After seven years and several million dollars of work at Boothbay Harbor Shipyard, the Ernestina-Morrissey dipped its keel into Harbor waters Aug. 29. The historic ship, set to launch in early afternoon, drew hundreds of onlookers to hop aboard, take pictures and speak to Bristol Marine workers before the access stairs were removed and the ship prepared to launch.
Bristol Marine President Andy Tyska said the ship has been a good project and is a pride of the staff who have worked on it. Having sat for seven years getting the work it needed in phases as more funds became available, the original contract for the hull and deck became more involved.
“We (also) finished off interior, systems and rigging,” said Tyska. “It'll be another month or two in the water as we finish her off.”
Schooner Ernestina-Morrissey Association (SEMA) President Julius Britto, Vice President Bob Hildreth and New Bedford, Massachusetts former mayor John Bullard spoke to the crowd about the historical significance of the 1894-built ship and its promising future at Massachusetts Maritime Academy as a teaching vessel.
Hildreth said the ship was on the start of its downward trajectory when he got involved 27 years ago and “by the time it reached bottom,” it was nearly hauled out of the water and turned into a museum. “I stood up in that meeting and just said ‘No, no, no, never.’ And I'm glad I did.”
The ship’s course was instead steered to repair and restoration, keeping it true to its renown as the “Phoenix of the Sea” for its tumultuous past of fires, sinkings and subsequent resurrections, said Hildreth.
Bullard praised the workmanship of Bristol Marine’s shipwrights and craftsmen and said he foresees a successful future in the ship’s use of training the next generations of maritime professionals coming out of Massachusetts Maritime Academy. “If the ship by chance gets another crack at the west coast of Greenland, she can hit any rocks she missed the first time. This ship is built to last … Thank you so much to all of the folks at Bristol Marine.”
With high tide still approaching, the Morrissey, propped on its launch platform, inched down the rails toward the harbor. Moving just a few feet into the water, the platform was pulled back up a few feet to inspect the rail; it was damaged. Frustrated with the unforeseen development, Bristol Marine workers announced the ship would not launch on that day..
The anticipation gave way to disappointment for both the crowd and Bristol Marine, but there were silver linings: The ship is in its greatest shape perhaps in over a century. And, even if just for a moment, Ernestina-Morrissey touched the waters, connected to the rest of the world and made its announcement that the phoenix has risen yet again.
Ernestina-Morrissey was rescheduled for launch the next day following repairs to the rails done overnight during low tide.