Contractors Volunteer Hearts and Hands

June 5, 2000
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Richard Gaccione (left) and Chris Kerfus work on piping for the Amistad project.


MYSTIC, CT — It sits in Mystic Seaport, 136 tons of American history, awaiting its maiden voyage into a new era of history, an era of teaching and learning about America’s past and its future.

The Amistad, a 129-ft recreation of the 1800s-era schooner, has a special link to the heating and plumbing industry. That link lies in the many workhours that the southeast Connecticut chapter of the Plumbing, Heating, Cooling Contractors (PHCC) has volunteered on the project.

More than 10 plumbing and heating contractors volunteered their time to work on the installation of the plumbing and heating systems on the Amistad. The director of the installations is Walt Woycik of Woycik Plumbing & Heating, Old Mystic, CT, and president of the southeast Connecticut chapter.

“We are working on a part of history,” Woycik said, “and may never have the opportunity to work on a project like this again.”

Woycik is no novice to ship work. Eighteen years prior to the Amistad project, he worked on the recreation of the Mystic Clipper along with Quentin Snediker, the current project coordinator of the Amistad. It is no coincidence that Snediker wanted Woycik to work on this new venture.

“I worked on the Mystic Clipper for four months,” said Woycik. “Until that time, I had never worked on a ship in my life. Quentin invited me to join the project when the Amistad was just a wooden keel.”

the legacy of the amistad

The original Amistad set sail from Havana, Cuba, in June 1839, carrying 53 captive Africans bound for slavery.

Three days into the passage the Africans, believing they were to be cooked and eaten, staged a revolt and gained control of the ship. They ordered their Spanish captors to sail the vessel towards the sun, which they believed would provide them with a passage to their home in Africa.

The Spaniards complied by day, but at night steered the boat west in hopes of returning to Cuba or reaching America. This elusive game went on for three months until the vessel was apprehended off the coast of Connecticut in August.

The Africans stood trial for piracy and murder, giving northern abolitionists a cause to rally around in the years prior to the Civil War. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court and on March 9, 1841, the highest court in the land declared the Africans free people.

The Amistad is docked in Mystic Harbor, CT, awaiting the final touches.

The New Amistad

When completed, the $3.1 million recreation of the original vessel will embark on its maiden voyage in the OpSail Tall Ships Parade in New York Harbor on July 4. After that time, it will sail Connecticut waters during its first year of operation.

The Amistad will be a teaching ship — school groups and adults will use it as a laboratory for learning the lessons of leadership, cooperation, and history. Curricula will feature communication skills, geography, mathematics, and social studies.

The vessel can accommodate 49 passengers and a crew of eight on day trips, and can sleep 16. Half of the operational crew will be students who will work with a professional sailing crew, under the guidance of Captain William Pinkney.

Captain Pinkney, a licensed master, has been involved with Tall Ships since the bicentennial celebrations of 1976. In 1997, he sailed a 47-ft sailboat around the world. “I am one of five U.S. captains to sail around all five Capes in one voyage,” he said.

The Captain spends much of his time as a teacher, talking with students and visitors about the Amistad while he closely observes the many installations on board, including the all-important plumbing system.

“We couldn’t have done [the plumbing] without the PHCC plumbers,” he said. “They are a big supporter of this project, and that’s what it’s all about — support.”

Contractor Support

Pinkney’s assessment of the PHCC’s contribution is echoed by project coordinator Snediker. “About 28 to 30 people are fully dedicated to the project, including mechanics, electricians, carpenters, and blacksmiths,” he said. “But the only professionals volunteering their time are the PHCC [contractors]. It is unique that so many people are dedicated volunteers.”

Equipment also is being donated.

Woycik went to his local supplier, Shetucket Plumbing Supply, with a laundry list of the necessary equipment. John Dionne of Shetucket contacted manufacturers, asking for donations.

Manufacturers that have donated equipment include Elkay, Symmons, Gould Pumps, Charlotte Pipe, Wirsbo, Amtrol, and Swan Corp. Shetucket is also donating a large amount of material.

Woycik said installing piping on a ship is unlike anything else he’s done on land; there was no way to lay out specific plans ahead of time.

“Everything we did here is design-build,” he said. “There is a lot of thought that goes into this. The crew needs as much room as possible to move around, and especially if a part needs maintenance.”

In addition to stainless steel shower stalls and sinks, the contractors are installing fresh water lines, gray water lines, hot water lines, fresh water pumps, toilets, bilge pump lines and manifold, salt water intake lines for the diesel engines, and stainless steel ductwork for the fresh air intake.

As of May 22, Woycik figured over 489 labor hours had been donated to the project by PHCC contractors, summing up to between $50,000 and $60,000.

“I can’t believe all of the donations. After Quentin got me involved, my wife, Debra, had the idea of involving other PHCC members. All of the local guys heard the idea and agreed to work on the project — for free.

“It was an amazing scene that night we had our meeting and all contractors agreed to the work. I know some of the guys can’t afford to be here, but they want to be here. The contractors work well together and really enjoy what they do.”

For more information on the Amistad, visit www.amistadamerica.org.

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