It Belongs in a Museum!

Short trip home this time, the details on that coming in another post once I am a little less apt to write something angry.
Regardless I did get to be involved with towing the Mayflower II, not exactly a first for me, however this time the destination was! In years past the Mayflower II would spend her winter on the railway at the former D.N. Kelly’s shipyard in Fairhaven (now Fairhaven shipyard north). This would allow the plantation staff to do below the waterline repairs and just generally catch up on larger projects that couldn’t be done during the summer.
However this year and the next few to come, she is spending her winter at the mecca of wooden vessels in the northeast, Mystic Seaport. There are few facilities in the country set up and staffed in the manner that the seaport is, and in collaboration with the Plimouth Plantation staff, there is truly an expert team set to perform a full restoration on the nearly 60 year old ship.
While I am a fan of wooden ship building and the techniques used, my part of the job has nothing to do with wielding an adze or driving oakum into seams. Instead I am part of the team in place to make sure she gets from point A to point B safely and intact. In the case of our normal trips from Plymouth to Fairhaven this involves an easy daylight tow on a short hawser. The daylight part remained the same for this trip, however it involved three legs, a tugboat friend catching lines for us, lots of in an out with the hawser, and a final tricky trip up the Mystic river.
While we are completely able to make the tow in a single leg with an overnight passage, due to insurance reasons we had to make only daylight trips. Leg one consisted of an afternoon departure from Plymouth, transiting the Cape Cod Canal and arriving at the state pier in New Bedford for the night. In Plymouth we arrived on site with the hawser ready to go. I passed a heaving line to the bow of the Mayflower and their crew shackled the thimble of our hawser into their wire bridles. These bridles are wire and attached to two eyes near the waterline on Mayflower II’s bow. To make the connection the crew on the Mayflower II uses a block and tackle to lift the ring for their bridles up on deck, and makes it fast with a stopper. They then pull the thimble end of our hawser across as we feed them slack, and connect their bridles and our hawser with a heavy shackle. The shackle pin is seized with wire and the now connected bridles and hawser are dropped clear into the water. Their pick up line is left connected to the bridles, with the sufficient slack in it.

The bridle connection can be see here in this photo of us outbound New London bound for Mystic

The bridle connection can be see here in this photo of us outbound New London bound for Mystic

With the bridles made up, Louise and I fed a bit more hawser out and made it up on Capt. Charlie’s command. With a light application of tension we first eased the bow away from the pier, and then pulled ahead to bring her out into the channel. This is where the first of the two hardest parts of this tow take place, at least for the guy at the wheel! The Mayflower II has a lot of mass for her size and tracks along quite straight. So even when shortened up it she tends to dive off to one side or the other in turns. Due to this Charlie has to compensate coming into each and every turn, otherwise Mayflower II would continue off on whichever way she would like!

Below is a link to a short video from CBS Boston showing our departure.

See the video here

Once around the point of Long Beach the towing gets easier. With the weather being calm we leave the hawser fairly short to make less work for the deck crew, and head for the Cape Cod Canal. Arriving at the east end shortly after dark to quite a reception committee! At least a dozen cars with headlights on and camera lights flashing! Including the Therapist Fiance and her Mother who had come down to the canal to see us pass through. Getting to wave and blow the whistle for them is probably my favorite part of working on Jaguar, in this job your family generally never gets to see you at work and being able to wave is something that really warms your heart. In the same sense as this blog, it is a great feeling to share what I love to do with those who I love.

Outbound Plymouth Bay off the Gurnet, ready to turn for the Canal

Outbound Plymouth Bay off the Gurnet, ready to turn for the Canal

After a canal transit full of onlookers, even in the early winter dark, we passed Mass Maritime and headed for Buzzards Bay. Shortly after making Butlers Flats Light we slowed to bring the Mayflower II alongside. After getting her nearly stopped we fed out some hawser to allowed for the Mayflower II crew to use their pick up line to pick up the shackle and disconnect the hawser from the bridles. Once that is done Louise and I hauled back and faked the hawser out as Charlie backed down and slid alongside. Once alongside the first line up is the spring line, or towing strap. This is made up single part from the shoulder bitt to a post on the main deck. Next the headline is passed just forward of our bow to a shackle on the port side of the Mayflower II, the eye is kept on our forward H-Bitt and the bitter end is passed through the shackle, we then haul the bitter end back and make up on the after side of the forward H-Bitt. Lastly is the stern line, for this a heaving line is passed down to us which we make fast to the quarter bitt. It is in this configuration we came alongside the State Pier in New Bedford as well as the City Pier in our second stop of New London. The only differences between the two legs were; having more hawser out for the longer more exposed route from New Bedford to New London. Having a bit of chop coming in the race, and hauling back that extra bit of hawser just as fast in New London Harbor. A very pleasant surprise upon our arrival there was having Birk Thomas, the purveyor of tugboat information.com, and a good friend of mine on the pier to catch our lines. After getting made up at the pier and putting gangway out, Birk, Charlie, Louise and myself made our way a couple blocks up town to a local Irish pub for a well deserved dinner.

