A Sea Change

September 13, 1992|By Bill McAllen

When you get to be a centenarian you can be expected to look and feel your age. That goes for ships as well as people.

From late last year until the middle of this year, the 109-year-old barkentine Gazela quietly underwent a major restoration at Baltimore's Locust Point shipyard. Time and wear had weakened the 177-foot former fishing ship that is now the sailing ambassador for the city of Philadelphia. Fore and aft, its frames had rotted.

Shipwrights combined contemporary and age-old crafts to restore the tall ship. The hull work called for specialized knowledge. Peter Boudreau, who built the schooners Lady Maryland and Pride of Baltimore II, and Peregrine Woodworks signed on for the project. For six months, they labored with the ship's crew to achieve a seamless blending of their newly built portions of the hull with the old -- to retain Gazela's fine lines and character.

Shipwright Scott Gifford shaped and joined hardwood weighing hundreds of pounds to form the intricate interlocking blocks that re-created Gazela's bow. Rob Whalen and his fellow caulkers used heavy wooden mallets and chisel-shaped tools called irons to drive strands of cotton and oakum (a fiber) deep into the seams between the planks covering the hull.

Many others contributed know-how and time, and the Gazela left dry dock a stronger vessel. After opening to the public at the Fells Point Maritime Festival in June, the Gazela set sail for home and Columbus quincentenary celebrations in New York and Boston. It's now open to the public at its home at Penn's Landing, Chestnut Street and Delaware Avenue, Philadelphia.

BILL MCALLEN is a corporate photographer residing in South Baltimore. He has extensively photographed the building and sailing of wooden boats.

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