July 31, 2018

Mirlo Rescue Surfboat Renovations Complete


With the exception of some rope work which will be done in-house, the renovations to the famed Mirlo rescue surfboat conducted by conservators from the National Park Service (NPS) are complete.

The team of conservators worked on-site at the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station last week, completing a number of projects to make the surfboat shine. 

The vessel, formally known as Surfboat No. 1046, is the last surviving example of the typical 25-foot surfboat used by nearly all of the early Life-Saving Service and U.S. Coast Guard Stations in the United States. It also holds a claim to fame as the boat that was used on August 16, 1918 to rescue 42 sailors from the British tanker Mirlo after it was torpedoed by a German U-Boat off of Hatteras Island. 

The project to revitalize the surfboat began in the spring, when the four NPS conservators initially visited the surfboat at its Chicamacomico location. During their visit, the team removed a number of parts from the vessel to take back to their home base in Charles Town, W.V., where the National Park Service’s artifact conservation facility is located.

On this recent July trip, the team returned with the new or restored parts, and spent the better part of a week painstakingly reattaching these elements to the vessel. This included a collection of bronze, chrome, and brass pieces which required a lot of work to ensure that they would last for another century.

“It’s quite a process,” says Larry Grubbs, Vice President of the Board of Directors for the Chicamacomico Historical Association. “With some parts, they didn’t take the [original] tarnish off - just stabilized it in place, so that it keeps that aged look, but is protected from degrading any further.

“A couple of the pieces – like the nameplate of the manufacture from the boatyard, as well as the U.S. Coast Guard nameplate - they reproduced, and put replicas back on the boat simply because of the sheer value of the originals on the boat.”

In fact, it’s estimated that the value of the original manufacturer nameplate, (which is currently located in a secure NPS facility), is worth around $200,000. 

The surfboat also received a facelift of sorts, with a whitewash covering the vessel’s exterior.  “When the boat was originally restored in the 1960s, it looks like they actually sanded the paint down to the wood,” says Grubbs. “Because of that, it gave the [NPS team] the leeway to do a whitewash, and to match the paint and color that was on it before.”

The conservator team went through delicate efforts to keep as much of the surfboat in original condition as possible, going so far as to use a syringe with an acrylic adhesive and a hot press to tack flecks of paint back into place.  

“It was really something to watch them work on this last visit,” says Grubbs.

The NPS conservator team left on Friday, and now it’s up to Grubbs to finish the remaining rope work to bring the surfboat to vivid life. 

“All of the structural stuff is done, but the rope work will put [the surfboat] in a position where it looks more like it would have on the morning of August 16, 1918,” says Grubbs. “This means it will have tow ropes in place, as well as what they call the lifelines on the side of the boat which hang down. They were placed there because if there a man overboard, or they were rescuing someone in the water, they would have something to hold onto.

“We have real specific directions from an expert at the U.S. Life-Saving Service Heritage Association on the exact knots that would have been used, the exact ropes that would have been used, and so on.”

All work will be completed in time for the Centennial Celebration during the week of August 16, and Grubbs says that folks who haven’t seen the surfboat at its 1876 Station home in a while will notice a change. 

“They will absolutely notice a difference,” says Grubbs. “You can certainly tell that it’s not a new boat, but as far as the brightness of the colors, it’s very apparent.” 

“When you look at the boat it’s very clear there has been some serious work done - it is really shining.”

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