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Gulf's Loss Is Ship's Gain

A historic whaling ship in Connecticut will be restored using wood from live oaks downed by Hurricane Katrina.

November 20, 2005|From Associated Press

MYSTIC, Conn. — Ancient live oak trees uprooted in Mississippi by Hurricane Katrina are going to escape being turned into wood chips, and instead will be used to restore what is believed to be the world's last wooden whaling ship.

Timber from 170 of the trees will be used to rebuild part of the frame, backbone, and stern and stem posts of the Charles W. Morgan. The ship, a national historical landmark, is set to undergo a $3.5-million overhaul at Mystic Seaport starting in the spring of 2007.

Nearly 10% of the live oaks along parts of the Mississippi coast were damaged by Katrina, according to one estimate -- including an 800-year-old tree that once stood in front of Charles and Sandra Lobrano's home in Long Beach, Miss.

Wind that reached 125 mph split the Lobranos' tree in half.

Sandra Lobrano called the 50-foot tree a cherished, living relic. She said she couldn't bear to send the fallen half to the chipper. The other half remains upright and is expected to survive.

"There's a lot of stories about the live oaks on the coast," Lobrano said. "They're just special trees."

Mystic Seaport's shipyard director said he was surprised when the Lobranos offered to donate the tree.

"It's a very meaningful gift on their part," Quentin Snediker said.

Live oak is the preferred source for a ship's framework timbers because of its strength, density and resistance to decay, Snediker said. Most of the trees also have a natural curve, similar to a ship's structure.

It is not the first time the seaport has used wood salvaged from hurricane-ravaged areas. It used live oak trees uprooted by Hurricane Hugo to rebuild the schooner Amistad and the Sabino steamer, he said. Timber procured after Hurricane Ivan will also be used for the 164-year-old Morgan.

About 50 tons of live oak timber is already at Mystic Seaport, and more is scheduled to arrive in the next few weeks. The seaport will need 200 tons of finished oak, Snediker said.

Work on the 113-foot-long whaler is expected to take about three years to complete.

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