At the beginning of the restoration, the vessel was basically a bare hull; rig, machinery, and equipment had been removed. She was found to have retained her general shape, but showed measurable distortion of the sheer line (hogging) and variation in the alignment of the stem and sternpost (twist) as well as some racking and loss of deadrise. The initial step in the structural restoration was elimination of these various forms of deformation so as not to become permanently “built in” as structural work progressed. The deformations were primarily the result of stresses imposed by the hard service the vessel was subjected to and the progressive weakening of the hull due to decay.
The preservation of the schooner was carefully planned utilizing historic research, careful analysis of existing conditions, and an assessment of the availability of materials and skilled labor. It was determined that the appropriate preservation treatment was restoration to ‘as launched’ condition. In 1994, a professional crew began the 26 month restoration process funded by grassroots support, the New Jersey historic Trust and the New Jersey Department of Transportation. The Bayshore Center at Bivalve reinstated her name as the A.J Meerwald at her re-launching on September 12, 1995.
The treatment of the A.J. Meerwald sought to enhance the historic integrity of the vessel by preserving, restoring, and recreating elements that contribute to her historical significance as a Delaware Bay oyster schooner. These elements included existing fabric and features that are original to the vessel, and missing features that are known to have been original.
Restoration of the hull structure involved a combination of preservation and in-kind replacement. Fabric that had lost structural integrity due to damage or decay was replaced in kind. The materials and methods used in the original contraction of the hull were clearly evident in the existing structure. In-kind replacement was based on evidence of the species and grade of wood; the nominal dimension of timbers; the design and arrangement of joint, including the shift of butts in planking and other longitudinal members; the size, type, quantity, and location of fastenings (spikes, drifts, etc); the visual appearance of fabric, including the grade of surface preparation and type of finish coatings. The goal of hull restoration was to restore strength and watertight integrity in a manner that preserved the hull’s original form and method of construction. All work followed the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for Historic Vessel Preservation.
Hull: The keel is an 8” x 8” long leaf yellow pine structure. The frames are double sawn white oak on 24” centers; there are 38 frames from stem to stern Each frame is made up of as many as thirteen “futtocks”, individual timbers that are fastened together with iron drifts. The frames lay on the keep and under the keelson, “8 x 9½” long leaf yellow pine, which runs from the forward end of the aft to the sternpost.
The stem is the same dimension as the keep and is backed by an apron of varying dimensions – up to 18” deep – which serves somewhat like a knee. The interior of the hull is ceiled with yellow pine planking that extends from the stern to the rudder post, and from the clamps to the keelson. Hull planking is white oak, both above and below the waterline. Thickness ranges from 1¾ to 1 7/8”. The bed log and centerboard slot are set to starboard of the centerline. The bed log (pine, 12” molded x 8” sided) is 28’ long. The centerboard slot is 18’ long and is centered fore and aft in the bed log.
The major components of the backbone including the keel, keelson, centerboard, bedlog, and deadwood were found to be largely salvageable. The stem and apron were both replaced – in part due to the fact that they were recent replacements and left the scarfing in a less the desirable pattern. The rest of the hull, including framing, planking, and ceiling, has undergone sequential restoration following aforementioned criteria and methodology. The centerboard and centerboard trunk had been removed from the vessel. Both have been entirely reconstructed. Construction of the trunk was based on extant physical evidence and from other oyster schooners that retain all or portions of their centerboard trunks.
Deck: The deck planked with 1¾” x 6” cedar planking. A margin plank, or covering board, a signal width plank that is notched out and fitted over the top timbers, runs the length of the deck. The deck is supported by 5½” x 6” pine deck beams the rest on the clamps. The deck underwent a sequential rebuilding similar to that of the hull, with each deck beam being removed and either repaired or replaced. The majority of the existing deck beams and all the planking were replaced. The starboard quarter section or the bulwarks was original and provided the detail to restore the entire bulwarks.
Accommodations/Interior Spaces: The forecastle (or forepeak) originally provided berthing for deckhands. It contains 8 berths; two upper and lower on port and starboard. The forecastle is fitted out in simple joiner work, with some tongue-and-groove sheathing below the berths.
There are four berths in the aft cabin, two on each side of the deck. A low curved bench seat (settee) extends around the aft end of the cabin and inboard of the berths. A semi curved access ladder rests on the port aft corner of the settee and rises to the companionway at the aft end of the cabin trunk. The cabin trunk is 20’ fore and aft, 10’ wide, and 31” tall. These compartments are restored as original and are interpreted to the public. They have been thoroughly documented with photographs and scale drawings, the woodwork was baled and removed to protect storage. It was reinstalled in the restoration process. The cabin trunk was removed to renew the sill timbers underneath. The trunk was then rebuilt on the new sills, salvaging a high percentage of the original.
The original arrangement of the hold is believed to have remained essentially empty, with exception of ballast or stores during the sailing period. The hold is now utilized for the crew quarters, galley, head, gear and equipment required for an operational sailing program. The compartment is not a public access space.
Engine: A General Motors 6-71 Detroit Diesel was installed at the location of the original engine beds (the vessel was build with a 100 horse standard diesel, and had a 671 at two different times in her carrier). The mechanical and electrical systems are non-historic additions that are necessary for the maintenance and safe operation of the vessel. In general, non-historic additions were limited to the non-significant spaces below deck that are no planned for public access and interpretations, primarily the hold an engine room. The engine compartment will not generally be open for public viewing.
Rig: The Schooner’s rig was reconstructed as original using extant physical evidence, historic photographs, and parts of old rigs from similar vessels found in the community.
Traditional Gear: The Schooner was outfitted with a pair of it on davits over the stern with a yawl boat in them. The oyster dredging gear forward of the main mast consisted of a “winder” or winch for hauling the dredges and an adjacent box that housed a small gasoline engine that powered the winder. There were two anchors and anchor windlass mounted on the Samson Post. All traditional gear including the oyster dredging gear, yawl boat, anchors, and windlass were salvaged from local sources and reconstructed to original specifications.
Decorative Elements: During her period of significance, the A.J. Meerwald was adorned with two round balls, painted in gold leaf – one atop each of her masts. Her traditional coat of white hill-pain was interrupted by three stripes – yellow, red and green – highlighting her sweeping sheerline.
Design/Materials/Workmanship: A.J. Meerwald maintains the prominent features of her historic type, her hull retains integrity of form and remains essentially as-built. Approximately 85% of the vessel’s original fabric was extant at the beginning of her restoration; and all repairs/replacements are consistent with the original fabric in terms of material (species & dimensions, workmanship, fastenings, and construction methods_. The methods of workmanship that were used have been passed along year after year through the continued maintenance of the oyster fleet at Dorchester and other local shipyards Some of the replacement wood was milled by the sawmills that supplied the shipyards in the 1920s, so not only was the wood replaced in-kind, but quite possibly it was replaced by wood cut from the very stand the original member was cut from. Although the percentage of original fabric will be lessened upon it completion, nothing will be lost in integrity of workmanship or materials.
Feeling: Both on deck and inside the vessel, a strong feeling of historic integrity exists. The accommodations have retained much of their furniture, detailing, and structure including bunks, settees, wainscoting, molding, companionways, bulkhead placement, and general layout.
While the restoration of the AJ Meerwald was complete with her re-launch in 1995, each year there is significant re-work and maintenance needed in accordance with a wooden schooner of this era. We encourage you to help with this ongoing effort and volunteer!