase again this week. More white oak from western Virginia has been delivered. We expect 16 longleaf logs to arrive soon. As the planking progresses further up the hull, the shoring used to support the vessel is constantly being shifted. The lower shoring was removed to permit access to the lower planks. With the lower planks now replaced, the shoring has been moved back to the lower hull and shoring higher up on the hull temporarily removed.
In anticipation of the sail, the shipwrights and naval architect are laying out the lower hold placement of power, head spaces and holding tanks. Replacement spars are on order, as is the running gear.
May 31, 2012
With the help of a large crane the new apron was slid into place on the bow of the Charles W. Morgan this morning. The apron is a key structural element in the bow to which much of the new planking needs to be fastened, and its successful installation is a major step in moving along the structural restoration in the bow.
The new apron is made of live oak and is approximately 18-feet long and weighs about 2,000 pounds. Shipwright Doug Park was tasked with the exacting job to shape the timber just right. Since much of the framing around the apron was in place, fitting it in place required sliding it in from above much like a key fits in a keyhole. No small feat - especially since the previous timber did not come out without a lot of force. "This one went in a lot more easily than the old one came out," said senior shipwright Walter Ansel.
Once the apron was in, the crew then began installing a metal crane in the foremast step. The crane will allow the shipwrights to lift heavy loads such as knees and the cutwater up into place on the hull.
You can view a photo album of today's work on our Facebook page.
May 18, 2012
Planking continues to be the focus of activity but good progress is being made elsewhere on the vessel. All the cant frames, which form the shape of the bow, have been replaced and tied in place. A jib crane will be temporarily installed in the foremast step. It will permit the shipwrights to lift heavy materials, such as the apron, into the bow assembly. As a result of previous restoration work and because we butt the joints together, several frames have developed what has been dubbed the "zipper line." Normally the butt ends of the futtocks, which make up the frames, are overlapped with an adjoining frame. However, over several decades these butt end joints were not always overlapped when new material was installed and inherent weakness developed in the hull. In order to sail the Morgan safely, the shipwrights are reworking the frames to eliminate the zipper line with twenty new pieces of material and to stagger properly the futtock butt joints.
Five of the ten knees needing replacement have been shaped. Four of these have been installed. The transom timber rider has been placed and work continues on the vertically positioned quarter timbers in the stern. Milling of the tail feathers which go in between the quarter timbers has commenced. Together these vertical members constitute the shape of the hull aft above the waterline. An order for new spars, including the lower section of the foremast, has been finalized. These spars of Douglas fir will be preformed at a mill in Washington State and delivered to the shipyard for finishing and fitting of hardware. As always, we try to keep the hull moist. Preliminary caulking of cotton backing has been placed between new planking material to retain moisture and to slow air circulation. Later the cotton backing will be driven home when final caulking commences.
May 4, 2012
The shipwrights have settled into a good rhythm on the planking. Thirty-one planks have been installed. They are now focused on the 6th, 7th and 8th strakes. These constitute the widest planks in the hull and it has been somewhat of a challenge to find boards sufficiently wide and long which are not checked or are unusable for some other reason. Fortunately we seem to have enough of the proper material on hand. Above the 8th strake the planks aren't as wide and we have an ample selection of stock from which to choose.
The apron, part of the very front of the bow structure of the ship, has been removed and a new one is being shaped. To get the old apron off, the shipyard needed a crane to pull it up and slide it out of its vertical position.
A large eyebolt was driven through the top of the apron to permit the crane's cable to be attached. Unfortunately, it took a couple of tries to get the timber out: it was frozen in place and did not want to give. The shipwrights eventually pounded it loose with sledgehammers so the crane could lift it up out of the scaffold enclosure and drop it on the ground next to the ship. The old apron is being used as a pattern to shape an exact replacement. You can view a photo album of the work on our Facebook page.
The apron cannot easily be cut using a ship's saw. As a consequence we have turned to the old methods of rough cutting using a chainsaw (instead of the traditional hand held crosscut saw) and then finishing the shape with an adze and hand and electric planes. Once the apron is installed we can commence planking higher up on the bow.
