BATH — Sporting a bushy gray beard, a tattoo and earrings, Rob Stevens looks the part of a man who has built a few ships in his day.

He is head shipwright of the Virginia, the reconstruction of a vessel of that name built at the Popham Colony in modern-day Phippsburg in 1607-1608. For more than a decade, he and a volunteer army of seafaring and history enthusiasts have raised the funds and put in the time to build the 53-foot pinnace at Bath’s 19th-century Commercial Street freight shed.

“It’s the best thing,” Stevens said as he looked over the ship and those constructing it. “You get all these volunteers; these people have been coming forever. They’ll remember this forever.”

It’s a particularly proud time for Stevens and the others. A year from now – June 7, 2020, to be exact – 10 years of work is due to culminate with the Virginia’s launch, into the same Kennebec River that the original vessel first sailed four centuries ago.

In the meantime, Maine’s First Ship is holding its second annual Solstice Soiree at the 27 Commercial St. freight shed from 6-10 p.m. Saturday, June 22. Proceeds go toward the Virginia, and tickets cost $20 in advance and $25 at the door.

More information is available at mfship.org.

The event will include a ceremony celebrating the shed’s new 560-square-foot deck, which sits on the building’s river side. It will also offer hors d’oeuvres, a cash bar and cash oyster bar, a bonfire and live dance music.

Tickets can be purchased by contacting Maine First Ship at 443-4242 or [email protected], or by swinging by the shed Wednesdays and Saturdays, where shipwrights work on the Virginia from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and welcome visitors.

June 15 was such a day – a sunny Saturday when Stevens was happy to take a few minutes to show off the Virginia’s progress.

Completion of the deck and installing the ship’s engine are two of the major tasks to complete in the next 12 months, he said. A list of goals posted at the shed marked Aug. 31 as the date to be finished with deck framing, and 361 days to go until the launch.

“It’s a very simple interior,” Stevens explained, noting the cargo hold could become a museum, and the fo’c’sle (pronounced “folksill,” short for forecastle) will house bunks for crew members.

The project is roughly 80 percent complete, he said.

Of an estimated total construction cost of $500,000, MFS has spent $254,000 so far, with major items such as the engine, keel, sails and painting to go, according to organization administrator Kimberly Madden.

“This is my favorite kind of work, it’s stuff that everybody gets access to,” Stevens said, noting the long hours the volunteers have put into planking and framing.

They’re the ones who deserve the praise, he said, adding with a smile: “I get the credit ’cause I’ve got the gray beard.”

Unlike its 1607 predecessor, this ship will be Coast Guard-certified in order to carry passengers.

Colonists built the original Virginia – the first European ship constructed in New England – at Fort St. George, at the mouth of the Kennebec River.

A harsh winter on the shores of the Kennebec forced the Popham Colony, part of what is now Phippsburg, to an early end. The settlement, named for the venture’s financier, Sir John Popham, was a partner of the better-known Jamestown colony endeavor in Virginia.

The Virginia pinnace later returned many surviving colonists to England, then returned to the New World in 1609 to resupply Jamestown, according to Maine’s First Ship.

Alex Lear can be reached at 780-9085 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Rob Stevens is shipwright of the Virginia, a reconstruction of a 17th century vessel of that name that was built at Fort Popham in 1607-1608. The Maine’s First Ship project is housed behind a 19th-century freight shed in Bath.

Steve Taylor of Woolwich works on the Virginia’s mast alongside the Kennebec River, which is home to more than 400 years of shipbuilding.


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