Steamer J.B. Ford Vessel Survey: Day 1

On deck, looking forward

Superior, Wisconsin - June 30, 2013.  The excitement and anticipation of finally visiting the ship we have been working so hard to save was almost unbearable.  Elusive sleep, weird dreams when I did get some sleep, and then simply exhaustion finally turned into amazement, enjoyment, and happiness when I finally started the climb up the stairs to her deck. It seemed like an eternity climbing the steps, but when I finally set my boot down on the deck of the J.B. Ford, my heart skipped a beat.  I was finally here.  We haven't reached our goal of saving the ship yet, but we have finally made enough progress and impact to get to this point.  I was joined on the Ford's deck by Joseph Lombardi, a professional marine surveyor.  We hired Joe to perform a thorough assessment of the condition of the ship, from bow to stern and every accessible area in between. We did this to determine whether she was in sound enough condition to be preserved, or if she was simply a ticking time bomb beyond all hope of saving.  I am happy to report that the initial results look promising.

Deck winches
Steam winches on the deck of the J.B. Ford
Aft mooring winch
Aft mooring winch

The first day was spent surveying her outer decks, and searching for paperwork and blueprints that might help Joe get a good overall picture of what she is and was structurally, mechanically, and design-wise.  We found no blueprints on board.  Two decades of pilfering and thieving by souvenier hunters had left her stripped bare of almost all of her paper ephemera, perhaps never to be recovered.  So we set to our task of surveying the cabin structure, roof structure, smoke stack, decks, hull, and anything that is exposed to the weather 24/7.

Captain's office
Captain's office
Captain's suite
Captain's suite.

We found that, despite several areas that have had deck seams separate and allow the seepage of rainwater topsides, she is surprisingly strong still. There are, as anticipated, areas of concern that will require attention in the short term, as well as some longer-term areas.  As anyone who has owned an old house knows, a little bit of water can do alot of harm, and in some areas it has.  Vintage wood work on the ceilings in some parts of the ship has been soaked and damaged.  A few of these areas will need replacement, while others are still strong and can be cleaned up and restored. The overall assessment is that structurally, her cabins and accomodations are in good restorable condition, and will take minimal repairs to make watertight again.  A lot of the water damage in the cabins and living areas is due to missing or degraded gaskets on doors, port holes and sky lights.  We determined that replacing the gasket material on these openings will eliminate a very large percentage of the water ingress.

Water-damaged ceiling
Water damage due to leaking deck overhead
Woodwork detail
Woodwork detail

We rented a boat and examined the hull at the water line, and found that although there is some corrosion and pitting (as would be expected on a nearly-110-year-old hull), at this time it will not be a problem.  It will need to be addressed eventually, however, as corrosion never sleeps, even in fresh water.

Gyro room
Gyro room
Chief Engineer's quarters
Chief Engineer's quarters

After spending the bulk of the day onboard, and in a boat examining the exterior of the vessel, we were excited to see the interiors in more detail the following day, as many of the cabins we examined on the first day were accessed by hatches on the outside and didn't lead into the hull.  We didn't get a chance on the first day to view the machinery spaces, pilot house or forward cabins.  The second day of the survey will be covered in another post, coming soon.

Pilothouse
Pilothouse
Looking aft from pilothouse
Looking aft from the pilothouse

 

 

Complete gallery of 2013 survey images

To be continued...