Here are a few pictures from our New Bedford to New London Leg.

Departing New Bedford Harbor on the hip

Departing New Bedford Harbor on the hip

Departing New Bedford for New London. Butlers Flats Light in the background

Departing New Bedford for New London. Butlers Flats Light in the background

Stretching out the hawser

Stretching out the hawser

At the Race

At the Race

Marching along for New London, our couple minutes of wave action happened at the Race

Marching along for New London, our couple minutes of wave action happened at the Race

The next morning after a good nights sleep we awoke for the final leg of our trip up into Mystic and the Seaport. For this leg we swapped out the heavier hawser for a lighter working line that would be easier for us to handle while making up alongside at Mystic, the reason being is we would be walking it forward and turning it into our headline. This process saves several minutes as there is no need for the Mayflower II crew to disconnect, and it eliminates the need to pass a separate headline up. With the short hawser made up eye to eye on the main H-Bitt we proceeded up the winding and tight Mystic river for Mystic Seaport. I only managed to snap a few pictures once we made the river as I was standing by to be ready to jump to if needed. With a vessel in tow that doesn’t track exactly perfect this is a difficult passage to make for the guy in the wheelhouse. To help steer the Mayflower II and keep our speed down the 50′ launch Liberty was made up on her stern, and two small yawl boats on her port and starboard bows.

Our hawser faked out from being hauled back the night before. Our after breakfast exercise involved coiling this back on the stack

Our hawser faked out from being hauled back the night before. Our after breakfast exercise involved coiling this back on the stack

Looking up the stern line. Due to its high lead it is necessary to take a turn on the quarter bitt's horn before making it up. This keeps the line from pulling itself up and off the bitt under tension

Looking up the stern line. Due to its high lead it is necessary to take a turn on the quarter bitt’s horn before making it up. This keeps the line from pulling itself up and off the bitt under tension

Our Sterns with the ferry Race Point in the background

Our Sterns with the ferry Race Point in the background

At the City Pier New London

At the City Pier New London

A panorama for good measure

A panorama for good measure

Post New London departure photos, and into the Mystic.

New London Harbor Light

New London Harbor Light

New London Ledge Light

New London Ledge Light

Mayflower II on a short hawser

Mayflower II on a short hawser

Colors flying!

Colors flying!

Entering the Mystic River, and on to the Seaport

Yawl boat on the starboard bow

Yawl boat on the starboard bow

Yawl boat on the port bow

Yawl boat on the port bow

Liberty as our tail boat

Liberty as our tail boat

Follow the leader

Follow the leader

After getting her made up to the dock at Mystic Seaport we had a little time to wave to the cameras, shake hands with the crew and stow our lines before it was time to make haste back to New Bedford. We still had ships to undock and work to do. The wheels just don’t stop turning.

Safe and sound

Safe and sound

Mystic Seaport in our wake

Mystic Seaport in our wake

Sunset on Fisher Island Island's Sound

Sunset on Fisher Island Island’s Sound

About newenglandwaterman

1600 Master Near Coastal, Master of Towing Vessels, and a whole binder full of other pieces of paper. You can find me at the controls, hooked up and hard over, when I'm not at home playing with the dogs
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2 Responses to It Belongs in a Museum!

  1. lifeat6mph says:

    great story and nice pics.. a lot more to towing the Mayflower II than towing a dinghy behind my sailboat 🙂 no mention of anyone aboard the ship to assist with steering – is the rudder on the mayflower II fixed? have a great holiday season – sounds like you are enjoying working in home waters for the time being… jt

    • The rudder on the Mayflower is rather small and not very useful while towing. It is left tied in place. I think even under sail she probably responds better to changing the trim in the mizzen and headsails than rudder commands.

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