The project to reconstruct Maine’s first ship, the VIRGINIA, a 51-foot pinnace built at the Popham Colony in 1607, has taken giant steps. The Coast Guard has approved plans drawn up by naval architect David B. Wyman. Shipwright Robert Stevens, who was chosen to construct the pinnace, has built a seven-foot-long scale model; and Stevens and John Gardner, who helped create the model, have completed lofting (drawing full-scale patterns of the vessel).

Bud Warren, president of Maine’s First Ship, says the vessel’s design team, headed by John Bradford, felt the model was necessary to check the vessel’s rigging. “Nobody has rigged a vessel like this for 400 years,” Warren explained. “We need to make sure we’ve got it right, that the halyards will run free and sails can be raised, lowered and adjusted.”

The model will also serve as the land-based VIRGINIA and will be used to inform people about the project – it was on view at the Bangor National Folk Festival – and to take Maine’s First Ship educational programs inland after the ship is built and is visiting harbors along the coast. “We want the VIRGINIA to visit every possible gunkhole it can along the coast,” said Warren, “but there’s no way we can get to Fort Kent by water.”

The lofting was completed in the mold loft in the Percy and Small Shipyard at Maine Maritime Museum, near the area behind the museum’s boat shop where the pinnace will be built. Using techniques employed by 19th century shipbuilders in the shipyard, Stevens and Gardner made the full-scale drawings of the vessel’s frame on a floor, which was painted white. They will use these drawings to create patterns when constructing pieces of the ship’s frame.

Stevens and Gardner will move on to another job during the winter, replacing the transom of the schooner VICTORY CHIMES, while Maine’s First Ship continues to raise money for the project. “We want to have the money in hand before beginning construction,” says Warren. The organization estimates it will need $900,000 to build the replica and has hired Penny Harris Associates from Southport as a fundraising consultant. During the winter and spring, they will be searching for wood, primarily white pine, to build the ship. They hope to have some from each county in Maine.

Once work begins on the 30-ton pinnace (Stevens explained that in the 17th century, one ton equaled the capacity to carry 256 gallon barrels), Stevens will hire two shipwrights. As was true several years ago when he and Gardner built the SNORRI, a replica of a Viking vessel, volunteer labor will be an important part of the project.