Despite storm setback, replica of historic ship may sail in 2015

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BATH — A replica of a ship built more than 400 years ago on the shores of the Kennebec River could be complete in 2015, depending on the availability of funding.

The Virginia, a 51-foot pinnace constructed in 1607-1608 by the short-lived Popham Colony, was the first European ship built in New England. A replica of the vessel is being built by the Maine’s First Ship group.

The project recently hit a snag when the remnants of Hurricane Sandy blew down a shed that has housed the ship (the Virginia replica escaped harm). The shed, at Commercial and Lambart streets near the Kennebec River, was rebuilt last Sunday.

About a third of the Virginia’s frame is either in progress or complete, and materials are on site to finish a little more than half, according to Gayla Teague, treasurer of Maine’s First Ship. The group hopes to complete framing during the winter and spring, and be able to start planking by next summer.

“You want to be able to lay your planking across all of those frames once they’re installed on the keel,” Teague said.

Maine’s First Ship recently benefited from several gifts and grants, including $29,500 from Bath Savings Institution for the shipbuilding projects and its educational programs. An anonymous donor made a $10,000 “Jane Stevens Challenge” grant, which Maine’s First Ship supporters have matched, according to the group, and the Maine Historical Society offered a $1,250 grant for work done on the Maine Memory Network.

Another Maine’s First Ship endeavor was the construction of the Jane Stevens, a shallop that is rowed and sailed. Morse High School students built the 18-foot vessel and launched it in 2010.

This year was the second full summer of work on the Virginia, which is being supervised by shipwright Rob Stevens. Nine Morse High School students worked with many area volunteers, with teacher Eric Varney and shipwright George Sprague at the helm.

Another $10,000 “Jane Stevens Challenge” grant begins in January. It will allow Maine’s First Ship to continue its educational programs next summer, and help buy the white oak that will be seasoned for the Virginia’s planking.

“We certainly have a need for additional funding,” Teague said. “We’re in … the second year of a five-year build.”

The group, which is looking for corporate sponsorship, wants not only to reconstruct the Virginia, but to “leverage that whole reconstruction into an experience of community involvement, and promoting the local community; both (its) history … and the local economy,” Teague said.

The Jamestown colony in Virginia tends to ring more historical bells than its partner colonial mission, which wound up hundreds of miles up the coast and was named for the venture’s financier, Sir John Popham.

Unlike Jamestown, the Popham Colony lasted just a little more than a year, doomed by Popham’s death and a harsh winter. Besides the Virginia, which brought many surviving colonists back to England, the men also built the walled settlement called Fort St. George.

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

Sidebar Elements

A Bath shed housing the in-progress replica of a 17th century ship, the Virginia, was rebuilt Nov. 18.

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.