By JANEL BLADOW | Under a gloomy overcast sky, the crowd cheered and a bagpiper played as 130-year old Wavertree was gracefully maneuvered away from Pier 16 in the South Street Seaport. The East River soon looked like it did more than a century ago – a wavy steel blue “Street of Ships.” The ironclad sailing ship joined other vessels, including the Pioneer under full sail, and headed down New York Harbor.
It was a grand sendoff Thursday, May 21, 2015, as the South Street Seaport Museum’s battered gem made her way to new home in Staten Island. The crown jewel of the museum’s fleet of historic ships will spend the next twelve months at Caddell Dry Dock and Repair where she will undergo a massive $10.6-million stabilization and restoration, the largest project of its kind ever in the U.S.
“Nothing is happening on this scale nationwide,” said Captain Jonathan Boulware, executive director of the museum. “This is a big, big deal. There’s nothing quite like this. It is the way it ought to be.
“We kicked off the museum’s opening day just a month ago, and now we’re kicking off a year-long restoration that has been seven years in the making. Our goal is to keep the ship alive, getting it into as close to Bristol condition as possible. This is a shining example of preservation on the waterfront and is presenting a very different picture from what the South Street Seaport Museum was in the last decade.
“I’m more hopeful for the museum than ever because it’s not the same as it was three years ago when I first joined….It is big for the museum….We’re bringing her to life…and sailing in New York harbor again,” he said as the crowd, including city politicians, community residents, museum volunteers and tourist, broke into cheers.
The stabilization and restoration job is funded by the city’s Dept. of Cultural Affairs, the City Council and the borough president.
Up next was Tom Finkelpearl, commissioner of Cultural Affairs, who noted that he has lived on “South Street since the ’80s and this is my little front yard,” He read a letter from Mayor de Blasio, which said in part: “I’m delighted to commend South Street Seaport Museum team.”
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said, “I’m thrilled to be here. And I’m also thrilled that she (Wavertree) is going to Staten Island, not some place like New Jersey. The East River was known as ‘The Street of Ships,’ and we would like to know it that way again.”
City Councilmember Margaret Chin, whose district includes the Seaport, thanked Boulware and New York City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer for fighting to get the money to restore the ship.
Van Bramer, from Queens, said: “Wavertree pulling out to the harbor moments ago reminded me how much we love this city. We will never walk away from the South Street Seaport Museum.”
Built in 1885 in Southampton, England, Wavertree is a full-rigged sailing cargo ship. She circled the earth four times and called on New York in 1896. In 1910, she was caught in a Cape Horn gale that tore off a mast and ended her shipping career. She was salvaged and used as a floating warehouse, then a sand barge in South America. In 1968 she was secured by the Seaport Museum as the iconic centerpiece of the Seaport’s “Street of Ships.”
The museum’s distinctive Peking, which never worked in New York, is expected to stay Downtown at least during the Wavertree’s absence, but the museum is looking to find her a new home for cost reasons.
Steven Kalil, president of Caddell Dry Dock, spoke to Downtown Express about the Wavertree. “This project is a challenge but it’s great to have her safe in Staten Island,” he said. “Our first order of business is to demo the ballast. She has a lot of cobblestone and concrete in her to get out.”
Replacing 20 massive steel plates below the waterline, new ballast system, modern electrical, lighting and infrastructure and state-of-the art cathode protection will coat the hull to prevent corrosion are included in the stabilization work. Her main deck will be restored and her ‘tweendeck (that between the cargo holds and main deck) will be reinstalled. This will give the ship a large indoor area for year-round educational programs and preservation work. She will be re-rigged back at South Street when she returns.
Steven Marquez, a student at JVL Wildcat Academy interning at the museum since February, was one of the volunteer crew who tended the bow line before cast off. “This is such a great experience,” he said. “I feel honored.”
U.S. Congress designated South Street Seaport Museum a National Maritime Museum. The non-profit was founded on May 22, 1967, by Peter and Norma Stanford to tell the story of New York and its link to its great natural harbor.
“Watching Wavertree leave port today felt like seeing our big iron baby – that’s what we used to call her – leave home,” Norma Stanford said, as the couple stood nearby, taking in the events.
And as Daniel P. Sprague, Pipe Sergeant of Pipes & Drums of the NYCPD Emerald Society, played the final tune, Captain Boulware said to Downtown Express, “Everything went perfect today. A great sign for the future. All the support felt heartwarming.”