Meanwhile the port and starboard quarter timbers which frame the shape of the stern above the transom timber are being formed as are the tail feathers which are placed vertically between the quarter timbers. Together these pieces constitute the framing of the stern above the waterline. These materials are live oak and were sourced from the timber basin at Charlestown Naval Shipyard in Boston. The transom timber rider beam will be installed shortly. Like the transom timber, this is a heavy item. But unlike the transom timber for which the shipwrights and riggers used a crane, this piece will be manhandled into place using a forklift and block and tackle.
Quentin Snediker, the Director of the Shipyard, returned recently from a trip to Thomasville, Georgia. He was there on search for more longleaf pine. He visited what he described as "stands of true virgin timber in a park-like setting." Some of these trees are at least 300 years and the land is used for quail hunting preserves. We will be taking trees that have been struck by lightning or those that are dead standing. Three truckloads of longleaf will be arriving in May and June.
March 27, 2012
On a very cold and blustery morning on March 27, the Shipyard crew gathered to hoist the stern's new transom beam into position. The beam is a critical timber as it is the transverse support for the entire transom. The beam sits centered on top of the rudder post and supports frames called "tail feathers" that project up and provide the structure for the transom planks to be fastened to. As this is such a critical part, much care went into selecting the right piece of white oak. The finished beam is 22 feet long and weighs more than a ton, and it was no small accomplishment to find a log that could produce a clean blank that large.
Hoisting the beam into place high up on the stern presented quite a challenge and required the services of a large crane. The beam was carefully rigged and then lifted directly above the roof of the scaffolding and dropped through a slit cut into the plastic. To get it to swing back to the horizontal so it could be slid into its final position required poking out through another slit in the plastic on the scaffolding's side and then gingerly lowering it onto some temporary supports. The whole process took only about an hour, but there were many sighs of relief when it was finally done.
Elsewhere on the hull, nine planks have been placed but some of these are only partially held in place with butt spikes and clamps. The shipwrights will now go back and complete the fastening with trunnels. Some of the trunnels will be so-called "through trunnels." These are fasteners which are driven through the planking and the supporting futtock (framing) into the ceiling (interior planking). Two knees have been shaped and work has commenced on a third of the twelve to be undertaken.
March 16, 2012
Installation of the planking continues to be the primary focus of the shipwrights. Both port and starboard forward garboard planks have been placed. These planks have a significant twist in their form which made shaping them quite a challenge. The transom timber is nearing completion and will be installed next week. This is a very heavy piece so the shipwrights will need assistance from a crane. The transom timber came from the stock found at the Charlestown Navy Shipyard. We believe it was cut in 1868 and was growing for 200 years before that. Meanwhile a full effort is being made to fashion the hundreds of trunnels which will be used to fasten the vessel's planking. Quentin Snediker, Director of the Shipyard, will be travelling to Georgia this week in search of more longleaf pine while milling of stock on hand continues.
Planning for the 38th Voyage is well underway. Watercraft area personnel are focused on sailing the Morgan. This activity ranges from selection of safety equipment to meet Coast Guard requirements, to determining the stability of the ship and designing an appropriate ballasting scheme. The itinerary of the voyage is taking form. Susan Funk, Executive Vice President of the Museum, spoke with the Interpretation Department this week about the voyage. Although it is subject to change, the current plan is for the Morgan to depart in May 2014 to New London where final fitting out will take place. She will sail for Newport, Rhode Island, then on to Martha's Vineyard. Her next port of call will be New Bedford, Massachusetts. After transiting the Cape Cod Canal, the Morgan will lie off Provincetown, Massachusetts, in preparation for a visit to Stellwagen Bank. After journeying to Boston, the Morgan will return via the Cape Cod Canal during the Canal's 100th Anniversary celebrations and arrive home in August.
Each port visit will have a theme. For instance in New London it will be "Preparing for a Voyage" and a celebration of New London's whaling heritage. In New Bedford the theme will be "Life in a Homeport" and the whaling industry. At Stellwagen Bank we will focus on a contemporary perspective of whales and whaling. The itinerary may also include a final port visit in New York City.
March 2, 2012
A second plank of white oak was installed in the stern last week. White oak bends easily after being steamed and for that reason it will be used in areas of the bottom which have a more curved and twisting shape. Longleaf pine, which was the wood used in the first plank we installed, bends less easily and is well suited for use in longer, less curving sections of the hull. With the emphasis now on planking, as many as three teams of shipwrights will be formed to measure, cut, steam, and install the planking. The search continues for longleaf pine. Once one of the dominant species in Georgia, we have located good prospects for harvesting in southwest Georgia, some of which are 300-year-old trees.
