Saturday, July 13, 2024

Jamestown Settlement’s Susan Constant to Embark on Multiyear Restoration

Jamestown Settlement’s Susan Constant under sail in the Chesapeake Bay(_Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation)

JAMESTOWN — Jamestown Settlement’s Susan Constant, flagship of the official fleet of the Commonwealth of Virginia, will travel as early as June 15 to the Henry B. du Pont Preservation Shipyard at Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut to begin work over the next two years to preserve it for future generations, Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation announced.

The $4.7 million undertaking to repair and restore the wooden 120-ton cargo vessel was approved this spring by the Virginia General Assembly, and a fundraising effort is underway to support maritime education while the ship is away.

Under the helm of Captain Eric Speth, longtime director of Maritime Operations for the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation (JYF), a 15-member sailing crew will take the estimated 515-mile journey over four to five days, weather permitting. Instead of sails, they will travel using diesel engines to reach their destination, the foundation said.

“Thanks to our highly dedicated and qualified paid and volunteer crew, Susan Constant was transformed from a museum exhibit to a fully operable ship ready for the trip to Mystic Seaport Museum, where it will undergo restoration and be prepared for its next chapter of service teaching early Virginia history,” Speth said.

According to JYF, since its commissioning on April 25, 1991, the Susan Constant has welcomed an estimated 19 million visitors — schoolchildren, presidents and even royalty — over the past three decades to climb aboard the re-created merchant ship.

From the main deck, ’tween deck and peering into its hold, guests learn about the 17th-century technology used to sail and navigate the square-rigged ship across the ocean during the 1607 voyage to Jamestown.

In Jamestown Settlement’s 67-year history, there have been two generations of the Susan Constant. The first was built in Norfolk in 1957. The other, built at Jamestown Settlement in 1990, is still in use today.

The Susan Constant, along with re-creations of the Godspeed and the Discovery, were designated as the “official fleet of the Commonwealth” by the Virginia General Assembly in 2001.

Captain Eric Speth aboard Jamestown Settlement’s Susan Constant sailing in the Chesapeake Bay. (photo: Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation)

Shipyard Selection for the Susan Constant

Mystic Seaport Museum’s shipyard, which works exclusively on wooden ships, has been a leader in maritime preservation for more than half a century and is ideally suited for large wooden vessel restoration projects like Jamestown Settlement’s Susan Constant, JYF said.

While Virginia has a rich history in shipbuilding and repair, existing shipyards in the state capable of accommodating a project the size of the Susan Constant have shifted their workforce to focus on modern naval and commercial metal vessels, Speth explained.

The Susan Constant is inspected annually by the U.S. Coast Guard and routinely maintained by staff shipwrights, mechanics and volunteers, with a thorough dry-dock inspection every five years.

Work last spring entailed stabilizing the wood and painting the ship’s hull. Dry-dock inspections found the ship needs a comprehensive restoration to repair its hull planking, upper framing, mast and rigging components, and other pivotal hull structures. Fortunately, wooden ships are constructed in a way that allows cost-effective removal and renewal of deteriorated parts, Speth said.

During restoration of Mystic Seaport Museum’s ship, the Charles W. Morgan, now 183 years old, shipwrights found evidence of prior “re-toppings,” where planking above the waterline and some of the structure’s hull were replaced. The Susan Constant will similarly be “re-topped” to extend the ship’s useful service life for at least another 20-30 years, JYF explained.

Speth explained that restoring a wooden ship in this manner is far less costly than replacement, which could total three to four times the estimated cost of the Susan Constant’s restoration.

The Susan Constant is moored at the Jamestown Settlement ships’ pier, alongside re-creations of the Godspeed and Discovery. Until its departure, visitors can see the ship from the pier as the crew prepares the ship for its next journey. While the Susan Constant is away, the Godspeed and Discovery will allow guests to explore 17th-century maritime history.

Read WYDaily’s previous coverage of the Susan Constant restoration.

Learn more about the Susan Constant and its restoration at

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