Friday, May 06, 2005

Wawona Becomes A Ghost Ship

Like the varicose veins in the legs of an old movie queen, the rot in the planks of the old Wawona is hard not to notice even from afar.The 107-year-old schooner, launched Sept. 12, 1897, to haul timber along the West Coast, has led a hard life, not the least of it as a star Lake Union attraction, just sitting there in the stew. Clearly it qualifies for an extreme makeover, and now, has been closed to the public and must be moved by the end of summer. In a letter to Northwest Seaport President Joe Shickich last Thursday, Seattle Parks and Recreation Superintendent Ken Bounds said shut 'er down. "The safety of the public is our paramount concern," Bounds wrote. And so, according to Shickich, the closed sign went up that day. Today it is a ghost ship, sitting silent in its cloak of white construction plastic beyond a sign that pleads, "Save Our Ship." There will be no more tours and no more sea shanties. Bounds said yesterday the old tub is to be moved to a berth at the lake's north end by this fall so that construction of Seattle's new South Lake Union Park can get under way. "And, yes," Bounds said, if the Wawona "isn't restored while it's away, it won't come back." Bounds said that creosoted pilings that moor the ship must be removed as part of the park-construction project. That means the ship must be moved.Of immediate concern are its three masts, which must be removed at a cost of $10,000 to Northwest Seaport. "This is something that is not out of the ordinary for a sailboat," Shickich said. "You bring a crane in. The masts have been out before, back in, roughly, 1986." Although the 165-foot vessel has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1972, Northwest Seaport has not been able to raise the money necessary to complete its restoration. Rendering the safety verdict was a historic ship survey company brought in by the city from Maryland. Atop its list of problems are the masts, which were determined to be unstable as currently rigged. The survey's author, A. Michael Vlahovich, founding director of Coastal Heritage Alliance, explained it this way in his report. "The aftermost mast is stepped on a soft and rotting keelson (a timber just above the keel). The standing rigging is secured into chain plates which are fastened through rotten hull planking and questionable interior structural components." Vlahovich ticked off a list of other deteriorating structures that suggest there will be problems even towing the vessel away. He added: "It is further recommended that additional dewatering equipment be made available during any actual towing procedure." Built in northern California to carry lumber, the Wawona went on to fish for cod in Alaska and become little more than a de-masted supply scow for the Navy during World War II. It was acquired by Northwest Seaport in 1964 and has been an ongoing do-it-yourself restoration project for hundreds of volunteers through the years since. If it can't be towed off, it may have to be removed the old-fashioned way -- piece by piece. Should it come to that, the Wawona's long saga will likely end.
The old sailing vessel Wawona rests with a hole in its bow in South Lake Union. The planking was removed to fix it. Topping the ship's problems are the masts.

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