Block, Strop & Pole! A Restoration Update

We’re pleased to share a post from Plimoth Plantation Maritime Artisan Don Heminitz about some of the recent behind-the-scenes work happening at our Marine Rigging and Carpentry Shop in Plymouth while Mayflower II is in dry-dock at Mystic Seaport. Thanks, Don, for the wonderful update, and also to Maritime Artisan George Ward and volunteers Dick Beane, Joe Jordan, Rick Ryan, Allen Zubatkin, and others for their dedicated work this winter and spring.

Certainly one of the biggest projects has been the rigging. After down-rigging the ship in Mystic in November, all the ship’s lines and blocks made their way back to the shop in Plymouth for inspection and cataloging.

Dick Beane helping to lay out and measure the Foretop Stay.

Dick Beane helping to lay out and measure the Foretop Stay.

How do we inspect these lines? We lay out each one, one at a time, across markers on the floor to determine and/or verify some measurements, line material, any fraying, block sizes if applicable, and other useful information. We also photographed each line and block for our records.

View of blocks hanging up in the process of being varnished.

View of blocks hanging up in the process of being varnished.

These details are all very important as we begin to construct a new rig as part of Mayflower II’s restoration. There are over 400 hundred lines and strops on the ship, which doesn’t include each cable of the shrouds (the vertical cables on the port and starboard sides of each of the masts) and the ratlines (the horizontal lines going across the shrouds – pronounced “ratlin”).  It’s a lot to go through!

George Ward scuffing block shells in between layers of varnish.

George Ward scuffing block shells in between layers of varnish.

In addition to the lines themselves, we are also inspecting every block. A block is a pulley, without which the rigging would not work. There are roughly 130 blocks on Mayflower II. Each block consists of a shell, a sheave inside, and a metal pin to hold the sheave in place and allow it to spin. Each block is then tightly spliced or seized into a line, called a strop, which is then secured in some manner to another line or a spar (such as a yard or a mast). To fully inspect these blocks, we cut the block out of the old strop, knocking out the pin and sheave, and checking for any serious wear or cracks.

For some of these blocks, it may have been sixty or so years since they have been fully apart. From here, we scrape off all the old linseed oil and pine tar from each salvageable block (which is most of them) and refinish them with high-quality varnish. The finished product will have a matte finish to resemble freshly oiled blocks – but will stay beautiful-looking all season long.

Left: an oiled block just recently disassembled. Center: a block shell and sheave that have been scraped and sanded along with its wire-brushed pin. Right: a block shell with 7 coats of gloss varnish and an oiled sheave.

Left: an oiled block just recently disassembled.
Center: a block shell and sheave that have been scraped and sanded along with its wire-brushed pin.
Right: a block shell with 7 coats of gloss varnish and an oiled sheave.

You may be wondering then what our notebooks must look like after measuring and taking notes on more 400 lines and more than 130 blocks. Another significant project, thanks especially to Allen Zubatkin and Don Heminitz, has been developing a brand new, easy-to-read and user-friendly Excel spreadsheet, which will assist the Maritime Department and Riggers of Mystic Seaport with the current Mayflower II restoration and for many years of maintenance to follow.  This spreadsheet includes all the data we collected with the addition of some excellent photographs.

After re-assembly, these blocks will receive two additional coats if matte finish to mellow out the shine.

After re-assembly, these blocks will receive two additional coats if matte finish to mellow out the shine.

Over this past winter, the crew in Plymouth also cleaned up, re-parceled, and re-served the metal sheer poles for the fore and main shrouds. A sheer pole, which is located just above the deadeyes on the shrouds, helps to ensure even spacing between each shroud and keep the shrouds from twisting under load. Watch for a future post about parceling and serving.

And lastly, we have disassembled and restored both gun carriages that were down on the lower deck. The gun barrels and wood carriages themselves now look as if they’re brand new!  New iron works are being made and the carriages will soon be fully reassembled.

George Ward scraping a deadeye for one of the Fore Course Marntnets.

George Ward scraping a deadeye for one of the Fore Course Marntnets.

Thank you for your interest and support of Mayflower II and Plimoth Plantation, and please stay tuned for additional updates on the ship’s amazing restoration.

3 Comments

  1. Jason Cornwell

    Glad, to see all the repairs are coming along.
    We miss our ship in Plymouth and can’t wait to have her back.

Leave a Reply to megan Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *