From left, Ron Berry, Dave Patton and Earl Crandall are three tour guides at Bath’s Maine Maritime Museum, narrate a boat tour around BIW telling tourists of the shipyard’s history and current operations. Berry and Crandall are both former BIW employees. (Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record)

BATH — Bath’s Maine Maritime Museum is giving visitors a closer look at Bath Iron Works’ bustling shipyard led by those who were closest to it — former BIW employees. 

Following a line of bright red buoys marked “keep out,” tourists perch on an open-top boat to get a closer look at BIW’s ships under construction from the Kennebec River. All the while, former workers tell the stories behind the ships and relive their days working for one of the state’s largest employers.

Ron Berry, one of the museum’s tour guides, worked at BIW for a decade. He said he believes part of what draws people to the tour is the sense that they’re seeing behind the veil and learning what goes into making military vessels. 

“We’ve had people come on the tour and say, ‘I’ve driven past BIW hundreds of times and never exactly what was going on,’” said Berry. 

The museum previously offered a trolley tour that went through BIW’s shipyard, but that tour was halted three years ago due to growing security concerns. In response, the museum created the shipyard-themed cruise that skirts BIW’s perimeter on the Kennebec River. 

Visitors can choose to go on the cruise alone or take a longer tour that begins with a walk through the museum’s BIW exhibit. Visitors then go on a trolley past BIW, then move to a boat which takes them up and down the Kennebec River. 

Earl Crandall, another tour guide and former BIW employee, said he believes people are drawn to the tour partly for the mystique a naval operation creates, and partly because they’re proud of what their country is able to accomplish. 

“The majority of boats are built overseas now, so it’s cool to see these big military ships being built in Maine,” said Crandall. 

“It’s the last major shipbuilding operation in the state, in a state that used to have that level of construction all up and down the coast,” said Jason Morin, the museum’s director of programs and operations. “(The tour) is an opportunity for us to show how modern shipbuilding is happening.”

BIW produces Arleigh Burke- and Zumwalt-class destroyers for the U.S. Navy. Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, based in Kittery, primarily refits and repairs existing ships.

“People know they’re building Arleigh Burke-class and Zumwalts but having people who actually understand the process and know a lot of the background information makes it that much better of a tour,” said Morin.  

Jonathan Haddon, a tourist from Washington DC, went on the trolley tour that went into BIW’s shipyard years ago. He said he decided to return to the museum and take the cruise tour. 

“I learned more about BIW on the boat tour than the trolley tour that went into the shipyard,” said Haddon. “It’s clear those guides are experts. They didn’t just read about how those ships are made, they lived it.” 

Haddon said he comes from a family of shipbuilders who turned to makings when they immigrated to Boston from Sweden because making awnings is similar to making sails. He was motivated to take the cruise around BIW to learn how modern ships are made. 

“(BIW is) carrying forward this long history of shipbuilding that’s so economically significant to this area,” said Haddon. 

The tour also pays homage to the shipyards that once dotted Bath’s shores prior to BIW, including the Percy & Small shipyard, which produced wooden ships and sat where the museum is today. 

“All of the BIW employees who worked in the yard have this amazing pride about the work they used to do,” said Morin. “This offers them an opportunity to have a platform to talk about that and show that pride.”

Aside from shipyard, the tour passes two lighthouses on the Kennebec River, and guides tells their origin stories. 

BIW did not respond to a request for comment. 

Tours run Monday through Friday at 12:45 pm, through Oct 25. Visit mainemaritimemuseum.org for more information.

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