Feel the bite of the brisk breeze off the Kennebec River. Listen to the music of the shipbuilders in the caulking shed. Smell the aroma of fresh wood as it wafts to you in the gunboat exhibit, the sawmill and the boat shop. Imagine the yard full of workers busy at their crafts whether in the cool damp of a rainy day or on a sweltering summer day. Visit the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath.

Come see the new exhibit area, the Donnell House that opens to the public April 26. This Victorian-style house, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, was the home of shipyard owner William T. Donnell. The shipyard was first known as the Deering and Donnell Shipyard from 1866-1886, then as the William T. Donnell Shipyard from 1881-1901.

The museum has seen substantial growth over the last few years. The Maritime History Building houses galleries, the gift shop and the new Long Reach Hall, which includes a large river-view deck. Here you will find the entrance to the museum, admission, excursion tickets and information. The Maine Maritime Museum also encompasses eight outbuildings, plus a ship to tour and river cruises in season.

Take a self-guided tour of the Percy and Small Shipyard, which will take you through five stops on the map. Visit the McEvoy Gallery where you will see the diorama of the shipyard and a reconstructed shipyard office. From there, walk through the Mould Loft where ship designs were drawn onto the flooring. Continue to the Paint and Treenail shop, where the wooden dowels or “trunnels” used as fasteners to hold the ship hulls together were made. This is the oldest of the shipyard buildings. A fire burned down the blacksmith building that had been located in close proximity. You can see the charring of timbers that remain.

Next, walk over to the Mill and Joiner Shop where you can see the enormous sawmill and planers needed to prepare the logs into useable wood. The museum is still searching for a Daniel’s planer, which was originally used at the shipyard. Finally, head to the Caulker’s Shed where “oakum,” a mixture of rope fiber and tar was rolled together into ropes to be used to fill the deck-plank spaces to make the ships watertight.

The six-masted schooner Wyoming was crafted here in 1909. She was the second largest schooner ever built. Visitors will soon see a life-size sculpture of this ship since the museum is working on plans to build one in 2006. The work of art will allow folks to get a real feeling for the massive size of the ships, since the iron skeleton will reach from road to river. You can see the plans in the History Museum.

While there, check out the diorama in the History Museum. In the exhibit, “A Shipyard in Maine – Percy and Small and the Great Schooners,” you can see a wall to wall version of the three shipyards as they were in 1919: the Donnell Shipyard, the Percy and Small Shipyard, and the Gardiner G. Deering Shipyard. Picture the three shipyards, side by side bustling with the work of shipbuilding. And these were not the only working shipyards in Bath, so we can begin to see just what the riverbanks must have looked like.

We visited recently on a cold and rainy spring day; ice blocks were flowing upriver instead of down. What a great way to spend a stormy Saturday! Every season brings a unique expression to this part indoor, part outdoor museum. On our visit, I got a real feeling for how the workers had to be out in any weather. I could picture the wood chips being shoveled out of the sawmill into the biting wind. Today, there is a beautiful glass wall, but in the yard’s heyday, this would have been open. I could “see” the caulkers hunkered down in the shed with the small flying chimney trying to throw a little heat onto the men as they rolled the oakum on their laps into ropes. I could envision the upcoming Wyoming sculpture in all its enormity from road to river, giving me an appreciation of the size of the schooners and of the working yard.

When you check out the Maine Maritime Museum’s Web site, www.bathmaine.com be sure to click on the “Notes from the Orlop” section. I found this fascinating. “The orlop was a region of a ship under the lower decks well below waterline, a place of darkness, seepage, clutter and mystery.” The museum provides detailed insights into some unique and interesting finds.

Refreshments and the museum store: The new Long Reach Hall and deck is the event venue and dining area, which is expected to soon have vending machines for refreshments to be enjoyed while visiting with friends and family, or while meditating on the rolling of the river. The Museum Shop offerings include many books on all things nautical and on Maine. The shop hours are the same as for the museum.

Hours and fees: Open seven days a week from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., closed some holidays. Admission is $9.95 for adults, $6.75 for children. Children under 6 are admitted free of charge. A family rate is available, and the Web site has an Internet coupon. Tours are available April through October. Tour the Sherman Zwicker Schooner when she arrives for the season in late June. Call for details on river cruises. Note: The outbuildings close at 4 p.m., so schedule accordingly.

Getting there: The Maine Maritime Museum is at 243 Washington St. in Bath. Take U.S. Route 1 to the Bath Business Exit. Turn right at the traffic light onto Washington Street. Continue past the Bath Iron Works complex. The museum is on the left just beyond. There is good signage and parking for the museum. For reservations and information, call (207) 443-1316.


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