A set of important long-lost Wawona plans were anonymously deposited on Northwest Seaport’s doorstep recently. The drawings include detailed measurements of Wawona’s forward deckhouse and donkey house (a small deck house containing a small gas engine, not a live donkey).
The forward deckhouse, where the galley was located, was dismantled in the early 1990s as part of a major restoration project rebuilding Wawona’s bow. The measured drawings never made it into the seaport’s archives and were thought lost.
Thanks to the individual who left these plans on our doorstep, another key part of Wawona’s design and construction is on record and will become part of the overall record of the ship. Wawona is one of the most thoroughly recorded ships in the nation, but there are a few key parts missing from the documentary record—most significantly, the forward deckhouse.
Wawona was originally built without paper plans at all. The ship’s builder, Danish-born Hans Ditlev Bendixsen, built his ships from half-hull models. He carved the hull to the shape he wanted. Then measurements were taken directly off the model, scaled up, and reproduced on the lofting floor where patterns were assembled and then taken out to the shipyard and copied 1:1 onto the lumber that would form Wawona’s 63 hull frames.
Since Wawona retired from commercial service, Northwest Seaport has endeavored to reverse-engineer the ship to create a set of blueprints. Recording the basic shape of the ship’s hull was the first major effort, undertaken between 1980 and 1985 and led by Fred Fischer and funded by the National Park Service and the Washington State Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation. Naval architect and draughtsman, R. K. Anderson, then produced a set of excellent lines drawings of Wawona. These are now in the Library of Congress as the official records of the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER).
In the 1980s and 1990s major restoration projects rebuilding the ship’s bow produced many measured drawings of Wawona’s foredeck, forward framing, and forward deckhouse. Unfortunately, some of these never made it into the archives collection.
In 2008 when it was determined that Wawona could not be saved in its physical form (95% of the ship’s timbers required replacement), Northwest Seaport launched a major documentation effort with East Carolina University and the City of Seattle. This work carried on for more than a year, combining high a low tech methods to record not just the shape of the ship, but also its internal structure, fastening patterns, deck fittings and rigging hardware, cabin construction, and even the tool and usage marks left by the ship’s builders and crew during the 112 years of the ship’s existence.
Documentation work continued throughout Wawona’s deconstruction in drydock. As previously hidden parts of the ship’s internal structure became visible, measurements and photos were taken and a greater understanding of the ship’s design and construction were obtained. Today Wawona is one of the most thoroughly documented ships in America. Northwest Seaport has striven to compile all the data collected over the past 30 years and publish a new set of detailed construction drawings for the ship. One of the key missing elements, however, was the measured drawings of the forward deckhouse and donkey house. After assuming the specifics of these structures were forever lost, one morning they miraculously appeared. Thank you to whomever brought back to us!