Meanwhile work on the transom is progressing. The new cross timber, which is white oak from the Charlestown Navy Yard, is ready to be shaped. A pattern of the old piece has been made and cutting of this 22-foot-long piece will commence soon. The cross timber is not unlike a roof beam in your house. You should imagine removing a roof beam while attempting to keep the house from badly sagging or even worse collapsing. This is exactly what the shipwrights have done. By means of an ingenuous series of supports, eye bolts, and other fasteners, the material around the cross timber space has been temporarily held in place.
Planning for the 38th Voyage continues. There are hundreds of details to be considered from gangplanks to safety and communication equipment to the outfitting of Roann as a tender.
February 24, 2012
The restoration of the Morgan reached another significant milestone February 21 as Museum shipwrights installed the first of the new exterior planking on the whaleship. The longleaf pine plank weighed more than 500 pounds, measured 34 feet long, 8 inches wide and 4 inches thick. President Steve White drove the initial metal fastener, which was witnessed by several Museum employees and the print and broadcast media. Watch the installation of the first plank.
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 three 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.
Culling and sorting of the planking stock continues. This is an important process because as the sawed planks age, imperfections appear such as rot, which might not have been evident when the planks were cut. Quentin Snediker, Director of the Shipyard, observed that the shipwrights who built the Morgan weren't as discriminating as we are when selecting a piece of stock. However, as Quentin also noted, the builders of the Morgan had access to virgin timber.
Work on the dismantling the transom continues. This is a tricky process because it entails removing joinery in the Captain's cabin. Much of the joinery is original fabric. Some of the knees have been fashioned and are ready for installation. Meanwhile planning for the whaleship's 38th Voyage continues. The Morgan will be an "uninspected vessel," but clearly Mystic Seaport will need to adhere to safety requirements such as appropriate running lights and communications equipment.
February 10, 2012
Due to a change of plans, the shipwrights have postponed the installation of the first new plank until the week of February 13, 2012. This has permitted us to undertake a new round of laser scanning, particularly where the old framing material abuts the new futtocks, and of the transom. Our marine surveyor will also have a chance to undertake a review of the progress on the Morgan before the new planking covers up sections of the vessel for decades to come.
Work on the transom progresses. A new cross timber of white oak from the Charlestown Navy Yard is being shaped to replace the white pine timber installed during a restoration in the early 1980s. This piece in turn had replaced the original live oak. We had hoped to use live oak but we have not found a live oak tree large enough (22 feet long and 13" x 13"). The cross timber is a horizontal member mortised into the stern post. From it rise vertically the so-called tail feathers, which are the transom's framing and form the shape of the upper portion of the stern. Several of the tail feathers need replacement and are being shaped on the floor of the main shed.
Volunteers continue to work on paint scraping of various spars and Mrs. Tinkham's cabin. Other volunteers are fabricating blocks for the rigging. The metal components for the blocks are being hand forged by a shipyard employee.
January 20, 2012
The shipwrights have completed the enclosure for the Morgan which will permit winter work. The focus now is on the planking. As previously reported much of the planking from the broad strake up to the seventh strake has been removed especially at the ends of the vessel. However, we have been able to save a substantial portion of the original planking amidships. In preparation for marrying the old and the new the shipwrights are fairing the frames to provide a smooth surface to seat the new planks. They are also filling holes in the frames made by old trunnels and fasteners with white oak plugs. Next the shipwrights will install planking from the fourth or fifth strake upwards to create a longitudinal band around the Morgan to provide strength to the hull. They are also refastening the strakes which were not removed. From a restoration perspective this work is of particular interest. The shipwrights are working with original fabric and once the planking is complete we probably won't see this section of the Morgan for several decades.
Bow framing is progressing nicely. The two new knightheads, each weighing some 800 pounds, have been installed. The new gripe is in place. Several of the greenheart cant frames have been replaced with white oak. The greenheart was not original to the vessel having been placed in the bow during the 1950s. We have determined that the transom will need more planking and framing work than expected.
The search for materials continues. Eight of the 10 required knees are in hand, many of which came from the Katrina live oak. Douglas fir for various spars will be ordered soon. Several yards, booms, and the bowsprit will need to be replaced.
