Last week, I wrote about International Maritime Day, coming up on May 22, and its celebration of maritime industry as well as the Savannah, the first steam-powered vessel to cross the Atlantic in 1802.

One of the local connections to this holiday is this weekend’s upcoming Community Day at the Maine Maritime Museum — a free day for everyone with lots of festivities on May 18. It turns out that there is yet another maritime event happening on that day on the waterfront in downtown Bath, this one celebrating the first oceangoing vessel to be built in Maine back in the early 1600s.

This past Saturday, after a trip through Bath’s farmers market, I happened upon the newly opened visitors center dedicated to “Maine’s First Ship,” the Virginia. I had seen the Virginia while it was under construction in the Bath Freight Shed and also while it was tied up at the pier for a stretch. I had also visited the Freight Shed while it was utilized in the winter for the farmers market. I thought during this time of year it would be empty, but the building now houses displays about the Virginia as well as many of the tools used to reconstruct it. It is well worth a visit, and this coming Saturday, the visitors center will be open and the ship itself will be tied up at the pier nearby for visitors to see. There will even be 20-minute tours of the ship for a small fee, running from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

This celebration is part of Bath’s larger Spring into Summer event taking place downtown. But it is also a celebration of the return of the Virginia to Bath after it had been gone for a bit while being worked on at a shipyard in Portland. Saturday’s events around the ship run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and include a maypole dance at 11 a.m., music starting at 10:30 a.m., the aforementioned tours of the Virginia’s deck and a pop-up pub from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The visitors center will be open the entire time, with volunteer guides available to explain the ship’s history and restoration.

You can learn about the ship’s history at this event or on the Maine’s First Ship website, mfship.org. You can also visit the historic site out by Popham Beach. It’s just across from the fort, which was originally built by the colonists and consists of some interpretive signs and posts marking the foundations of some of the buildings that comprised the first settlement.

The brief version of the story of the Virginia is that 100 or so men came from England in 1607 to form a colony here 13 years before the more famous Plymouth, Massachusetts, colony. They built a 30-ton pinnace called the Virginia, which was the first oceangoing ship built by the English in Maine, and perhaps all of North America. The colony didn’t last, and the colonists returned to England aboard the Virginia and another ship, the Mary and John.

Centuries later, a group came together to rebuild a replica of the Virginia. Volunteers used traditional tools and materials to create a seaworthy vessel that will be used for educating the public about its history. This group is the nonprofit known as Maine’s First Ship and is the group hosting this weekend’s event. It has hosted many community events in the past, including those to train volunteers to help with the project.

So, this weekend, you can celebrate Maine’s maritime history a little bit ahead of National Maritime Day by visiting both the Maine Maritime Museum for its Community Day and the Virginia to see the replica of the first oceangoing vessel to be built in Maine.

Susan Olcott is the director of operations at Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association.


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