In wooden boat-building circles, the tradition of the “Whiskey plank” is cause for great celebration. And why not? It is a pinnacle event, a milestone — the placing of the final plank and the completion of a complicated and sophisticated process. It is a major benchmark and recognition of successful, long-term teamwork. The ship's hull is closed, fully renewed.
In the case of the Ernestina-Morrissey project, which started several years ago, the “Whiskey plank” is the last of 162 planks fastened in place to the revitalized hull of an historic vessel. Over 4,000 lineal feet of Danish oak has been fashioned by many hands. Although the average planks measured in the 28-foot length, some were over 30 feet, often four to five inches thick requiring extensive steaming (approximately one hour per inch of thickness) to accommodate the curving shape of the ship’s hull. 5,000 trunnels helped to fasten the heavy planks.
The work on the Ernestina-Morrissey at Bristol Marine (Sample’s Shipyard of days gone by) has been managed by David Short, project director, of North Atlantic Shipbuilding and Repair, Montville, Maine. Although the number of craftspeople working on the project hovers in the vicinity of eight to 10, more help is often present for different phases. The level of expertise is remarkable, requiring extraordinary care and attention to detail.
The term “Whiskey plank,” I have come to learn, is named for a libation which generally accompanies the plank’s placement. As seen in the accompanying photograph, more than just the yard workers attended this event, including Bristol Marine owner Andy Tyska and members of the Ernestina-Morrissey “support group” from Massachusetts and Cape Verde, which returned the vessel to the United States. The final plank is sprinkled with special spirits and then a drink is shared by all.
The Ernestina-Morrissey traveled to within 600 miles of the North Pole and spent many years in maritime service as a transport of goods and passengers. More can be learned about this historic vessel on the internet site www.ernestina.org.