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Mayflower II Undergoes Winter Maintenance

Updated on June 19, 2013
Smaller than you would think
Smaller than you would think

Building a replica

The replica of the ship that brought the Pilgrims to the New World is spending a few months of this winter on dry land. The ship must be maintained in ship shape to accommodate the tourists that visit it every year. “We are licensed to carry passengers, so every other year we haul the ship out for its Coast Guard inspection and we do any repairs and restoration needed at the same time,” says Peter Arenstam, manager of the maritime artisans at Plimoth Plantation.

The Mayflower II, keeping with original plans, does not have an engine. The replica includes English oak timbers. Oak is heavy and durable, and can easily be worked when green. The nails are all hand-forged as originally made in the early 1600’s. The sails are made from linen canvas and also hand sewn. The ropes are hemp cordage. Hemp was selected because of its strength, but had to be covered with tar to protect it and strength it for the long journeys. This was accomplished with Stockholm tar. This is a high grade of pine tar that was used on many 17th century ships. Layers of pine tar were added both to the inside and outside of the ship to help with the waterproofing.

Notice how narrow the ship is
Notice how narrow the ship is

Friendship across the Pond

Plans to build a replica of the Mayflower started in 1951. Plimoth Plantation, a working museum, commissioned naval architect William A. Baker of MIT to design the plans. Across the pond, so to speak, Warwick Charlton wanted to build a reproduction of the Mayflower. He wanted to do something special to thank the USA for helping during World War II. His plan was to build a replica and sail the ship to the United States as a sign of Anglo-American fellowship.

In 1955 the two plans came together. Plimoth Plantation directors guaranteed to exhibit and maintain the ship. Mayflower II was launched September 22, 1956. In keeping with tradition, the ship was toasted from a gold loving cup that was then thrown into the water and retrieved by drivers. This custom dates back to the Viking, when a blood offering was placed in a cup made of precious metal. King William III, decided this was a waste and changed the offering to wine. The British Navy said it was getting too expensive and a waste of precious metals, so had drivers return the cups.

Hawthorne namesake of ship
Hawthorne namesake of ship

Pennies to Build a Ship

Growing up in Massachusetts, I remember a penny drive to help build the Mayflower II. We were told our pennies would be added to other school children’s pennies to raise $50,000 to build the ship. Back then in 1955, you could cash in green, glass coca cola bottles for two cents. I collected several to help the cause.

Carved into the stern of the ship is a blossom of a Hawthorne or English Mayflower. Hawthorne comes from the Greek meaning strong and powerful. In England the Hawthorne is known as the mayflower tree in honor of the month it blooms. It symbolizes hope so the Pilgrims took the name for their ship.

The repairs and inspections take place at Fairhaven Shipyard in Fairhaven, Massachusetts. Once work is completed and the ship passes Coast Guard inspection, the ship will be towed back to its dock near Plymouth Rock in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The Mayflower welcomes more than 400,000 visitors every year. It is owned by Plimoth Plantation as a Museum Ship.

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