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Full steam ahead for Bath replica of colonial ship

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Full steam ahead for Bath replica of colonial ship

BATH — Another summer of shipbuilding is underway, as the replica of a ship built more than 400 years ago on the shores of the Kennebec River coasts closer to its 2015 completion goal.

The Maine's First Ship group is replicating the Virginia, a 51-foot pinnace built in 1608 by the short-lived Popham Colony, and the first European ship built in New England. The work is being conducted in the Bath Freight Shed, a 19th century structure overlooking the Kennebec.

Construction "has made outstanding progress over recent months under the tutelage of Master Shipwright Rob Stevens," who is being aided by volunteers from around the Mid-Coast, according to a June MFS news release.

At the time, the Virginia had its keel, 22 frames, a stern post, stem and dead wood. The frames are to be smoothed out this summer, so that when planking is fit over them, "it fits without any gap whatsoever," MFS Treasurer Gayla Teague said last week.

"Once you steam that planking and go to put it on, it's awkward and hot, so you want it to be absolutely ready to put the planking on, so it fits very well and can be pegged into place while it's still bendable," she said.

Half the framing is complete, with another quarter in progress, Teague said; framing should be done by this fall, when planking will begin.

Teague said last November that the vessel could be complete for testing by 2015, depending on the availability of funding. That is still her group's intention, with an eye toward having the Virginia available to the public the following year.

"We've been successful this year in meeting a lot of our fundraising goals, so it looks like our goals for this year are pretty solid," she said.

MFS netted about $4,000 from a fundraising dinner held at J.R. Maxwell's restaurant. Significant pledges and donations include a $15,000 three-year commitment from First Federal Savings; a $2,000 gift from the Maine Antique Dealers Associations, and another $5,000 from Bath Savings Institution, which has contributed more than $35,000.

MFS's summer student program, due to launch its fourth year Monday, involves middle and high school students in constructing items to be used on the Virginia. Morse High School students built the "Jane Stevens," an 18-foot shallop to be rowed and sailed, and launched it in 2010.

The Popham effort, named for the venture's financier, Sir John Popham, was a partner endeavor with the better-known Jamestown colony in Virginia.

The Popham Colony lasted a little more than a year, defeated by Popham's death and a harsh winter. Besides the Virginia, which returned many surviving colonists to England, the men also built the walled settlement called Fort St. George.

Log onto mfship.org for more information.

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