The Dartmouth Connection

The countdown to a year of celebrations marking the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s historic voyage to the ‘New World’ in 1620 has begun.

Before finally departing from Plymouth in September 1620, the Mayflower and her companion ship Speedwell anchored in Dartmouth for repairs. In the end, the unseaworthy Speedwell returned to London and Mayflower continued alone to battle the Atlantic for 66 days before finally making landfall near present-day Cape Cod.

Today, the name Mayflower is associated with human endurance and endeavour and is revered in particular by the many Americans who trace their origins to the first Founding Fathers who made the perilous journey.

Dartmouth Mayflower 400

Proud of their connections with the famous ship, Dartmouth has embarked on building a one-tenth scale model of the Mayflower to be displayed in the town in readiness for events commencing in November this year, to mark the 400th anniversary of the epic voyage.

Spencer Wigley, Chairman of the Mayflower Dartmouth 400 organising committee, is confident that the 10 foot half-section model will afford a ‘fascinating view in miniature of shipboard life on the Mayflower - and a keen appreciation of the hardships endured by its 102 passengers and crew.’ Once completed, the model will be a permanent display in the Dartmouth Museum or Visitor Centre.

Leading the build in space generously provided by the Britannia Royal Naval College, is onetime shipwright, yacht broker and all-round Mayflower enthusiast, Ian Kirkwood, who commenced the project in April 2018.

A world of high precision

“It’s daunting,” admits Ian, who has spent a lifetime working with full-scale yacht and boatbuilding. “Everything is one-tenth the size it should be. You need smaller tools, greater dexterity and more patience. And there’s so much less margin of error. It’s a world of high precision where any inaccuracies are exaggerated in the build.”

Assisting Ian are students of the South Devon Marine Academy, who have been helping with the painstaking laminations to make up the main hull frames. Although no blueprints of the Mayflower have ever been found, there are many good drawings of vessels typical of this class of early 17th century trader.

Detailed plans of a ship thought to be very similar to the Mayflower have been provided by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). These have been enlarged to scale and provide ‘as a good a reference as you could get’ to building an accurate scale replica.

The build so far

Progress has been made and, at the start of 2019, all 37 laminated oak hull frames were fixed to the keel and the first longitudinal ‘whales’ fastened. With the transom, sternpost and bow complete, the hull is well defined and with some imagination, the general shape of the completed model can be visualised.

“Currently,” says Ian, “we are fitting the deck beams and cutting over 200 ‘knees’ to provide the structural anchor points for the remaining internal construction. And then we can start to cut, shape and fit mahogany hull planks. These will be a real test of skill and so important for the overall aesthetics and authenticity that we have to achieve.”

The interior modelling will be in the hands of specialist modeller who will provide the interior detail – crew, passengers, stores, livestock, cannons and more - ‘as much detail as possible’ to evoke the extreme confinement and privations of life on board the Mayflower. A rigging specialist is being contracted to manufacture and rig the three masts, bowsprit and sails.

Support from sponsors key to project

Ian makes special mention of a number of sponsors who have rallied to provide the tools and materials needed to set up the model workshop, housed in the corner of a Royal Britannia Naval College warehouse in Dartmouth.

“Axminster Tools & Machinery have sponsored the bulk of equipment required by the Mayflower model build workshop in Dartmouth,” says Ian. “They have also been able to enlist the support of a number of their supply partners including Aries Dust Extraction and Aries Duct Fix, Festool power tools, Tormek sharpening systems, Proxxon model making machines and Lie-Nielsen precision hand tools.”

Sales Director for Axminster Tools & Machinery, Darran McLeod, said that involvement with the Mayflower project would “…hopefully raise awareness of the Axminster Tools & Machinery brand amongst hobbyists and model makers and inspire these creative communities to take on more ambitious projects with the tools and expertise we can provide."

Mayflower commemorations

The Mayflower model will be a feature attraction within the many special commemorative events in Dartmouth, running for a full year until November 2020, and will become a permanent display in the Dartmouth Museum.

The Mayflower 400 international programme, is a four-nation commemoration marking the sailing of the Mayflower ship in 1620 from England to the New World and will explore all aspects of the Mayflower history and legacy, reflecting core themes of imagination, humanity, freedom and future.

A comprehensive programme of cultural and heritage events is expected to attract over a million visitors to the UK and generate revenues of over £400 million for business at the 11 official Mayflower national trail destinations.

Thanks to Axminster Tools and Machinery for the news.

For more details, see the Axminster Tools Website