January 6, 2012
Work on the scaffolding and cover is progressing well. Because of unexpected restoration work in the stern, we are erecting more scaffolding for that area. The rudder has been removed which has permitted x-raying of the pintles. We thought hardware on the rudder was original, but recently we discovered documentation referring to a repair to the rudder in 1886, so it is likely the hardware dates from that year. In any case, the x-raying is necessary to determine if the pintles can be reused. Because of the holidays and elated vacations, sawing had ceased but we are now at it again. Another round of scanning will occur soon and our expert wooden boat surveyor, Paul Haley, will be visiting to inspect the exposed lower framing since planking from the broad strake to #7 has been removed.
December 16, 2011
One of the key tenets of restoration work is the retention of as much original material as possible. Initially the shipwrights had thought they could save the planking, which was installed in 1841, from the 7th strake down to the keel. After they removed a couple of planks in this area, they found erosion between the frames on many of the planks which suggested the need to remove all of this material. However, as the peeling process progressed, the shipwrights determined that the planks amidships were in better condition than suspected. By graving in pieces of wood to the planks enough thickness could be built up to provide sufficient backing for caulking.
Like an archeological dig, the dismantling of the Morgan has told us a lot about the builder's construction technique. Whereas the shipwrights are using the graving pieces as a restoration, Morgan's shipwrights routinely cut away sapwood and graved in pieces to replace that material. Sapwood is the outer rings of growth on a tree. They also built up frames with shims to create enough thickness to provide backing for planking. The wide use of graving pieces and shims is technique that would not be approved under modern shipbuilding practice. Of course, Morgan has survived some 170 years.
Documentation of the location of fasteners continues and a new round of scanning will be undertaken on the frames before they are covered with new planking. Good progress has been made on the bow. Both knightheads which straddle the bowsprit have been installed and new futtocks added to some of the cant frames, which form the shape of the bow. The lumberports, which we opened to permit installation of the ceiling, have been framed in.
December 2, 2011
Reassembly of the bow structure is progressing well. The new gripe has been installed as has the port knighthead. Work on the starboard knighthead continues and should be completed this week. In a slight change in plans the shipwrights will remove all of the planking from the 7th strake down to the first broad strake. Previously they were planning to remove and replace strakes 4-7, forming a band of new material around the vessel. The rudder will be lowered soon permitting an inspection of the gudgeons and pintles. A second round of X-rays will be undertaken to verify the position and depth of fasteners in the forward part of the ship. Several of the fasteners do not appear to go through the wood. We don't know if this is the way Morgan was built or if this is the result of a repair.
Meanwhile planning for the Morgan's voyage has commenced. To meet Coast Guard requirements we will need to install safety items, pumps, electrical power with generation and navigation aids. A logistical plan for the various ports of call is being formulated. The Morgan's various states of draft are also being evaluated. While on display the Morgan rode fairly high. We are looking at old photographs to determine what her underway draft really was.
Work on hanging doors for the cover continues in preparation for winter activities.
November 11, 2011
The first strake of the planking has been peeled from around the hull of the Morgan. When the sheathing was removed at the beginning of the project, the shipwrights were hopeful that the planking from the turn of the bilge to the keel, which is mostly original to the vessel, could be retained. The outside of the planking looked good but as work on the framing progressed; they began to suspect the lower planking would need to be replaced. With the removal of the first strake, the shipwrights' suspicions were confirmed. After 170 years of exposure to sand, air and fresh water too much of the thickness of the planks had been lost.
The shipwrights will now peel at least four strakes (#4-7) and replace these with new material. This will form a strong band to support the hull, while the shipwrights work upwards and downwards from this location.
Work on the stem recently slowed while we were awaiting a team of technicians to x-ray the fasteners and drifts in the stem structure. The shipwrights need to know the precise location and depth of the fasteners to prevent drilling into them and to map out where the fasteners should be placed in the new material. The x-rays are now complete and work should move forward.
October 28, 2011
The ceiling shutter plank was installed at 2:00 p.m. Friday, October 28th closing the lumber ports into the lower hold. This represents a major milestone in the Morgan's restoration, as it signals the completion of the ceiling. The shipwrights will remove the some of the planking next week from the 4th to 7th strakes. These strakes will be replaced before any others are peeled forming a complete band of new material around the hull. All the strakes to the keel will eventually be replaced including the garboards. This material we believe dates to 1841.
