Unsung Heroes

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Roann and her volunteers are hidden stars

One of Mystic Seaport’s more dazzling attributes is the breadth of its collection. With 20 boats in its waterfront collection, from oyster sloops and steamboats to square-riggers and lighthouse tenders, the museum presents a nautical smorgasbord sure to overwhelm even the most gluttonous of history buffs.

The Eastern-rigged dragger Roann garnered her own fame as a support vessel on the Morgan's 38th voyage.

Mystic is adept at making the most of what it has, and sending the Eastern-rigged dragger Roann along as a support vessel for the Morgan’s 38th Voyage was a touch of (typical) Seaport brilliance.

“Since the Morgan is without power and needed a tug to assist, there were things we needed to have along that were anachronistic but absolutely necessary for the voyage,” says Quentin Snediker, director of the Henry B. DuPont Shipyard at Mystic Seaport. While the Morgan made clever use of things such as vegetable bins to store life jackets, Roann chipped in by conveying a generator, storing fenders and providing extra sleeping accommodations for staff who were along for chase and rescue-boat and whaleboat activities. In Provincetown, Massachusetts, Roann also served as a water boat for the Morgan.

Built in 1947 at Newbert & Wallace in Thomaston, Maine, the Albert E. Condon-designed 60-footer came into Mystic’s collection in 1997 as an active fishing vessel. She has had only three owners in 50 years of fishing. Built for Roy Campbell of Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts, Roann dragged for groundfish — cod, haddock, yellowtail flounder.

In 1961, Campbell sold Roann to Chester Westcott, who dragged for groundfish from Point Judith, Rhode Island. In the summer, Westcott temporarily fit an extension topmast to Roann’s main mast to allow a lookout and fitted a bow pulpit from which swordfish were harpooned. (In the early fall, this gear would be removed when groundfishing resumed.)

In 1984, Westcott sold Roann to Tom Williams, also of Point Judith. Forced to adapt to declining catches and increasing regulation, Williams sold the vessel to Mystic Seaport Museum in 1997 and purchased a larger steel Western-rig stern trawler.

Roann reflects the design of traditional fishing schooners, such as Mystic’s L.A. Dunton, adapted to power propulsion advances after World War I. Roann has a slightly raked stem and round stern, a flush main deck with a pilothouse and whaleback aft. Carvel planked with 2-inch white oak and yellow pine, she is fastened with 3/8-by-4-inch galvanized iron ship spikes. Her keel is white oak. Frames are double-sawn futtocks with steam-bent oak frames. Hull planking is sheathed with 1-inch sacrificial oak planking to protect it against damage from ice and fishing gear. Hull-side steel plates were used as additional protection in areas where gear came aboard.

Roann had a major renovation in 2008 and works as an ambassador for Mystic at many New England maritime festivals. Snediker notes that volunteers have been critical to keeping Roann as part of the Mystic collection. When she was acquired, it was crucial that she not be a drain on Mystic’s limited resources. Volunteers serve as crew for the boat when she travels to shows, as interpreters to the public while the ship is on display, and they have done an enormous amount of restoration work.

Snediker says that while Mystic dealt with the hull, volunteers have continued to work on restoring and rebuilding the original joinery and mechanical systems. Wayne Whalen, of Cape May, New Jersey, is a sheet metal fabricator by trade who routinely travels to Mystic for three to four days each month to work with other volunteers. He also takes pieces back with him — “homework,” as he calls it, such as the metal cowl vents. They’re now impossible to find, so Whalen re-created the originals from sheet metal. When the engine needed rebuilding, he solicited help from friends of his. Mystic paid for parts, but the expert labor that went into the 1970s vintage Detroit Diesel 12-V71, 350-hp engine was free.

Dick Burke and Jim Collins, retired engineers from General Dynamics Electric Boat in Groton, Connecticut, have been volunteers with Roann from the start. Jim Fox, whose son-in-law was a lead carpenter on the Morgan, travels from Marshfield, Massachusetts, a couple of days each week to help with Roann.

The vessel is important to Mystic for a number of reasons. She is the first preserved Eastern-rigged dragger in the country, and Snediker notes that she is “authentic in every detail.” Roann is extremely well documented because of her local ownership, and her relatively modest size makes her easier to maintain.

Roann is a beauty, but she is also a living piece of history and a witness to a vanishing way of life. Snediker believes that her recent age has been a factor in drawing devotees. “When I was a kid hanging around the waterfront, all the boats were like this,” he says. “Roann draws people to her from a nostalgic place.”

See related articles:

- The Charles W. Morgan returns to New Bedford

- The last living whaleship

October 2014 issue