WOMEN HELP HANG a plank on the Virginia, a replica of the first English built ship in America to cross the Atlantic.

WOMEN HELP HANG a plank on the Virginia, a replica of the first English built ship in America to cross the Atlantic.


Although the 17th century ship, the Virginia, was constructed entirely by men, the builders of the modern-day recreation are working hard to include women in the process.

At the third annual Women’s Shipbuilders Day on Wednesday, Maine’s First Ship invited women to come and learn about Maine’s shipbuilding history and, more importantly, to actually help build a fully-sized replica of the original Virginia. On Sunday, more than a half dozen volunteers gathered to hang planks on the side of the ship.

Meggan Henerlaw, a member of Maine’s First Ship’s board of directors, said that her first time actually working on the Virginia was on a previous Women’s Shipbuilding Day. She had been actively involved with the group and its mission, “but I had never built anything.”

“So when they ran these women days, I said I definitely want to do that because I haven’t worked on the Virginia even though I’ve been involved with the organization for a long long time,” she said.

Serves as gateway

Henerlaw said she believes that Women’s Shipbuilding Day serves as a gateway for interested women to get involved with a male-dominated activity.

“I think women either feel intimidated by power tools or y’know, ‘I’m not sure I know anything, I’m not sure how helpful I can be,’” she said. “So this is a chance for women to meet with other women, learn how to use tools if they haven’t used them before which I really hadn’t, find out some of the history, find out the way it’s built, learn some things and feel comfortable in an environment that’s really supportive.”

“With a bunch of guys in here, it can be intimidating for a woman to just show up,” said shipwright Rob Stevens.

The Virginia is a replica of the first English ship built in Maine — and for that matter, all of North America — to cross the Atlantic. Built at the Popham Colony at the mouth of the Kennebec River in the 17th century, the ship made at least two successful trips across the Atlantic. The reconstructed Virginia is being build at the Bath Freight Shed on the Kennebec. The project has been underway since 2011, overseen by the group, Maine’s First Ship. The group also operates a small museum at the Freight Shed to teach visitors about the Popham Colony and Maine’s shipbuilding history.

Multi-year project

While the current ship is a multi-year project built with dozens of volunteers, the original Virginia was completed in eight months or less, according to Stevens. Even without electricity, he said, early shipbuilders had such a mastery over the necessary skills that they could work circles around today’s power tool-wielding shipbuilders.

Still, Stevens welcomes all volunteers no matter their skill sets. Every Wednesday and Saturday, volunteers gather from all walks of life to work on the ship.

“The whole thing is, I have two cooks, an EMT, a doctor, two sign painters, a gardener, a couple of computer nerds,” said Stevens. “We want everybody to come.”

Shipbuilding history

One of the volunteers present was Nancy Flick, who teaches sixth grade math at Greene Central School. While Sunday was Flick’s first time working on the Virginia, she’s worked hard to teach her students about Maine’s shipbuilding history. She’s taken her students to an archaeological dig site and tried to have the dingy for the Virginia built in her classroom — although the organizers weren’t prepared to start work on that yet. Between swinging a hammer and tightening screws, Flick was collecting spare plugs for her students to see on Monday.

“This is fun — this is worth spending a day,” said Flick. “It’s just a beautiful boat and the people have been just wonderful to work with. They’re good teachers, and they’re good storytellers.”

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: