More Maine Maritime Museum
Topsham, ME - Events of Monday, August 26, 2013
After our tour of Bath Iron Works, the trolley returned us to the Maine Maritime Museum. Since cameras aren't permitted on the tour of Bath Iron Works, Paul had to run back out to the car for his camera before we could continue our tour of the museum grounds.
The outside area at the Maine Maritime Museum was originally part of the Percy & Small Shipyard. Several old buildings have been preserved, and those buildings and the artifacts they contain do a good job of describing the process of building wooden ships.
As you step out the door into the shipyard, you can't miss the big, white outline of a ship. The outline represents the schooner, Wyoming, which is the largest wooden ship ever built in the United States. She was 426 feet long, had 6 masts and was launched from the Percy & Small Shipyard in 1906. The outline sits in the same spot where the Wyoming was built and is the same size as the ship.
Our first stop in the shipyard was at the building called the mould loft. This is where the hull of the ship was designed. The first step was to make a scale model of half of the hull. Proportions were based on the experience and knowledge of the master shipbuilder.
Measurements taken from the model were scaled up to make full-size templates for all the internal ribs of the hull. The loft floor was painted gray or white, and the shapes needed for the components were drawn right on the floor. Jigs and templates were made directly from the lines on the floor. They would usually make two or three sets of templates so they would have spares in case any were damaged. Templates were marked with the hull number and with their position within that hull.
Lumber for the timbers, beams and planking of the vessel were cut in another building called the mill and joiner shop.
The second floor of the mill and joiner shop had smaller sized equipment used for finer woodworking that went into the cabins, deck houses, railings and interiors of the vessels.
Wooden ships were assembled using treenails (also trenail or trunnel). Treenails are wooden dowels that were slightly over-sized and were driven into holes drilled through the planking into the internal ribs. Locust wood was most commonly used because of its rot resistance. Thousands of treenails were used for each ship.
Once the keel of the new ship was laid, vertical ribs would be fastened to it. Planking was heated in a steam tunnel to make it pliable. Workers carried the steamed planks to the assembly site where they would bend the planks to follow the curves of the hull. After the planks were clamped to the ribs, they were drilled and then pegged into place with treenails. The next photo shows some of the augers, mallets, clamps and jacks used to maneuver and fasten the planking to the ribs.
After the planking was attached to the outside of the hull, the joints would have to be caulked. Oakum, which is hemp or jute fiber coated with pine tar, was pounded into the joints to make them waterproof. Hemp used to be laboriously unraveled from old ropes, but it eventually became available as raw fiber in bales as shown in the upper right of the photo below.
Also part of the museum is the house owned by William T. Donnell, who owned the shipyard next door to the Percy & Small Shipyard. The original part of the house was built prior to 1832, and there were several additions after that time. William Donnell bought the house in 1869. He and his wife remodeled the house in the Victorian style in the 1880s. The museum acquired the house in 1981.
Also around the grounds are several buildings with examples of smaller wooden boats that range from dories to sailboats to fishing boats.
The Sherman Zwicker was built in 1942 in Nova Scotia and operated out of Canada fishing the Outer Banks until 1968. At a length of 148 feet, she is the largest wooden ship in Maine waters today. The Sherman Zwicker has been restored and is fully operational. She is owned and operated by the Grand Banks Schooner Museum and is docked at the Maine Maritime Museum when not on one of her voyages during which volunteer crews sail her to historic ports in the United States and Canada.
We had one last stop to make before we left the museum. Part of the bow of the clipper ship, the Snow Squall, is on display. The exhibit is a little hard to find because it is at a separate, unmarked building next to the overflow/bus/RV parking lot down the street, but it was worth seeking out.
Clipper ships were very fast sailing ships built in the 1800s, mostly by American and British shipyards. They had three or more masts carrying a large area of square-rigged sails, and they had narrow hulls. The narrow hulls meant they could carry less cargo, but their speed made up for their smaller cargo capacity. The boom in clipper ships started in the 1840s due to a high demand for tea from China. Their popularity was spurred by the discovery of gold in California in 1848 and in Australia in 1851.
The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 marked the beginning of the decline in clipper ships. The canal provided a shortcut from Europe to Asia, but it was difficult for sailing ships to use the canal. Therefore, it was more advantageous to use steamships even though they were initially slower than clipper ships.
The Snow Squall was built in 1851 at Cape Elizabeth south of Portland, ME, which is a short distance south of Bath. At only 157 feet, the Snow Squall was small for a clipper ship.
In 1869, the Snow Squall ran aground near Cape Horn, which is at the southern tip of South America. She made it to the nearby Falkland Islands were she was deemed unrepairable. The Snow Squall was partially dismantled, and a wharf was built across her hull. In the 1980s, part of the hull was returned first to Portland and subsequently to the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath.
As we learned when we saw the copper paint factory when we took our whale watching cruise from Gloucester, copper kept the hulls of ships from being fouled by marine organisms like barnacles. Keeping the hulls clean made the ships faster. The hull of the Snow Squall was clad with copper plates.
It was also interesting to see some of the wooden ship construction details that we just learned about when touring the buildings of the old Percy & Small Shipyard. In the photo below, treenails that are holding the exterior planking to the ribs are indicated by white arrows. Oakum caulking between the planks is indicated by black arrows.
It was interesting to learn about both wooden and steel shipbuilding during our visit to the Maine Maritime Museum. We spent over three hours there including our tour of Bath Iron works.
Our friends, Darrell and Judy, told us the Fat Boy Drive-in in Brunswick has good burgers, so we stopped there for a late lunch on our way back to the motor home. Fat Boy's is an old fashioned drive-in with curb service, but we decided to eat inside.
Fat Boy's has sandwiches that range in price from $1.50 for toasted cheese to $6.50 for a lobster roll. A 2-ounce burger is $1.65 and 4-ounce burger is $3.40. We both had 4-ounce burgers, and we shared an order of onion rings ($3).
Their burgers were good and very reasonably priced. After our late lunch at Fay Boy's, we headed back to the motor home to rest up for the activity we had planned for the next day. We'll tell you all about it in our next post.