Thousands of gatherers watch Maine’s First Ship President Orman Hines speak at the 6/4 launch ceremony. John Terhune / The Times Record

More than 25 years after the plan to rebuild a 1607 pinnace first surfaced, Maine’s First Ship finally christened and launched the Virginia Saturday as part of a daylong celebration.

Thousands of visitors of all ages packed the area outside the Bath Freight Shed for a launch ceremony that featured remarks from State Rep. Allison Hepler, Wabanaki storyteller John Bear Mitchell and Maine’s First Ship leaders.

“When we launch the ship today, we launch a new chapter in the legacy of the Midcoast and of Maine,” said keynote speaker Capt. Scott Smith, former commander of the Bath Iron Works-built USS Michael Monsoor. “The future will see a commemoration of the past and an investment in them. Mostly they will see the power of possibility and of perseverance.”

The Bath Municipal Band plays before the launch ceremony. John Terhune / The Times Record

While the ship hung suspended from a pair of cranes, several speakers discussed the scope of the volunteer-driven project.

“I was pretty skeptical that they were ever going to pull this off,” said lead rigger Jim Nelson, who joined Maine’s First Ship about six years ago. “I came down and went in the boat shed. I thought, ‘Holy cow. They are really building this thing.’”

Maine’s First Ship originally planned on hiring professionals to build the ship, but the organization decided about 15 years ago to shift to volunteers, according to Executive Director Kirstie Truluck.


Historical reenactors from the Piscataqua and the New Plimmoth Gard bring visitors into the 17th century before Virginia’s launch.

Since construction started in 2011, over 200 volunteers have helped build Virginia, a reconstruction of the first English-built oceangoing ship built in the Americas.

“Our people are an inspiring role model of volunteerism and committing to a larger purpose,” Truluck said. “Maine’s First Ship has brought history to life, woven people together and given birth to beauty.”

The day’s festivities started at noon with the firing of Virginia’s cannons. A street fair, which featured music performances, historical reenactors, a craft fair and food vendors, entertained visitors until the launch ceremony.

Following a blessing from Rev. Pamela Mott of Grace Episcopal Church, former Morse High School student Kelsey Brick christened the Virginia.

Cheers and applause from the crowd joined the sound of the ship’s guns firing as the cranes lowered the Virginia into the Kennebec River.

Virginia sits at her dock outside the Bath Freight Shed after the 6/4 launch ceremony.

“It feels like a mark in time that we’ll be referring to,” said Alicia Heyburn of Brunswick, who came to watch the launch. “It’s part of a whole revitalization of Bath.”

Maine’s First Ship hopes to pursue Coast Guard certification this fall, according to Truluck. With that certification, Virginia will be able to carry up to 35 passengers starting in 2023.

But first, the group’s volunteers, fresh off Saturday’s celebration, will get back to work on the ship’s rigging.

“I think some people might take a couple of days to rest,” Truluck said. But I think within the next few weeks we’ll have people back up there.”

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