BATH, Maine — The large crowd cheered as the Virginia took to the air, and, finally, to the water.
The 58-foot wood sailing ship, built by volunteers over the past 13-years, was hoisted into the air by two cranes, then slowly swung away from shore and gently lowered into the Kennebec River. The launch was the culmination of many years of planning, research, and fundraising, as well as hands-on woodworking to bring the Virginia to life.
The vessel is a replica of what is considered the first ship built by Europeans in the New World. That original Virginia was built by the Popham Colony in 1607-08, about 12 miles down the same river as the short-lived English settlement. The original ship sailed from Maine back to England and to the Jamestown settlement.
When the founders of the group called Maine’s First Ship began their work, there was only the barest description of the ship, so they had to do research in England and in Jamestown to develop what is believed to be as historically correct a design as possible, while still meeting modern needs for a floating museum and classroom, which will be the mission of the new Virginia.
The general public will have to wait a year to go sailing. The ship’s rigging and some other work need to be completed first, and then the crew that will sail Virginia will need to learn how to do that. A vessel like her hasn’t been seen or sailed on the New England coast for centuries, so a sailor said it may take some time to learn.
While the work goes on this summer, visitors will be able to see the Virginia at dockside, and there will be arrangements to go on board, to get a close-up view of what so many hands have worked together to create.