The birth of a Mayflower II futtock

Photos courtesy Mystic Seaport

From left to right: The live oak after it arrived at Mystic Seaport, moving the 300 lb. futtock after it’s been rough cut, running the futtock through a giant planer , and placing the finished piece in its final location.

Editor’s Note: In 2014, Plimoth Plantation, the Massachusetts-based owners and operators of the Mayflower II, a 60-year-old wooden replica ship, tasked the shipwrights at Mystic Seaport with the vessel’s complete restoration. Having recently taken a tour of the ship in Mystic, where currently a band of young, energetic bearded men are exercising considerable talent to make her look new, I thought it would be fun to examine one aspect of her reconstruction.

For at least a couple of centuries, the live oak tree stood in Belle Chasse, La., one of a dozen on the Bordelon family’s property. It survived all kinds of weather, and even remained standing after Hurricane Katrina. But in early 2017, the tree had to be taken down to make way for a power line easement. In its second incarnation, the live oak was donated by the family to Mystic Seaport to be turned into lumber used in the restoration of the Mayflower II.

Mayflower II is owned by Plimoth Plantation and is undergoing a multi-year restoration in the Henry B. duPont Preservation Shipyard at Mystic Seaport. The restoration of the 60-year-old wooden ship is being carried out over several years with the project scheduled for completion in 2019. The purpose is to prepare the ship for the 400th anniversary in 2020 of the Pilgrims’ arrival in 1620.

The live oak tree from Belle Chasse is one of dozens secured by the shipyard to go into Mayflower II. “It was great to work with the donor Sam Bordelon and see his happiness at knowing the trees his family cared for would be going to this special purpose,” said Matthew Barnes, the lead shipwright on the project. “Live oak is incredibly rot-resistant, very hard, structurally sound, and the curved shapes it presents makes it highly sought after for shipbuilding.”

In the shipyard, multiple teams of eight shipwrights work simultaneously in different areas of the ship. In the hold, each shipwright works to create a futtock – the timbers that make up the framing structure of the ship – to replace a rotted piece. Hundreds of futtocks are needed. Over the course of about four months, the team can create approximately 140 futtocks. A total of about 300 are needed. Roughly 60 percent of the ship’s original futtocks are going to be replaced.