The Restoration Miracle

Starting with a rust bucket in a muddy hole, the early days for the Overfalls Foundation were difficult. The work on the ship began slowly as there was so much to do and the fledgling organization had little in the way of resources or the credibility to raise significant funds.  An early task was to develop a comprehensive plan to meet the mission.  Due to the lack of financial resources, the plan was front-loaded with tasks that could be done with volunteer labor. 

In truth, the volunteer effort broke down into two, distinct and equally critical groups:

  1. Ship Restoration and Maintenance

  2. Administrative and Support Activities

1. Ship Restoration and Maintenance

Restoration started on the Ship the summer of 1999. At the very beginning, there were about six workers and a bucket with several scrapers, three screwdrivers and a hammer! At that point in time little to no work had been done on the Ship for 25 years. The Ship was virtually rusting away, paint was peeling off, and she was completely coated with grime and dirt inside and out. The work in those early days was so dirty that after each day workers would be covered head to toe with dirt, rust and grime, hence they were dubbed the “Dirty Hands Gang” (DHG).

To date the DHG has invested over 16,000 man-hours in restoration work. The following is some of what they have accomplished:

  • Every inch of the Ship’s surface (inside and outside down to the waterline) has been prepped and painted, some several times.

  • any repairs that required welding have been completed.

  • A real challenge was repairing 2 holes below the waterline where the hull actually rotted thru and the ship was taking on water.

  • The ship’s electric system was completely re-worked and upgraded.

  • A large boat winch on the Ship’s after deck was completely overhauled and has been in use for lifting large heavy items on and off the Ship.

  • The most daunting task was the removal of 28,000 lbs. of pig iron ballast, by hand, from the Ship’s bilge.

2. Administrative and Support Activities

The second group within the Foundation was and continues to be much larger and has been responsible for a variety of administrative and support tasks needed to keep the organization operating and provide an environment in which the restoration could succeed. Foremost among these tasks has been, and will continue to be, fund rising. As noted below, over $1.2 million was raised through federal, state and local grants, local fund raiser events and clever ideas such as "selling" naming rights to parts of the ship. Associated with fund raising is the Foundation’s administration such as membership, outreach, accounting and financial control, operating a ship's store and social programs. While at first glance putting on social programs may seem frivolous compared to the other tasks involved, in reality it is the glue that can hold a volunteer organization together and keep it focused on the greater mission. Without all of these volunteer efforts, the Foundation could not exist nor could the ship have been restored.  

Total Volunteer Effort

When combined with the Dirty Hands Gang, the total volunteer time for the Foundation is estimated at about 40,000 hours, or 5,000, eight-hour work days!

If you think you might like to volunteer your time to the Overfalls Foundation but are not sure what you could do to help, please click here to see descriptions of the areas in which we need help.

The New Hull Plating

In the Fall of 2008, the Overfalls was towed from Lewes to the Colonna Shipyard in Norfolk, VA to repair the hull.  Since it had been sitting in salt water and mud for 32 years with no bottom maintenance, the condition of the bottom was of major concern. In fact, as mentioned previously, in two places the hull had rusted completely through.  In preparation for the tow, a marine surveyor made several inspections and made recommendations for preventative improvements to help ensure a safe trip.  The Dirty Hands Gang reinforced rivet lines below the waterline where there had been seawater intrusion with epoxy putty.  Deteriorated ribs in the forward hold were strengthened by bolting timber supports along side of them. The disaster control team, which would be aboard the ship during the tow, developed procedures to plug leaks if needed.   

The ship was put in dry dock in January.  The hull repair consisted of a 40,000 PSI pressure wash, painting, installation of new welded steel plates (called doubler plates) over the old hull from the waterline down to the keel and painting.  At the conclusion of the dry dock work, the Overfalls was towed back to Lewes arriving on May 31, 2009.

A Proper Setting for a Proud Ship

The Foundation's final task was to build a new, permanent slip for the Overfalls. From the time the ship had arrived in Lewes in 1973, her slip had been essentially a mud hole carved out on one side of the Lewes/Rehoboth Canal. In fact, towards the end of this period, the ship sat in seven feet of mud.

The existing slip was dredged and its sides lined with steel sheet piles and bollards. The grounds were professionally landscaped with walkways, shrubs and lighting. In addition, there are two featured areas:

  • The Delaware Maritime Hall of Fame granite monument set on an inlaid compass rose. (Click here for more information), and

  • An Area of Recognition, honoring all those who have made contributions to the Foundation to help with the ship's restoration.

The entire project, slip construction and landscaping, was completed during the summer of 2010. The fully restored Overfalls sits proudly in her new home, adjacent to the newly created Lewes Canalfront Park. The completion was celebrated during OverfallsFest, an annual event held in September. .

The Comprehensive Plan Required Cash in Large Amounts!

Fund raising was vital to the project.  Even with the extensive use of volunteer labor, the comprehensive plan had a cash price tag of $1.2 million. Raising this amount of money took great effort on the part of the Foundation volunteers and extreme generosity on the part individuals, businesses and governmental organizations.   These funds went for tasks such as:

  • An engineering study to analyze various approaches to meeting the mission and develop the ultimate design for the ship’s setting,

  • Dredging the slip to get the ship, which was encased in seven feet of mud, floating and able to be towed,

  • Placing the ship in a dry dock and re-plating the hull from the waterline down to the keel,

  • Constructing a new slip at the old site with a steel sheet piling bulkhead,

  • Landscaping the grounds to make the Overfalls’ site flow seamlessly into the City’s new Canalfront Park, and

  • Paint, tools, supplies and consumables used by volunteers during the restoration period.