Meanwhile other shipwrights are adjusting the shores and stanchions in the bow to permit the safe removal of more material from the stem. The new gripe (part of the forefoot) and other pieces of the bow are being fabricated on the floor of the Main Shed. Some of these are quite large and can't be safely cut on the ships saw. The shipwrights are performing initial cuts with a chain saw and then using adzes to shape the pieces. The "old" tools are in use again. To facilitate work on the bow a crane will be installed soon in the foremast trunk and it will likely remain in place through launching.
The search for materials continues. A new shipment of longleaf pine will be on its way from Georgia shortly. We believe we have found some new knee stock in the same area.
October 7, 2011
The framing for the cover is 90% finished. The shipwrights and going to be deployed into four teams. One team will complete the framing and enclose it with sheathing. To permit visitor viewing of work in progress, several windows of 4 x 8 foot Plexiglas will be installed. The doors to the enclosure will also have Plexiglas windows. A large propane heater has been purchased and will be placed inside the plastic cover to provide heat during the winter. Two other teams will start work on removing and replacing the planking. The garboard and the next three strakes are in good condition and will be left in place. We will refasten them at the butt ends with copper drifts driven trough the planking, frame and ceiling and riveted. The shipwrights are going to remove several strakes to permit proper spilling of the new planks. The planking is a more difficult task. Unlike the ceiling which was dropped into place and not caulked, the planking needs to be lifted and beveled for caulking.
The final team will be working on the bow. A part of the gripe, which is a component of the forefoot of the bow and the piece immediately below the stem, has been removed. A new piece is being patterned and cut in the main shed. Meanwhile the apron is being removed in pieces. These, too, will be patterned and a new apron will be cut in the main shed. Since the apron is too large a piece to be cut on the ships' saw, it will be cut instead with a chainsaw and the chunks between the cuts removed by using a broad axe. Visitors often ask if the shipwrights use original tools. The short answer is no, but this is an example where the old tool will be utilized.
This team will also shortly start work on the transom. Several of the stern planks are rotten as a result of water leaking in through stern windows. We think roughly a half of the stern planking will need to be replaced.
A continuing challenge is keeping the hull wet. The use of a propane heater in winter will only make this task more difficult. The shipwrights will treat the hull with borate and they will caulk the new planking as it is installed as this will maintain moisture in the wood.
September 16, 2011
The shipwrights are focused on erecting staging and scaffolding around the exterior of the hull. This phase of the work will include the set up of electrical connections. Completion of the ceiling is on hold until the scaffolding is complete. Three ceiling planks on each side of the vessel still need to be installed to close the timber ports. These planks will be somewhat difficult to put in place as the slots where they are being fitted have two butt ends. Most planks were installed in locations with only one butt end and then sometimes cut to proper length. Cutting the correct length of these final planks is tricky because a bent plank is shorter overall than an unbent plank.
More materials are being delivered. A knee from the Charlestown Naval Shipyard has been acquired. This is #7 of the 10 required. Longleaf pine promised over a year ago from Thomasville, Georgia, has arrived at the shipyard. Another load is on its way.
The rudder and sternpost are in decent condition. However, the shipwrights will need to jack it up to inspect the gudgeons and pintles, which we think might be original to the vessel. Work on the rigging has been ongoing but after January 1st this will really start in earnest. A new mizzen lower has been finished. The hemp required for the rigging is no longer a stocked item; however, the shipyard believes it has found some suppliers in Europe who can manufacture hemp to our specifications.
Elsewhere in the Shipyard: Regina has been hauled and is in pretty good condition after regular bottom scraping and painting. She was last hauled in 2007. Rolls Royce Synchrolift personnel have been on site to install new diagnostic software, which permits monitoring of the lift from their offices in Annapolis, Maryland. Routine annual maintenance and inspections on the lift was also accomplished. The haul schedule for the next few months is Service, Roann, L.A. Dunton and Sabino.
