|Acushnet, the whaleship once crewed by Melville. |
Artist, Ron Druett
In Mystic Seaport, Connecticut, "where the tall ships are," dedicated craftsmen are restoring the last wooden whaler in the world. This is the whaleship Charles W. Morgan, an almost identical twin to the Acushnet, Herman Melville's ship, which he immortalized as the Pequod in his classic novel Moby-Dick.
These days, the golden age of building tall ships being over, it can be hard to find essential ingredients -- such as the timber for the hull, beams, and knees. White oak is ideal, and up until recently the ship builders at Mystic have been using oak trees that were felled by hurricanes Katrina and Hugo in the Deep South.
That source of lumber has finished, but, as Peter Schworm relates, the whaleship's luck has not run out.
Construction crews working in the mud near Charlestown Navy Yard, Boston, have uncovered a cache of antique oak that is ideal for the purpose.
Not only is it the right kind of timber, but it is already hand-hewn for use in tall ships.
Found in what was once a timber seasoning pond for the Navy Yard, it has been preserved in the mud for almost a century. The workers who found it were working on a new Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital facility. When they saw numbers on the bits of wood sticking out of the mud, they guessed it was part of an inventory, and reported their find. Quentin Snediker, who directs Mystic's preservation shipyard, was called, and could scarcely believe what he saw.
"Each piece by itself is a historical artifact," he marvelled. Dating from the 1860s, and valued for its extreme durability, the wood originally came from Ohio.