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News Feature

Originally published in Castine Patriot, July 3, 2014
Potential compromise in main mast discovered
Bowdoin training cruise and public stops canceled

The Schooner Bowdoin comes home

Schooner Bowdoin, a Maine Maritime Academy training vessel and former Arctic explorer ship was returned to its Castine, Maine homeport on June 26, 2014 after problem was discovered in its main mast.

Penobscot Bay Press file photo

by Tevlin Schuetz

Maine Maritime Academy’s schooner Bowdoin has returned to Castine after the discovery of a potential compromise in the main mast was made on Monday, June 23, while the boat was in Boothbay Harbor.

According to a press release from MMA, the problem was discovered during routine rig inspections and maintenance. Captain Eric Jergenson and his crew suspended sailing and contacted the academy regarding a plan of action. On Wednesday morning a shipwright boarded the vessel to conduct an in-depth inspection of the mast. Jergenson then made the decision that the Bowdoin would not proceed further from Penobscot Bay. The mast will be removed from the ship for further inspection once in Castine. It is hoped that the schooner can quickly return to its sailing schedule once repairs are made.

“We are all committed to the highest levels of safety possible,” Jergenson said in a statement shared by MMA.

After the discovery of the mast flaw, officials decided to go ahead as planned with the open house event in Boothbay Harbor on the June 26, but to then return the vessel and crew to Castine.

The events scheduled for Saturday, June 28, in Portland and July 4 in Provincetown, Mass., were canceled.

“To our friends in Portland, Maine, and in Provincetown, Massachusetts, please accept our apologies. We look forward to re-connecting with all of you, and soon,” Jergenson said. “The students aboard have taken this change of events with their chins up and have kept a positive attitude as we have determined our course of action…. We are training future mariners, and so prudence is the lesson of the day. Many students have offered to stay after the course conclusion to help with the work involved in this type of repair. Their dedication to the Bowdoin is inspiring.”

The official vessel of the State of Maine and a national historic landmark, the Bowdoin had set sail for New York on June 2. Ten MMA students in the Vessel Operations and Technology program had been navigating the venerated schooner as part of their at-sea training this month. They were assisted by six crew members.

The Bowdoin entered Long Island Sound on the morning of June 12 and reached New York City the following day. The boat passed Cape Cod on June 16 and was 15 miles south of Isle au Haut two days later. She then traveled to Roque Island and Grand Manan Island before heading to Boothbay Harbor for Maine Windjammer Days on June 24 and 25.

In addition to being a floating landmark and a piece of living history, the Bowdoin has the duties of being the symbolic flagship of the Maine Maritime Academy’s sail training program as well as its chief functional training vessel. The schooner makes many public appearances during the summer season.

Preservation work needed

The recent setback involving the main mast may be a timely reminder of how older ships require regular upkeep. The Bowdoin is in need of significant structural work in order to continue its historical and educational legacy. It has been 30 years since the vessel last received critical renovations.

Captain Jergenson informed the MMA board of trustees during a February 21 meeting that the historic vessel needed maintenance, which could cost from $3 million to $5 million.

Concerns were voiced during the meeting that the school may have to get rid of the historic vessel if that amount wasn’t raised, but Chairman Robert J. Peacock III said that the schooner is “a great recruiting tool.” He also said the Bowdoin “generates some great interest in the academy and the town. It’s also very costly, but it’s worth it.”

The first stage of the restoration will involve replacing deck planks and repairs that can only be reached “while the deck is off,” Jergenson said. The estimated cost for this phase of work is $500,000. It will be a delicate process. “There are parts that are 90 years old and parts that are 30 years [old],” Jergenson said.

The last time the ship received significant overhaul was in 1984, when it was owned by the Schooner Bowdoin Association. It was essentially declared a “new” boat at that time by the United States Coast Guard, although an estimated 10 percent of the original schooner remains.

The Bowdoin turns 100 years old in 2021, and it is hoped that this approaching milestone will create renewed interest in the vessel, its role in history and its continued use in education.

According to Jennifer DeJoy, director of college relations at the academy, MMA is currently looking into opportunities to raise money for the restoration. The school is beginning the effort with a feasibility study to identify potential donors and sources of funding, starting with past supporters. It is hoped that some resources may come from the state as well; the school received $50,000 from the state in 2001 for repairs to the boat, although the school had requested significantly more funding.

Work is slated to begin in fall 2015. DeJoy said the school has a plan, including purchasing wood and other materials, but timing the work will be challenging due to the ship’s busy schedule during the warmer months.

The Bowdoin’s importance to the academy cannot be understated, she said. “The question is: if you didn’t have the Bowdoin, what would you be training on and how would that experience be different?” DeJoy said.

The Bowdoin was commissioned by Donald B. MacMillan, designed by William Hand and built by Hodgdon Brothers Shipyard in East Boothbay in 1921 as an Arctic exploring vessel. She made 21 expeditions above the Arctic Circle, 18 of which were before 1954 under the command of MacMillan, and served on the U.S. Navy Greenland patrol during World War II.

Maine Maritime Academy purchased the vessel in 1988 for its small vessel operation and sail training programs.

The public is encouraged to follow the vessel’s adventures by visiting or via Facebook at Arctic Schooner Bowdoin, which include updates to the Captain’s log and a link to the online vessel tracking site, iboat.