Endowment launches for Bath colonial ship

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BATH — The reconstruction of the pinnace Virginia, a project that has spanned more than two decades, is now being bolstered by an endowment.

Bob and Diane Weggel of Bailey’s Island on Wednesday made the $50,000 first installment for what will in three years be a $250,000 endowment for Maine’s First Ship, the organization building the Virginia.

“It’s just wonderful; it really puts us in a great position to keep the project going,” MFS President Orman Hines said Tuesday.

Diane Weggel is a cousin of Jane Stevens, who co-founded MFS in her living room in 1997. Her Phippsburg house sat next to the site of Fort St. George, where the original Virginia was built in 1607-08, according to MFS secretary Allison Hepler.

“They were looking for something to do for the 400-year celebration of the colony,” Hines recalled.

MFS is renaming its visitor center at the 19th century Bath Freight Shed – the 27 Commercial St. home of the pinnace’s reconstruction – the Jane Stevens Visitor Center in honor of the Weggels’ gift.

“We’re trying to use (the endowment) as more leverage to raise more money,” Hines said. Funds will go toward the less than $100,000 remaining to purchase materials for the vessel, and will also pay for its ongoing maintenance.

The motor and sails must still be purchased, but MFS has all the lumber it needs to complete the project, the Phippsburg resident said. Insurance and a part-time staffer at its Front Street office are other expenses.

Contact MFS at 443-4242 or mfs1@myfairpoint.net, or log onto mfship.org for more information and donation methods.

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

A harsh winter on the shores of the Kennebec forced 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 brought many surviving colonists back to England, then returned to the New World in 1609 to resupply Jamestown, according to Maine’s First Ship.

Its 51-foot successor is due to launch June 7, 2020. Unlike its 1607 predecessor, this vessel will be Coast Guard certified in order to carry passengers.

“We’ve still got a lot of work to do,” Hines said, praising the volunteers, board members and donors who are bringing that 1997 vision to fruition.

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

Maine’s First Ship’s reconstruction in Bath of the 17th-century pinnace Virginia is being bolstered by what will eventually be a $250,000 endowment.

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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.