The (Unfinished) Tale of Two Historic Ships


By Carol McCracken

Tied up to a dock at Portland Yacht Services for most of the past month or so has been the magnificant 126 ft. schooner Virginia. From this port, she has been carrying passengers up and down the New England coast – from Gloucester, Massachusetts to Nova Scotia for a price. The Virginia’s home port is Norfolk, Virginia where she was built and launched in 2004. Virginia left “PYS’ earlier this week to slowly make her way back to her home port of Norfolk for the winter.

This Virginia is a replica of the original vessel of the same name which is considered the last sailing vessel built for the Chesapeake Bay between 1917 to 1926. The original blueprints were used to built this replica. The reason given to MHN for her Portland summer port by one of her deck hands, Autumn Taphorn, is that there is not “a lot of wind this time of the year in the Cheaspeake.” The coast of Maine is well-known for its scenery and strong winds east of Portland.

The success of the Norfolk Virginia as an educational schooner reminded me of the Maine’s First Ship, the Virginia, built in 1607. Our Virginia was the most significant accomplishment to come from the failed Popham Colony located at the head of the Kennebec River. Built at Popham Beach by English colonists, she generally is considered to be the forerummer of the extensive shipbuilding industry in Maine. She was named Virginia because that is the name the English gave to the area between Maine and North Carolina. About one half of the initial $900,000 needed prior to construction had been raised when active fund-raising slowed down. Organizers of the effort had hoped that our Virginia would likewise become an educational “pinnace” that would draw attention to Maine’s history as a boatbuilder that has largely been ignored outside the State of Maine. Organizers are in the process of regrouping and may have additional news in the next several months or so.

Although the outcome of efforts to build a replica of Maine’s First Ship contrasts sharply to date with the Norfolk, Virginia schooner, it’s a story that is not yet finished. After all there’s still plenty of wind and scenery to accommodate the two Virginias – maybe the money will still follow.