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May 17, 2013

Amesbury whaleboat gets its 'whiskey plank'

AMESBURY — Throughout shipbuilding history, the last plank fitted to a ship’s exterior has been known as the whiskey plank, because it marked a major milestone and was cause for celebration.

Amesbury’s long history of shipbuilding lives on at Lowell’s Boat Shop, and yesterday the shop held its own whiskey plank celebration as the final exterior piece of the shop’s replica 19th-century whaleboat was fastened to the hull.

Roughly a dozen local residents and shipbuilding enthusiasts were on hand as chief boatbuilder Graham McKay and his team of high school apprentices fastened the final plank to the body of the boat.

Also in attendance was Matthew Stackpole, a world-renowned shipbuilding historian who was in town to give a speech at the library later in the day. Stackpole is the lead historian at the Mystic Seaport in Connecticut, where the whaleboat will be sent once it’s done, and McKay gave him the honor of driving in some of the last screws.

While the exterior of the boat is complete, some interior work remains before it can be sailed down to Connecticut to join the Charles W. Morgan, the world’s last extant whaleship that is in the process of being restored. The boat is scheduled for completion later this summer and will join six others onboard the Charles W. Morgan when it makes its 38th voyage in 2014.

Stackpole said he was thrilled to see how far the boat has come and is glad to see that the country’s shipbuilding history still lives on in Amesbury.

“It’s a hugely important part of American history that’s not remembered at all,” Stackpole said. “Plus it’s the first industry that America really dominated.”

Peter Hoyt, whose wife Patricia created a curriculum around the project at the middle school, offered high praise for McKay for being about to create such a marvelous vessel while having the ability to lead a team of high school apprentices through the construction process.

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