AMESBURY — Lowell’s Boat Shop, a National Historic Landmark and working museum on the banks of the Merrimack River, is currently engaged in a major Whaleboat Project.
To that end, the boat shop has now raised sufficient funds to ensure the completion of a 28-foot replica whaleboat slated to complement the Charles W. Morgan, the last extant whaling ship, at Mystic Seaport, in Mystic, Conn. Of the 2,700 ships that left from American ports in search of whales, she alone survives, according to information in a press release.
Currently undergoing a $10 million restoration, the iconic Charles W. Morgan, first launched in 1841, is scheduled to sail on her 38th voyage, including various southern New England ports, in 2014. Her average voyage lasted two years, and her longest spanned nearly five years.
The historically accurate whaleboat built at LBS will be one of several such crafts on exhibit and in use at Mystic Seaport. In the 1800s, these smaller, much lighter boats worked alongside the much larger whaling vessel, enabling crews of six or so men to row or sail close enough to harpoon a whale.
Now that the building of the boat is assured, further funds raised for the LBS Whaleboat Project will be applied to the creation and implementation of a whaling and fishing industries curriculum to be offered to student groups in their classrooms or at the museum. These funds will also provide for apprenticeships, allowing six to eight area high school students to participate in the whaling boat’s construction and to acquire hands-on knowledge of America’s rich maritime history.
As Pam Bates, executive director of LBS, explained, “The Whaleboat Project is being viewed as the catalyst to making Lowell’s a sustainable educational entity. It is our largest, highest profile undertaking in the last six years, not only in terms of fundraising, but in scope of educational outreach.”
According to Graham McKay, boat shop manager, boat builder and director of the Whaleboat Project, “If you don’t engage young people in the process, there will not be anyone there in 20 years to uphold our mission of preserving and perpetuating the art and craft of wooden boat building.”
Before school broke for summer vacation, McKay visited such places as his alma mater, Amesbury High School, to talk about the project and to distribute applications for after-school apprenticeships. He said, “I expected to hand out maybe 12 applications, but the interest was such that I ended up handing out 50 or 60 applications.”
The goals of the apprenticeship program are to instill a sense of workmanship and pride in young people, to cultivate the next generation of stewards of maritime heritage and to foster a passion that will further the mission of Lowell’s, the nation’s longest continuously operating wooden boat building establishment.
McKay noted that a “50-50 gender split for apprenticeships would be ideal” and that the construction of the whaleboat at Lowell’s will begin in October. Upon completion, the whaleboat will be sailed from the boat shop to Mystic Seaport, with port stops along the way to present whaling history to local groups.
Founded by Simeon Lowell in 1793, LBS is the official birthplace of the fishing dory, the mainstay of New England’s legendary fishing industry. By analogy, the whaleboat was to the whaling industry what the fishing dory was to the fishing industry. Both were designed with an eye to form and function; in each case the smaller vessel was carried aboard the mother ship and hauled up or down as needed.
A fundraiser in support of the Charles W. Morgan Whaleboat Project is set for July 14 from 6 to 9 p.m. aboard the tall ship HMS Bounty when she is docked at the Waterfront Park Boardwalk in Newburyport. “Creative black tie,” with boat appropriate footwear (no high heels), as well as champagne, a raw bar, silent auction and ship tours will make the evening one to remember. The cost is $100 per person or $150 per couple.
A second fundraiser, a sunset whale watch aboard the Prince of Whales, is scheduled for Aug. 8 from 5 to 9 p.m. Tickets are $50 per person and $30 for children under 12. Again, net proceeds will support the whaleboat campaign and educational outreach.
Tickets for both these events are limited, so early reservations are recommended. For further information or tickets to either the Bounty or Prince of Whales fundraiser, visit the boat shop in person; call 978 834-0050; or purchase online at www.lowellsboatshop.com.
Lowell’s Boat Shop is located at 459 Main St. and is generally open for guided or self-tours.