Where Sculpture, Tradition and Sea Lore Find Common Ground

Richard Friswell
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The 21st Annual WoodenBoat Show took place at Mystic Seaport, June 29-July 1, 2012, displaying a fleet of wooden boats, large and small, old and new, power, sail, and oar. If ever there were place where the aesthetics of sculpture and functional design converge, wooden boats would be proof-of-concept.

During the three days of the 2012 WoodenBoat Show, the star of the event was Mystic Seaport’s 1841 whaleship CHARLES W. MORGAN. The 113-foot-long ship, the world’s last wooden whaleship and the last of America’s working square-riggers, is in the middle of the most extensive refit in her history. It is being conducted at the Seaport’s Henry B. duPont Preservation Shipyard. The huge hull, which has been hauled out of the water for the project, will once again dominate the waterfront at the south end of Mystic Seaport when is it re-floated in 2014.

Shipyard director Quentin Snediker led afternoon tours of the ship, and Mystic Seaport historian Matthew Stackpole gave a presentation about the ship’s colorful history—37 voyages to all the world’s oceans over 80 years of working life — on Sunday morning.

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Charles W. Morgan refit underway

Skills demonstrations were held in the Shipyard, representing many of the time-honored techniques used in boat building. Many of these demonstrations involved work by the shipyard’s skilled shipwrights, directly on the ship itself. Two planks, hot from the 40-foot-long steambox to make them easier to bend, were installed during the show. True to the original construction style, wooden peg fastenings called trunnels, a shortened form of tree nails, were driven and explained. Techniques of using broadaxes and adzes, tools used by the original builders in 1841, were also demonstrated.

“These skills demonstrations provide a real inside view into the work taken on by Mystic Seaport’s shipwrights,” said WoodenBoat Senior Editor Tom Jackson, who published an article about the restoration in the May/June 2012 issue of WoodenBoat. “I worked alongside many of them, and I can’t emphasize enough how important their work is to the future of this ship, one of the greatest treasures of America’s maritime history.” By way of contrast, working boat builders will also demonstrate modern boatbuilding methods, both of the traditional type that 19th century boat builders would recognize and the new methods brought on by powerful glues such as epoxy. “Our goal is to inspire people, if not to build their own boats, then to come away with a newfound respect for the boat builders of today and of earlier times,” Jackson said.

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