For the first time in decades, there are schooners 'abuilding on the famed waterfront at Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada. Dawson Moreland & Associates are building not just one, but two 48' wooden schooners in the best of Maritime traditions. These 'twins' will be built simultaneously, frame for frame, plank for plank, alongside the historic Lunenburg Dory Shop at 175 Bluenose Drive. Follow their progress from keel laying to launch!

An artist's interpretation of the Twin Schooner Project

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Grenada Schooner Caper

Excitement is building for the keel laying ceremony, set for this Saturday, December 12th at 2 p.m. We've had lots of people dropping us a line to say they're planning to come and we encourage every one of them - and you! - to tell your friends!
There's actually quite a story behind the massive timbers from which these keels were cut and hewn. It starts at the Caribbean island of Grenada where Capt. Moreland has an old friend and shipwright named Mr. Wesley Pilgrim, best known as Bones. You see, back in the day when an adz trumped a power plane and you could shape a 23' deck beam with a well-sharpened rip saw, its teeth set wide, Capt. Moreland worked for Bones. In fact, he credits Bones and his gang for teaching him much of his wooden ship repair skills and more so, his work ethic.

So a year ago last February, Capt. Moreland was aboard the sail training ship, Barque Picton Castle, on the last leg of its 12-month voyage around the Atlantic Ocean. They were at St. George's, Grenada and the captain was talking with Bones about his plans to build two 48-foot schooners back home in Lunenburg when Bones suggested he take advantage of the shipping opportunity aboard Picton Castle and get some incredibly durable, never-to-rot tropical island hardwood for the keels and stems. Always eager to find new experiences for his crew, the captain offered the opportunity to be part of a boat lumber expedition, led by Bones, into the jungles of Grenada. They would be accompanied by officials of the Grenadian Forestry Service and crew were warned upfront it would be very hard work, quite different from anything they had done before.

The gang on the Picton Castle are an adventurous lot and a team was readily assembled. It was led by Second Mate Paul Bracken and ship's carpenter Matt McGraw, who accompanied Bones to the Forestry Service office that first day, then piled into the back of a pickup truck and headed up into the hills of Grenada.
Matt recalls, "We spent that morning hiking and driving different trails through the dense forest trying to find the perfect tree. Lunch came and went. Every tree we found was too small, too far, too old or too crooked. We were beginning to lose hope when we found what we needed - a 100-foot tall century-old Mountain Gommier tree. Mr. Bones said it would do nicely and said it would outlast six schooners."

Matt remembers he and Paul spent that evening discussing whether it was realistic to fell the tree, mill it with a chainsaw (there being no mills big enough in Grenada), drag it out one mile across a valley, two creeks and up a long hill all covered with thick, mosquito-infested jungle to the nearest road for transport to the ferry and ultimately the ship, now at Carriacou. "After a few rums, Paul assured the captain on his cell phone that it was realistic and practical," says Matt.

The next day, the two young men again met with Bones at the Forestry office where they settled on a price for the tree, collected a forestry crew and headed into the jungle. It took an hour and a half to arrive at the tree. Staring upwards, "we had second and third thoughts about what we were attempting," says Matt. Those thoughts were interrupted as "a spliff-smoking Rasta Man fired up his chain saw and starting cutting.

"We looked at each other and then shouted, 'Stop!' We needed to talk about this. But he just kept cutting and five minutes later a beautiful Gum tree of one hundred years crashed to the jungle floor, crushing everything in its path and echoing across the valley floor and beyond. I looked over at Paul and said, 'Well, now we're committed.'"

The rest of that day was spent milling the tree into rough dimensional lumber. In the end, there were two great lengths of tropical hardwood measuring 30 feet in length, two-feet wide and 10-inches thick and weighing an estimated 2500 lbs. each!

When re-enforcements from the ship missed the ferry the next morning, Paul and Matt decided they would head into the forest regardless. They had with them nearly 30 men, a dog leash, a thin piece of hand-burning synthetic rope and an automotive engine chain hoist.

"In the forest no one was really in charge, just 30 ways or opinions or shouting arguments on the best way to move the timber at every corner," says Matt. As the day went on, the group started to work together more and made a bit of progress using skids and round logs as rollers and pulling on the dog leash and hand-burning rope. But by mid-afternoon the first timber was less than half-way out to the road and their calloused sailor hands were raw with blisters.

Then at about 4 p.m., a cawing sound broke the silence of the forest. Paul returned the call and suddenly their shipmates were running down the trail to meet them. Together, they managed to get the second timber as far along as the first, then across the first creek before calling it a day. "Exhausted but satisfied, we went back to our hotel and collapsed," says Matt.

On Friday the crew returned with the "heavy equipment":two large tackles from the ship, machetes and a thick piece of natural-fibre manila rope to replace the leash and synthetic line.
"I taped up my blisters and we started working smart, rigging blocks and tag lines, sometimes two tackles together giving us a 16 to one advantage," says Matt. By end of day, the first log was out and the second had reached the top of the last hill.

That night, in discussions with Capt. Moreland, it was agreed the Picton Castle would return to Grenada to pick up the lumber. So on Friday morning, after feasting on a big breakfast, the crew charged back into the jungle only to find that several of the island men, having been paid the night before, had declined to return. "Too much rum or the fact that it was just back-breaking work," offers Matt. "Never the less, we were almost finished so we rigged our blocks to get their greatest advantage and started hauling." By 2 p.m., they were roadside to meet the waiting truck.

Trucked in to St. George's that afternoon, the giant timbers were floated out to the ship waiting at anchor, then hoisted aboard using two heavy tackles and a huge rope run up the main mast and down the capstan. Remember, these weighed a total of 5000 lbs! The timbers were stowed on deck, providing what one crew member called the "most available seating of the voyage." Some crew also returned to the jungle to clean up the site and salvage a few more pieces of useful timber.
The timbers then sailed 2000 miles northwards where they were unloaded in the same labour-intensive way and floated to The Dory Shop. Imagine, all that work even before our shipwrights got to them! Makes Saturday's ceremonies all the more exciting.

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