The cedar and white oak planks are new, but the design is old. A 28-foot replica of a wooden whaleboat that has been under construction at the Gannon and Benjamin Marine Railway in Vineyard Haven through the winter months is now nearly complete. Fragrant cedar wood chips, sawdust and assortment of debris and tools that covered the floor beneath the boat are gone. The boat now sits like a museum piece on a clean floor, a boat from another time. The only smell is of drying paint, and in a few short weeks she will be launched.
“It has been a really interesting and challenging project,” said Nat Benjamin, of the Beach Road boatyard. “This has also been very unique. We had to replicate. You won’t see this construction anywhere else,” said Mr. Benjamin, whose yard has built and repaired wooden boats for more than three decades.
The wooden whaleboat is one part of a much larger project under way at Mystic Seaport in Connecticut to restore the Charles W. Morgan, the world’s last wooden whaling ship that was built in 1841. Nine other whaleboats are under construction in other parts of the country from Maine to Michigan.
Today shipwrights will install the last plank, known as the shutter plank, in the Morgan at Mystic Seaport. The restoration project began in 2008 and is still a year from completion. Next spring, the plan calls for the historic ship to sail up the coast, including a stop on the Vineyard.
“This is a huge,” said Mr. Benjamin. “So much of the Vineyard is wrapped up in the Charles W. Morgan in history. The Morgan is being restored by an incredibly talented crew of shipwrights. Their skills are being passed onto a younger generation.
“Whaleboats also require a whole set of skills known only to boatbuilders. Everyone of the boat buildbuilders has young apprentices learning this trade,” he added.
The $100,000 cost of the construction of the whaleboat is being paid for through local donations. Mr. Benjamin said about 75 per cent of the money has been raised, with another $25,000 still needed. “We did all the fundraising ourselves, with the help of Matthew Stackpole [a member of the restoration team at Mystic Seaport and a West Tisbury resident],” he said. A boat launching ceremony is planned for sometime in mid-June. Meanwhile, Mr. Benjamin said: “We are waiting for the oar builders, the sailmakers and the spar builder to ship us our rig.”
Tax-deductible contributions to the whaleboat project may be sent to Gannon and Benjamin Marine Railway, Box 1095, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568. Please note that the contribution is for the whaleboat project.