Founded in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy, Operation Sail (OpSail) has since found its way back to New York Harbor for significant events such as the Bicentennial celebration in 1976 and the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty in 1986. MR/EN was invited to step aboard the historic Schooner Wavertree, prior to OpSail 2000.
By Regina P. Ciardiello, associate editor
Stepping aboard the historic Schooner Wavertree docked at New York's South Street Seaport, one would feel instantly immersed by the constant whirring of drills, hammering and workers being pulled up onto the vessel's masthead. No, it's not a group of 19th Century shipbuilders, but a modern-day group of individuals, some of who are volunteers, working to prepare the historic Schooner for its OpSail appearance. MR/EN spent the morning of the vessel's last day at the seaport, prior to its departure for a Staten Island shipyard where it would undergo any last minute alterations before the famed Parade of Ships during July 4 weekend.
Measuring 325 ft. (99 m) with a 40 ft. (12.1 m) beam and 22 ft. (6.7 m) draft (loaded) Wavertree was built in Southampton, England in 1885 for R.W. Leyland & Co. of Liverpool. Originally constructed to transport jute, which was used for making rope and burlap bags, between India and Scotland, the vessel was decommissioned in December 1910 — after sailing for more than 25 years — following a near de-masting in a gale off Cape Horn. Deciding against derigging, Wavertree's owners opted to sell the vessel, which was then utilized as a floating warehouse at Punta Arenas, Chile. Prior to its acquisition by the South Street Seaport Museum in 1968, the vessel performed one more duty, serving as a sand barge in Buenos Aires, Argentina for more than two decades — beginning in 1947.
Following the purchase of the vessel by the museum, Wavertree was prepped and then towed to New York in August 1970, where it remained to undergo conversions and repairs to help rejuvenate it back to its original appearance.
Beginning this past February, workers recruited from around the globe, as well as weekend volunteers from the New York area poured all their efforts into refurbishing the ship. Led by chief rigger, Jim Barry
of Seacock, Mass., the regular work crew performed daunting tasks that encompassed rigging wire onto new masts, (the crew managed to put up 19 spars in 23 days), reinstating the main deck and restoring a raised foredeck structure that initially never existed.
Barry, an accomplished rigger who has worked on noted restoration jobs, such as the Moshulu in Philadelphia; and the Glen Lee in Glasgow, Scotland, first heard about the restoration job from friends. Barry decided to try out his talents out in New York, eventually landing his current position as chief rigger — where a 12-hour day is typical. According to Barry, the bulk of Wavertree's work was completed in the morning by the regular workers, with volunteers joining the crew every Saturday and Sunday.
Headed by Richard Dorfman
, who is Wavertree's weekend volunteer coordinator, the group consisted of about 25-30 individuals, who according to Dorfman, "even showed up when we had to shovel snow off the vessel's deck on a cold February morning."
An architectural lighting designer by trade, Dorfman, who also volunteered his efforts on the Elissa restoration project, supervised the volunteers in performing tasks, such as sanding and painting, to galley rigging and constructing forms for ballast blocks. He credits one particular volunteer, Josh Payne, who helped build the shape for the vessel's main top mast.
On a typical weekend, Dorfman's main concern was to not only support the volunteers, but to also work with them in outlining specific tasks for the day, as well as working to coordinate the influx of information to the volunteers from the regular crew.
"The 25 volunteers that worked on this project dove right into it," Dorfman said. "It's exciting to see people who are so dedicated — it made the project that much easier."
On the day of MR/EN's visit to the Seaport, the regular crew — as well as Dorfman — were readying the vessel for its pre-OpSail stint at Staten Island, N.Y.-based Caddell Shipyard. The historical ship had its handiwork shown off at the Parade of Ships, where it sailed among other historical vessels as the Amistad and the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy
. Wavertree will not end its run at OpSail though, interested visitors will be able to view the restoration project in all its glory at the Seaport Museum. "The prize here is a spiffy, well pointed, well fitted out ship that we can take sailing and take care of," Dorfman said.