Hoist up the Mary E's sail: Historic Bath schooner to return

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BATH — The Mary E is coming back to the City of Ships, 111 years after it was built on the shores of the Kennebec River.

The two-masted clipper schooner, purchased by Maine Maritime Museum late last year for $140,000, is due to sail into its home port in mid-to-late April.

The 73-foot vessel will be hauled out for restoration work at the museum’s 243 Washington St. campus, according to Katie Meyers, the museum’s marketing and communications manager. Shipwright Andros Kypragoras will handle the restoration.

In the meantime, the museum hopes to raise $1.5 million to fund the work and long-term care of the ship. The institution has already brought in about $400,000 of the goal, Meyers said.

The museum board of trustees approved acquisition of the ship last December. It is believed to be the oldest Bath-built wooden ship still floating, and the oldest Maine-built fishing schooner that still sails.

Shipbuilder Thomas Hagan built the Mary E in 1906 in a Houghton shipyard – a site now occupied by Bath Iron Works, according to the museum. It was originally owned by Block Island, Rhode Island, residents William, Dwight and Curtis Dunn, and Jesse Lewis. Although the origin of the name “Mary E” is not certain, Meyers noted that one of the owners’ wives was named Mary E. Dunn.

The ship spent the next few decades as a fishing and trade vessel, then as a dragger. It was abandoned in 1960 and sank after a hurricane on Thanksgiving 1963 in Lynn Harbor, Massachusetts.

After literally hit rock bottom, the Mary E’s fortunes changed in 1965, when William Donnell of Bath – whose great-grandfather was a shipbuilder associated with Hagan – purchased the vessel for $200 and brought it back home for restoration. Following that two-year project, Mary E became a passenger vessel in the Maine Windjammer Fleet.

After several changes of ownership, the Mary E wound up in the possession of Matt Culen of Pelham, New York, whose restoration work on the vessel – the last of 69 that Hagan built – will continue when she sails once again into Bath.

“Ownership has its toils and joys,” Culen, who contacted the museum about selling the vessel, said in a MMM press release. “But I never felt more on top of the world, than standing aloft on the cross tree of the Mary E and sailing in a fresh breeze.”

The ship’s restoration will take place on the museum campus, allowing the public to witness the process.

“We’re certainly going to do a big ‘welcome home’ public thing when she gets here,” Meyers said in an interview Feb. 16.

“She’s already been restored, everything below the water line,” and the museum will complete the rest from about May to October, she added.

Once restored, the Mary E will be docked at the museum for access by the public, and will also travel to events around the coast on behalf of the museum.

The vessel will be officially launched in the spring of 2018.

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

Built in Bath in 1906, the Mary E is returning home this spring, to be restored and put on display at the Maine Maritime Museum.

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.