The Nonsuch at the Manitoba Museum is the largest artefact (in size) in the collection. It is unique in that it is an artefact that visitors get to walk aboard, touch and literally step into a piece of history. Another interesting part is that the Nonsuch is a real life ship that was once sailed by a crew and it is because of this that the Conservators at TMM care for it a little differently than other objects in the collection.
One aspect of caring for such a large artefact is following a routine maintenance plan in order to keep the ship in first-class shape. This includes regular cleaning of the decks, captain’s quarters, sails and hold, as well as taking twice-yearly measurements to see if there are any changes or movements to the wooden components. Another part of the maintenance plan is moving and adjusting the rigging. When we talk about the rigging of the Nonsuch we are talking about a lot of different components including the masts, ropes, yards and sails. One of the reasons why we undo and move the lines as part of the conservation maintenance plan is to allow the ropes to not stiffen overtime. Movement of the rigging also allows the sails to be unrolled so that they do not become stretched from sitting in the same position.
Some other unique things that are done by the Conservation team to keep the Nonsuch as close to working order include tarring the deck seams, repainting the stern carvings and splicing rope works when needed.
The next step in our maintenance plan, which will hopefully be completed in the upcoming months, includes climbing the ratlines (rope ladders leading up the mast) with our special vacuums and giving the ship a good dusting. This probably wouldn’t have been done in the high seas due to the abundance of wind available but since the ship is permanently stored indoors it does get quite dusty. Part of our training for this task includes taking fall protection training so that we are as safe as possible when geared up in harnesses and climbing the rigging. Stay tuned for a future blog on what it’s like to vacuum a ship 60 ft. in the air!
As mentioned earlier, the Nonsuch is treated differently from other artefacts and needs to be preserved in a way that maintains it in working order to prevent further damage. This is in comparison to our regular collections which mostly stay static in their positions tucked away in storage vaults. Having the opportunity to be a part of the preservation of the Nonsuch is a rare opportunity and also a chance for Conservators to trade in our lab coats for a sailor’s cap every once in a while.
-Carolyn Sirett, Conservator