Although due to launch in June, the Virginia is staying out of the Kennebec River until at least October, by which point Maine’s First Ship hopes to have built a wharf for the reconstructed 17th-century vessel. Courtesy Maine’s First Ship

BATH — The lack of a wharf and concerns over the coronavirus pandemic has caused Maine’s First Ship to postpone a June 7 launch of the replica 17th-century ship Virginia until October.

Construction is on schedule for June, but “the obstacle we’re facing is the lack of a wharf for outfitting at our building site in downtown Bath,” according to Maine’s First Ship President Orman Hines. “She will need a place to tie up in the Kennebec (River) once she is in the water.”

Meanwhile, quickly changing conditions worldwide due to the pandemic could negatively impact fundraising efforts necessary to complete the Virginia – modeled after the vessel built at the Popham Colony in 1607-08, in what is now Phippsburg – according to Maine’s First Ship secretary Allison Hepler.

Unable to secure permission to use any nearby facilities, the organization now must raise about $65,000 for a wharf, ramp and pilings, according to Hepler. There will be 60 feet of floats on the river side of the 19th-century Bath Freight Shed, where the 53-foot ship is being built, as well as a 40-foot ramp going out to three, 20-foot floats.

In order to build the wharf, the organization needs permits from the city, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and potentially the National Oceanographic and Aeronautical Administration “regarding sturgeon, which has a spawning season of late June and July,” Hepler explained.

Among the places Maine’s First Ship approached about wharfing space was the Maine Maritime Museum. “(W)e would only have been able to provide dock space on a very short-term basis, because our docks are fully utilized by the Merrymeeting and now Mary E (vessels), also,” said Amy Lent, the museum’s executive director. “They needed dock space to do all the outfitting work for a few months or longer.”

The Bath community has always embraced its shipbuilding heritage, Lent said, “and hopefully they will continue to be supportive now that so many organizations, including (Maine’s First Ship), are struggling to preserve this heritage.”

Up until Gov. Janet Mills’ stay-at-home mandate that started this week due to the pandemic, volunteers had worked on the Virginia twice a week, but exercised caution amid the pandemic. They “have been self-selecting whether they want to continue during this time, and this has resulted in a smaller building crew,” Hepler said. “We are implementing some tool and bathroom cleaning protocols. With the nicer weather, volunteers are working outside more, spreading out their projects as much as possible.”

The organization has also closed public access to the freight shed, which functions in part as an education center, she said.

In planning for a new capital campaign, Maine’s First Ship members don’t know at this time what financial impact the coronavirus might have, Hepler said. Donations can be made via mfship.org or the organization’s Facebook page, or by mail at P.O. Box 231, Bath ME 04530.

Once launched, the Virginia will serve as an educational vessel as it sails up and down Maine’s coast. Unlike its 1607 predecessor, this Virginia 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 Kennebec shores forced the Popham Colony to an early end. The settlement, named for Sir John Popham, the venture’s financier, was a partner of the better-known Jamestown Colony in Virginia.

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

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