Colonial ship being reconstructed in Bath sails toward 2020 completion

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BATH — A list of goals posted at the 19th-century Commercial Street freight shed has but two items concerning the reconstruction of the pinnace Virginia.

At the top, for Dec. 22, is the completion of the vessel’s hull planking and deck framing.

Several spaces below at the bottom, for June 7, 2020: launch day.

“It means the ship will float at that point; it will not be 100 percent ready to sail, but it will be most of the way,” Jeremy Blaiklock, vice president of Maine’s First Ship, said during a July 7 interview at the freight shed. The hull is now about 75 percent complete.

The organization operates a visitor center in the Kennebec River shoreline building, behind which between five and 15 volunteers spend Wednesdays and Saturdays bringing a decade-plus-long dream a little closer to reality.

A landscaper, Blaiklock joined MFS in 2010, when construction of the pinnace began.

Laying of the deck and installation of the rigging, as well as systems like the engine and bilge pumps, are among the major tasks that lay ahead for the 51-foot ship in the next two years, Blaiklock said. Unlike its 1607 predecessor, this vessel will be Coast Guard certified in order to carry passengers.

Colonists built the original Virginia – the first European ship constructed in New England – at Fort St. George, at the mouth of the Kennebec River, in 1607-08.

A harsh winter on the shores of the Kennebec helped force the Popham Colony, part of what is now Phippsburg, to an early end. The settlement, named for the venture’s financier, Sir John Popham, was a partner of the better-known Jamestown colony endeavor in Virginia.

The Virginia pinnace later returned many surviving colonists to England, then returned to the New World in 1609 to resupply Jamestown, according to Maine’s First Ship.

The project operates with an annual budget ranging between $80,000 to $100,000, up from about $60,000-$70,000 two years ago, Blaiklock said.

“We’re slowly ramping up our fundraising efforts,” the Arrowsic resident noted, explaining the money goes toward purchasing materials, as well as paying for a staff at an office on Front Street.

MFS has already kicked off a lineup of summer programming. A guided tour of the Virginia will be held with shipwright Rob Stevens from 1-3 p.m. Thursday, July 19. A site visit to Popham Colony, from 10 a.m. to noon Thursday, Aug. 16, is among later events. Participants can meet at the Phippsburg Town Office, 1042 Main Road, at 10 a.m. to carpool to the location.

MFS is hosting a series of “drop in Wednesdays” in which it offers informal educational programs with a different subject each week. Knot-tying, building a model boat, and 17th-century ballads are among the topics.

For a full schedule, contact MFS at 443-4242 or mfs1@myfairpoint.net, swing by the 27 Commercial St. shed Wednesdays or Saturdays, or log onto mfship.org.

Fundraising and manpower are two factors behind delays in the Virginia’s completion; in 2012, it was expected to be finished in three years. But it’s been a fun ride for those involved.

“If someone handed us a couple million dollars and we could hire professionals, it would have been done a lot faster,” Blaiklock said. “But I think at this point, if someone (gave that amount) we probably would not hire professionals; we’d probably just keep going with volunteers, because everyone’s enjoying it so much.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Reconstuction of the 1607 pinnace Virginia draws about five to 15 volunteers to Bath’s historic freight shed each Wednesday and Saturday.Jeremy Blaiklock is vice president of Maine’s First Ship, the organization reconstructing the Virginia on the Kennebec River, where the original vessel was built four centuries ago.Completion of the Virginia’s hull is one of the major pieces of the project to finish.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.