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tep inside the nine-foot privacy fence that surrounds the Spirit of South Carolina at Ansonborough Field, and you’ll be astounded at the level of activity occurring around this historic tall ship on any given day. From morning ’til evening, the sawdust-strewn shipyard is literally humming with woodworkers, shipwrights, and systems specialists, all plying their trades in a collaborative effort to bring this traditional 140-foot sailing vessel to life. ”We’ve made a lot of progress recently,” explained Brad Van Liew, executive director of the South Carolina Maritime Foundation, the organization responsible for building this ship, “and now we’re at the stage where many things are happening concurrently, and they’re happening quickly, too.” According to Van Liew, some 12 to 20 workers are onsite each day. Among them are three caulking specialists who were imported expressly to finish the seams between the planks on the Spirit’s hull. Like most of the construction

on this traditional ship, the caulking process is taking place just as it would have on a wooden ship 150 years ago. Caulking traditionally involves stuffing each seam with a combination of yarn and oakum, using an inverted wedge or caulking iron and a broad mallet. It’s a very gradual process, easily identified by the rhythmic falls of the mallets. If all goes according to plan on the Spirit, the material filling up the seams will ultimately be nearly as hard as the planks around it. Capt. Tony Arrow, who will be the vessel’s master when the Spirit is launched next spring, is overseeing the construction. According to Capt. Arrow, these caulkers—Joe Chetwynd of Pembroke, MA, Donald Taube of Wilmington, NC, and Chris Nelson from Westport, CT—are among a handful of shipbuilders in the country who really excel at this specific task. “Not only are these three very proficient at this work,” he says, “they’re quick as well.”

Work on the Spirit of South Carolina at All Time High

36 January 2007

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