BATH – A 177-foot three-masted sailing ship tied up outside the Maine Maritime Museum attracted a steady flow of visitors over the weekend.

The Gazela Primeiro, the oldest active wooden square-rigged sailing vessel in the country, was called in to help celebrate the museum’s 50th anniversary.

Once a member of the Portuguese White Fleet, the barkentine carried 35 one-man dories and a crew that fished for cod in the Grand Banks until 1969, when giant factory ships took over.

“I like how big it is,” said Devyn Campbell, 11, of Boothbay.

Philadelphia philanthropist William Wikoff Smith bought the Gazela in 1970 for the Philadelphia Maritime Museum. It is now owned and operated by the nonprofit Philadelphia Ship Preservation Guild. The vessel has appeared in several movies including “Interview with the Vampire” and “The Widow of St. Pierre.”

A crew of 25 volunteers led visitors on tours of the ship, which was built in Southampton, England, in 1832 and rebuilt in Portugal in 1900.

Headed next for Halifax, Nova Scotia, the crew members said they become like a family by the end of the trip. They are of all ages and backgrounds, but they share a passion for tall ships.

“We are a motley crew,” said Robert Sawyer, a Philadelphia arborist who got hooked by the Gazela about six years ago.

Crew member Steven Stens, a Philadelphia carpenter, said days were long and tiring for the roughly 48 Portuguese fishermen who manned the ship on trips that lasted several months.

The dory men would head out at about 4 a.m. with mile-long lines. They had to bait each hook, placed two feet apart, and haul them all back in.

“That’s why it took so long,” Stens said.

Then all the fish had to be cleaned, salted and stored before anyone could rest, leaving about four hours for sleep.

Patricia Caton of Bath, great-granddaughter of a Portuguese whale fisherman, said she felt a strong connection to the Gazela.

“It gives me goose bumps,” she said.

The museum’s 50th anniversary observance continues with a visit by another tall ship, The Pride of Baltimore, on Aug. 11 and 12; an open house on Sept. 15 and 16; a Downeast Shipmodelers’ Guild exhibit Nov. 17 through 30; and a lecture and tour on Nov. 29.

Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

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