By Mac Cerullo
---- — 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.
“He’s really an artist,” Hoyt said. “In second grade he always loved lighthouses, and even with his Harvard degree, we always knew he’d wind up back here at Lowell’s.”
McKay took on the $100,000 project back in the fall, with preliminary work being done at H.A. Burnham’s in Essex in September before construction began in earnest around November.
Throughout that time, Lowell’s has been working hard to raise the money necessary to fund the project, and recently the shop announced that it had reached its $100,000 goal.
Nearly two dozen people, families and organizations contributed to the effort, and McKay said he and the rest of the staff were incredibly grateful for their support.
Among the top donors were the Peter R. and Cynthia K. Kellogg Foundation, the Institution for Savings Charitable Foundation, the H. Patterson Hale Jr. Foundation, Andrew Martens, The Newburyport Five Cents Savings Foundation, The Provident Bank, the H.T.N. Smith Foundation and Ed and Barbara Wilson, along with numerous others.