AUGUSTA — The state’s official sailing vessel, the schooner Bowdoin, is in need of about $2.6 million in renovations, according to the ship’s keepers at Maine Maritime Academy in Castine.

Capt. Andy Chase, a professor at the academy and former captain of the ship, has helped raise $1.1 million in private funds for the renovation. On Tuesday, he asked lawmakers on the Legislature’s budget-writing Appropriations Committee Tuesday for $1 million to help with those costs.

The 88-foot-tall, two-masted schooner was built in 1921 and acquired by the state in 1988. It was purchased with proceeds the state received from the sale of a luxury yacht that was forfeited in a federal drug-smuggling bust at the time. The ship is also designated a National Historic Landmark.

It has since been cared for by the academy, but a renovation project that was meant to replace the schooner’s aging deck uncovered unexpected damage to the ship’s below-deck framework, Chase told the committee.

Chase said the deck renovation was part of a three-phase plan that would have steadily refitted the ship both above and below the waterline. But once the deck was removed, damage to the framework was discovered.

“When the old deck was removed, more extensive deterioration was discovered,” Chase said during a public hearing on the request.  

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He said the sailing ship was an important part of the school’s vessel operations and technology curriculum. 

Chase said that while the academy also has the federally owned, diesel-powered, 450-foot State of Maine research ship available, sailing vessels provide valuable seamanship training that is unmatched by a motor-only vessel.

Chase said the U.S. Coast Guard Academy also uses a sailing ship to train its cadets.

“They fully appreciate the validity of sail training for basic, fundamental seamanship,” Chase said. “Everything is so much more immediate — in your face, if you will — on a sailing vessel. The results of every decision, good or bad, become apparent instantaneously practically on a sailing vessel. You are not standing inside an air-conditioned wheelhouse when you are sailing on the Bowdoin.”

Chase said almost all of the other maritime nations on the planet operated big sailing ships for training their professional mariners. Chase also noted the academy has only once before asked for funds for the Bowdoin and that was in 2000, when the Legislature approved $49,000 to help the vessel’s operating budget.

Susannah Winder, a senior at the academy and the student chief mate of the Bowdoin, said the ship was the very reason she wanted to attend Maine Maritime and the vessel remained an inspiration for students today. Winder read from a historic letter to the ship’s first captain, Donald B. MacMillian, who had the Bowdoin built in 1921 to facilitate his work exploring the northern latitudes.

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The letter, from a man that wanted to crew on the ship, begs MacMillian to allow him to sail aboard the ship.

“I desire no fees for my service,” the potential crew member wrote. “Only food, water and a quilt, if one is available. For God’s sake don’t toss this letter into the harbor, for if you do, my heart is attached to it. Give me a break.”

Winder said that desire to work on a sailing ship still existed with would-be merchant marines today.

“Nothing has changed,” she said. “Still to this day, men and women long to sail on the Bowdoin.”

She said the ship provided invaluable lessons in leadership, problem-solving and confidence that she transfers to her other studies in marine science, and to life in general.   

“Bowdoin is the reason I came to MMA and the reason I am able to succeed,” she said. “Bowdoin has always inspired, educated and comforted me. Bowdoin is a living vessel with so much history behind the vessel but also laying in front every time we leave port and sail down the bay.”

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Kay Hightower, an alumna of the academy who has spearheaded fundraising for the ship, said it also served as an important symbol of Maine’s proud maritime traditions when it sailed to other parts of New England or even to above the Arctic Circle. 

Hightower said about 100 students were involved in programs at the academy that depended on the Bowdoin and that many of the academy’s 8,000 alumni had given generously to the school and the ship.

“I am a proud Maine Maritime Academy graduate,” Hightower said. “The exceptional education I received as a midman changed my life.” 

Hightower said when she was asked to help raise funds to restore the ship, she didn’t hesitate.

“You see the schooner Bowdoin commandeered my heart a long time ago,” Hightower said. “The schooner Bowdoin is a state treasure and an important ambassador for the state of Maine.”

Several lawmakers also asked if the academy had sought federal funds to help with the ship’s restoration and suggested the issue be brought to the attention of the state’s U.S. Congressional delegation.

State lawmakers on the committee will next hold a work session in the days ahead to decide whether they will agree to appropriate $1 million from the state’s general fund for the ship’s restoration.

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