A Guest Post: Stem Assembly

If you follow our blog, you likely are aware that Mayflower II, Plimoth Plantation’s full-scale reproduction of the ship that brought the Pilgrims to Patuxet (present-day Plymouth, Massachusetts) in 1620, is in the midst of an exciting multi-year restoration process at Mystic Seaport. What you may not know is that our team is working alongside Mystic Seaport’s shipwrights on this historic project, led on the Plimoth side by Whit Perry, Director of Maritime Preservation and Operations. Whit and his team are dedicating substantial time to and passion for Mayflower II’s refit in order to preserve this national treasure for generations to come. 

This month, we’re pleased to share a guest post from, well, Andrew Guest! Andrew is a member of the Museum’s experienced maritime team who has been hard at work in both Plymouth and Connecticut on the ship’s restoration over the last several years. 


For the past several months, my colleague Chris Sanders (of Mystic Seaport) and I have been working on the major project of renewing Mayflower II’s stem assembly. The stem of any vessel is the forward most part of the backbone, projecting upwards from the termination of the keel to form the centreline structure of the bow. In Mayflower II’s case, the stem is a gigantic multi-piece assembly consisting of six major pieces, of which we are replacing at least four — plus the multitude of other structural elements to which it attaches, and ultimately those that are supported by it.

Timber selection for pieces of this size and shape can be a real challenge, but we’ve been fortunate to have received a number of suitably massive live oak trees from deep in the American south which have begun to yield what we’re looking for. Live oak is one of the hardest and strongest domestic hardwoods in North America, and is famous for growing into many of the shapes that a shipbuilder requires, so we try to use as much of it as we can. There are of course inevitable disappointments in this business — twice now we’ve come into the final stretch of shaping a piece to discover previously hidden defects deep within the timber, which is always a possibility when opening up trees this large and thereby old. But we’re pressing on, more wood is being delivered to us at Mystic Seaport all the time; currently we’re working on removing and remaking the three breasthooks that will be the initial fastening points for the new upper apron when it goes in above the new lower apron, which we installed in May. More to come as this phase of the project progresses!

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