Waiting For Wavertree

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The Wavertree, 1885
The Wavertree, 1885

Volunteers set to help ship sail

When the 325-foot Wavertree pulls into its berth at the South Street Seaport, on Saturday, Sept. 24, William Shephard of Plainview plans to be there. It will be a special moment for William and Billy Shephard, father and son who worked on the original restoration of the wrought iron-hulled tall ship. The boat has been undergoing its second restoration and repair at a cost of $10.6 million at Caddell Drydock and Repair, located in the Richmond Terrace section of Staten Island. As a former volunteer, Shephard was asked to help and he spent a couple of busy weekends in May and June preparing brightwork to be re-varnished. He volunteers five days a week at the Ida May Project in Oyster Bay and so his time to volunteer further was limited.

Billy also volunteered in the first restoration. When he was about 14-years-old, they visited the Statue of Liberty and saw a notice of a maritime museum nearby. When they visited the newly established South Street Seaport Museum in the 1970s, they saw a sign asking for volunteers to restore the Wavertree.

Billy and William Shephard
Billy and William Shephard

“We both applied,” said William. Their first assignment was to work below decks, moving the ballast so that they could work on restoring the wrought iron hull.

The Wavertree was built in England in 1885 as a merchant ship competing with the newer steamships. It had a long work history, ending up in Buenos Aires where it was purchased by Jakob Isbrandtsen, then chairman of the young museum and president of American Export Industries, at a cost of $375,000. It was towed to New York in 1967 for restoration and repairs.

“There was a picture in the New York Times of Billy and his friend Jakob Isbrandtsen, the board president’s son. The two looked like coal miners as they moved the Belgium block ballast,” said William.

The blocks were from New York City where a street renovation was going on.

“Our job was to move the blocks from the portside to starboardside to get at the bilge and then clean and paint the port side. Then we had to move all the blocks to the port side to work on the starboard side. When we finished that side, we had to even out the load of the blocks,” said William.

Interestingly, when the current Staten Island restoration took place they replaced the ballast with concrete. Ballast is material that is used to maintain stability in a ship.

Billy, is a graduate of SUNY Maritime, at Fort Schuyler. He took his first seamanship course at age 9, the Young Boaters Safety Course given by the Power Squadron. He is a port captain. His job is to travel to ports around the world to plan the shipments on cargo vessels. Using a computer he has to calculate the weight of the shipment to ensure the stability of the boat.

William volunteers on building the Ida May in Oyster Bay where the current discussion involves what choice of ballast that vessel will use. Lead is the leader in the contest and hopefully they will be able to find a ship that is being decommissioned and wants to get rid of it. The cost of building the Ida May is significant. The boat is being built by volunteers, but to qualify for a $125,000 New York State Economic Development grant they need to raise another $80,000 to prove the job has enough funding for completion. It is a daunting task but they are up for it. If you would like to contribute to the project you can visit them on their website www.idamayproject.org or call 516-305-9204.

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