Historic Bath schooner to set sail again in June

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BATH — You’re never too old to begin a new phase in your life – even at 112.

The Mary E – a two-masted clipper schooner constructed by shipbuilder Thomas Hagan in 1906 in a Houghton shipyard, where Bath Iron Works now stands – is due to be relaunched on the Kennebec River for a third time Saturday, June 9.

The 73-foot vessel’s owner, Maine Maritime Museum, will host a recommissioning ceremony behind its 243 Washington St. headquarters from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. The museum purchased the vessel in early 2017 for $140,000.

Meanwhile, a $2 million fundraising campaign is underway to pay for the Mary E’s acquisition, restoration, and its ongoing maintenance. A gala fundraiser is to be held Friday, June 8.

The museum has so far raised about $1.1 million, which covered the purchase and restoration costs, Katie Spiridakis, Maine Maritime’s marketing and communications manager, said April 19.

There have been more than 450 donors so far, and the museum aims to wrap up the campaign by year’s end.

“It is awesome to see how many people are enthusiastic about this project,” Spiridakis said.

Believed to be the oldest Bath-built wooden ship still floating – and the oldest Maine-built fishing schooner that still sails – the two-masted clipper schooner had sunk before being restored in 1965 on what is now the museum’s riverside grounds.

The ship was originally owned by Block Island, Rhode Island, residents William, Dwight and Curtis Dunn, along with Jesse Lewis. Although the origin of the name “Mary E” is not certain, the wife of one of the owners was named Mary E. Dunn.

The Mary E was last owned by Matt Culen of Pelham, New York, who spent 2006-16 restoring the planking and framing below the water line, Kurt Spiridakis – director of watercraft and traditional skills for Maine Maritime Museum – said last August.

Since then, a crew led by master shipwright Andros Kypragoras has replaced all frames and replanked the hull above the waterline, as well as reframing and planking the deck, and replacing the engine, according to Katie Spiridakis.

About three weeks of work remain, including painting, and installation and testing of mechanical systems, she said.

The ship is due in mid-May to be relaunched at the Derecktor Robinhood marina in Georgetown, and given about a week to swell up before motoring northeast back to the museum. A crane will then raise the masts, Spiridakis said.

The Mary E’s fortunes have vastly improved since the ship literally hit rock bottom 55 years ago. After spending a few decades as a fishing and trade vessel, and then as a dragger, it was abandoned in 1960 and sank after a hurricane on Thanksgiving 1963 in Lynn Harbor, Massachusetts.

William Donnell of Bath – whose great-grandfather was a shipbuilder associated with Hagan – bought the vessel in 1965 for $200 and brought it back home for restoration. Following that two-year endeavor, Mary E became a passenger vessel in the Maine Windjammer Fleet.

Its legacy will be celebrated from June to October, when it spends most of those months at the dock, welcoming the museum’s more than 50,000 annual visitors on board.

Log onto mainemaritimemuseum.org for more information.

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

The 112-year-old schooner Mary E, shown sailing into Bath a year ago, is due to relaunch this spring following months of renovations.

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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.