The young guns of the Mayflower II

Mayflower II shipwrights use a batten to ensure new components match what’s already there. Photo courtesy Mystic Seaport Museum

It’s always neat when what you assume about a given situation is wrong, but in a way that leaves you hopeful about the current state of things.

Take last fall, for example, when I checked in on the progress being made on the Mayflower II, a reproduction of the famous ship being restored at Mystic Seaport’s Henry B. duPont Preservation Shipyard in Mystic, Conn. I thought – incorrectly, it turns out – that anyone working on such a project would tend to be on the older end of the spectrum; that young guys wouldn’t be interested in such work.

But then, walking around the 60-year-old vessel, which in October of last year looked more like the autopsy of a giant beast than a ship, I was struck by a singular thought: where are the old guys? The men I saw walking around seemed like the same young, fit dudes with beards and stylish coifs I bump into at craft breweries.

Dan McFadden, Director of Communications at Mystic Seaport Museum, was kind enough to look into this for me. He even broke down the ages of the 24-man crew, which is a mix of Mystic Seaport and Plimoth Plantation (the owners of the ship) employees, and several independent contractors. His numbers confirmed my suspicions: The crew is young. In fact, 68% of them are in their 20s or 30s, with more than a 1/3 (36%) in their 20s. And, he pointed out, in general, they’ve had way more schooling than their predecessors. “Compared to years ago, when shipbuilding was typically a blue-collar profession, today’s shipwrights are well-educated,” McFadden said. “They’re proud to have found a profession that puts skills and artisanship above potential financial gain.”

Many of the current younger shipwrights are grads of the International Yacht Restoration School, in Newport, R.I., or have taken courses at The Landing School of Boatbuilding and Design in Arundel, Maine, and The Apprenticeshop in Rockland, Maine.

Of course, not all the crew have formal training. Their backgrounds vary widely, and include attorney, child psychologist, tailor/clothier, circus worker and biotech employee.

Twenty-six-year-old Dylan Perry is learning the old-fashioned way, by emulating the more skilled men around him. Prior to working on the Mayflower II restoration (he’s been involved since 2014; his dad, Whit Perry, happens to be the ship’s captain), Dylan mostly worked at museums. He’s engaging and funny, a natural leader of museum exhibit tours, but says he loves his job as a sawyer, processing the raw wood that enters the yard into usable lumber. This work takes place outside “The Mailbox” – the giant, temporary structure that houses the Mayflower II – where he’s exposed to the vagaries of New England weather, and, several winters back, he experienced “the coldest day of his life.” As a sailor who’s already spent time aboard several wooden replica ships, he says he can’t wait to sail the finished Mayflower II.

Twenty-five-year-old Casey Cochran, a former University of Connecticut football quarterback with a post-grad degree, works inside The Mailbox. His story is one any sailor-of-old would recognize: He was recruited at the pub. In this particular case, by Dylan. Prior to being hired by Mystic Seaport just over a year ago, he’d had a few odd jobs, but always wanted to get into woodworking and carpentry. So far, he can’t believe his luck. “I find meaning in my work every day,” he said. “My office is this unbelievably large, wooden ship. To get to see the progress – to see it come apart, and then go back together again – is pretty incredible. I’ve learned so much. It’s been a blessing.”

Asked what he thought the original Atlantic crossing must have been like for the 106-foot Mayflower’s roughly 130 passengers and crew, Casey replied, “My guess is that most of them had never even been on a boat before. Then they’re out there for over two months? It’s hard to imagine. It says a lot, actually, about the people who got on that ship. Of the image they had of where they thought they were going.”

And Dylan? “It must have been very smelly.”

Dylan and Casey and the rest of the talented shipwrights working on the Mayflower II will be at Mystic Seaport all summer, ahead of a proposed Sept. 2019 launch.