September 9, 2011
The shipwrights have installed the final planks for the ceiling's top strakes. Completion of the ceiling will occur after the timber ports on the port and starboard sides are closed. However, this will not happen until later in the year as the shipwrights are now turning their attention to erecting staging around the exterior of the vessel. The wheel has been removed which has cleared the stern deck for work on the hurricane house, the galley and the after bulwarks. The rudder is scheduled to be pulled to allow access to the pintles and gudgeons which we think might be original. Additionally, electrical connections, which are now on the interior of the Morgan, will be moved outside.
More longleaf pine is due from Florida and Georgia. Black locust felled by the recent storms in the northeast has been offered to the Museum and gladly accepted.
August 26, 2011
Tropical Storm Irene preparedness has consumed our time this week. Shores and blocks have been added to the Morgan. The extra support was designed by our naval architect, and is engineered to 100 knots of wind. The final step will be to add cables from the hull to the outside of the concrete blocks. After the storm the cables will be removed, but we are going to leave the shores and blocks, and build the new scaffolding around them. The cover is the Morgan's most vulnerable area. The windows over the deck have been tied shut, but if the wind reaches hurricane force we may have to slit the plastic to allow the gusts to blow through without building up under the plastic and lifting the boat.
Meanwhile, more material is arriving for the cover, scaffolding and staging. There are approximately seven more pieces of ceiling remain to be installed. Some of them will fill in just below the clamp -- these are rather difficult to shape and install. Our documentation office continues to oversee the transition from 2-D to 3-D documentation.
August 15, 2011
Work on the ceiling should be finished by mid-September. The shipwright ceiling crew will then focus on the knees. The pace of dismantling the bulwark has quickened and the shipwrights have confirmed that the badly checked greenheart cant frames will not hold fasteners. Several of these have been removed quite easily. Because this stage of the restoration is on the exterior of the vessel, it provides interesting viewing for the visitor. With a portion of the bulwark removed the shipwrights have been able to inspect the apron behind the stem and have determined that it needs to be replaced. While not unexpected, the fashioning of a new apron does expand the scope of the project.
Riggers have set up shop in the Ropewalk to work on the shrouds. Signage will be added to the Ropewalk to explain what is occurring.
The search for materials continues. Longleaf pine promised from a source from Georgia has been slow to arrive. The material is on Nature Conservancy land and care must be taken to ensure that salvage material is removed without damaging the remaining trees.
Read more restoration updates:
Restoration Currently in Phase III
Major structural weakness has been identified in lower portions of the Morgan's underwater hull structure and shipyard workers are now in the early stages of phase III of the vessel's long-term preservation.
When the Morgan was first hauled from the sand in the 1970s, work focused on watertight integrity through bottom caulking and sheathing and little or no framing was done at this time. During the early 1980s, major restoration work focused on fore and aft below waterline framing, sternpost, topside areas, deck and deck structures. Decisions were made at each event not to proceed beyond a certain point in order to maintain historic integrity, knowing that work would inevitably need to continue at a later date.
In 1996, a survey conducted by staff shipwrights indicated framing and planking in a general band around the vessel -- approximately 8 -10 feet in height -- beginning at the wind and waterline and extending to at least below the turn of the bilge would need major work in the next cycle of restoration. An additional survey completed in 2002 by Captain Paul Haley of G. A. Full Associates, Marine Surveyors, confirmed the shipwright's findings.
Over the Next Three Years
As presently conceived, the three-year project will extend beyond the limits of wind and waterline to include lower bottom framing, interior ceiling, partial keelson replacement and stem replacement. Remediation of deformed (hogged) sheer line will also be undertaken. It is anticipated that this work will be sufficient to address the Morgan's major structural needs for the next 20 years.
All work will be completed by using historically appropriate materials and techniques, in accordance with guidelines set forth in the U.S. Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Historic Vessel Preservation Projects.
Throughout this exciting restoration, visitors are encouraged to observe the process in the shipyard.
Research and Documentation
During the more than 60 years of Mystic Seaport's stewardship of the Morgan, extensive research has been accomplished related to this vessel's history. In 1973, the Museum published The Charles W. Morgan by John F. Leavitt, which chronicles the ships more than 80 years of active service. Mystic Seaport's Watercraft Documentation Office, established during the first phase of vessel restoration in 1973, has maintained excellent work progress logs, photos and architectural drawings of all preservation work undertaken.
As Mystic Seaport begins phase III of the Morgan's restoration, the Museum will continue this high standard of documentation and recordation of the vessel and the work performed.