A team of about 160 volunteers have helped build a replica of the Virginia. the first English-built ship that sailed across the Atlantic Ocean, since construction began in 2011. The team expects to launch the boat this summer. Photo courtesy of Kimberly Madden

The Virginia, a replica of a vessel that sailed from present-day Phippsburg across the Atlantic centuries ago, will launch in June after over 10 years of construction.

Built in an unassuming warehouse on Commercial Street in downtown Bath, Maine’s First Ship Executive Director Kirstie Truluck calls the ship “Bath’s best-kept secret.”

The original Virginia was the first vessel of its kind built in the Americas. It was a 51-foot pinnace — a small, light vessel propelled by sails and oars.

The new Virginia’s keel was laid in 2011, said Truluck. Research, planning and construction, however, dates back to 1994 when the remains of the Popham Colony were discovered at the southernmost end of Phippsburg.

The Virginia was built in 1607-08 for exploration but was used to return Popham colonists to England.

“The idea began with the fact that we have this Jamestown colony right down the street and no one knows about it; we need to fix that,” said Truluck. “This group asked, ‘How are we going to bring this to life?’ and the answer was to build a ship because that’s what they did. They built the first ship on the shores of what is now Maine, and it was the precursor for what we recognize as Bath’s 400-year shipbuilding history.”


Before the vessel is launched, Truluck said building crews still need to complete the electrical and navigation systems, finish painting, and build the remainder of the dock systems. The replica will also be equipped with a motor.

Once in the water, crews will need to finish the pinnace’s rigging and get the vessel certified by the Coast Guard before it can set sail. Truluck estimated the Virginia could be completed in summer 2023.


Truluck noted the original Virginia was built in about four months without modern tools, but the shipbuilders’ livelihood depended on finishing the vessel. The replica, on the other hand, has been built by an ever-changing army of volunteers.

“The reason it has taken so long is it has been a process of getting volunteers and then getting the material – some through donations and some through purchase when the resource was there,” said Truluck. “It has been a classically Maine project of Yankee ingenuity, problem-solving, and the kindness of strangers. Those have been the resources to get this ship built, and to me, that’s the greatest part of the story.”

Truluck estimated about 180 people have volunteered with Maine’s First Ship.


Lead Shipwright Rob Stevens said that pre-pandemic, about 20 amateur shipbuilders would work on the pinnace for about six hours two days a week.

“When you cut out all the chitchat and the long lunches, we were probably working about four hours a day,” said Stevens.

Since the pandemic, that team has decreased to four to six volunteers who work various days throughout the week.

“It’s fun – everyone’s having fun and they don’t want to be done. On these volunteer projects things typically slow down at the end because when it’s over, it will be the last wooden ship they work on,” said Stevens. “I am going to miss working with these people, but I’m lucky because I’ll go off and work on another wooden boat project. It is the best job in the world. Boats are magical and it’s so much fun sharing it with everybody.”

Truluck said a June 4 celebration will feature music, food trucks and ship-building demonstrations. The new Virginia will be launched in the Kennebec River at 4:30 p.m.

“Once it’s launched, everyone driving south on Route 1 will be able to see it,” said Stevens. “I’m so happy it’s somewhere with high visibility so we can share it with people.”

This story was updated at 1:10 p.m. Tuesday, March 8, to correct when the organization estimates it will complete the replica of The Virginia. 

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