Monday, August 29, 2011

Maine Maritime Museum and the Bath Iron Works

Bath Iron Works is the largest steel shipbuilding yards in Maine. They currently build destroyers for the U.S. Navy and give tours in conjunction with the Maine Maritime Museum. We made reservations for the tour before we knew Hurricane Irene was going to head our way. It all worked out, we had time for the tour and still had time to get someone to hunker down for the storm.

The tour was Saturday morning, but the tickets were good for two days of visiting the museum. I arrived Friday in time to explore the museum on Friday, and spent the night alongside the Kennebunk River. I did ask permission at the ticket desk and was told 'no problem, people stay there all the time. But the next morning someone from the administrative offices at the museum came down to tell us we had to leave, spending the night is forbidden because it upsets the city of Bath. Don't know what was really going on, I even heard the ticket lady who gave us permission was reprimanded as well. But if that was the case, why did they wait until morning to tell us and not kick us out the night before?

I thought the museum was one of the better maritime museums for telling the history of boating and ship building along the Maine coast. There really wasn't a lot of artifacts like most maritime museums. Although, they did have this display of tools used at the shipyards. Look at the size of the crescent wrench up on the wall. Wow!

Well into the 1800s, these small, square masted sailing vessels did most of the local as well as coastal cargo work. They would have been considered the 'pickup truck' of the times. They were eventually replaced by schooners which were faster, even though they usually could not carry as much cargo.

The state of Maine even opened a Maritime Academy in 1941, which is still in operation today. Students graduate after 4 years with the skill necessary for entry level positions as deck officers of engineering officers on merchant ships.

This two masted schooner was once an active cod fishing vessel, plying the waters around Nova Scotia. It was retired in the 1960s, but is now part of the museum. Maintained much as it was when it was an active fishing vessel, you can walk through the boat and get a feel for what it might have been like to be out on one of these sailing ships for the purpose of hauling in tons of fish back to port.

1919 was when the end of an era for wooden shipbuilding in Bath's south end. The shipyards of Percy and Small have survived and are now part of the Maritime Museum. Between 1894 and 1920 they launched 41 large, wooden schooners. The shipyard today looks much as it did when it closed back in 1920. Above is the Paint and Treenail Shop.

Our guide is holding a treenail. It looks like a small, miniature baseball bat, but is used like a wooden nail to hold the ship together. Although many shipbuilders did use iron nails, Percy and Small preferred to use these wooden treenails. A ship could take as many as 26,000-34,000 of these treenails depending on the size of the ship.

The boats were not actually put together inside, but built outside, next to the shops. In the shops all the lumber was cut, planed and pieced together, then brought outside for the actual building of the boat. Along the banks of the Kennebunk River there were at one time over 200 of these wooden ship builders. The banks are sloped and the river is deep, making this a prime location for launching these large boats.

The amount of rope required for the riggings were tremendous. A six masted schooner could take up to 7 miles of rope. Ropemaking required specialized machinery and a long, narrow building where the hemp could be twisted into the ropes. This diorama show a 2 block long J. T. Donnell ropewalk, which was one of several which existed at one time in this area.

Today wooden boat building is once again popular, but for pleasure boats, not working boats. This is the shop of Ned and Kathy Harding, located on the museum grounds.

A boat in progress.

A completed sailboat.

Of the 4 types of lobster, the American Lobster is what you will find in the coastal waters off Maine. Although there are records showing the Indians fished for lobster, it did not become a commercially viable industry until canneries provided a way to preserve and ship the product to markets off the coast. Once refrigeration and modern methods became available to ship live lobsters, the market for lobsters increased even more. By the 1860s there was concern about the lobster industry being overfished. By 1895 laws were in place to control the take of lobsters, by size as well as numbers. These laws have been updated and changed over the years. Somewhere I read that the industry brings in over 91 million tons of lobster each year.

Bath Iron Works has been constructing steel ships for over 100 years. Currently owned by General Dynamics, it was founded in 1884 by General Thomas Hyde. Over the years it has built private, commercial and military vessels. It has the reputation of building some of the best steel built vessels on the water.

During the tour our guide talked about the Liberty Ships, built in quantity during WWII. Because they expected to see them bombed and sunk, and because they need large quantities (over 234 were built) quickly, they weren't built to the same standards as other ships. At its peak Bath Iron Works launched a Liberty Ship every 17 days. Many did last for decades and one is still floating at a museum in San Francisco.

The Snow Squall, last of the American Clippers. Built in 1851 in Cape Elizabeth, ME, she was ran aground near the Faulkland Island in 1864. In 1979 she was rediscovered by a historian and the project began to bring her home. Pieces of her hull were first brought back to the U.S. in 1987.

No cameras or cell phones were allowed on the tour of Bath Iron Works since it is now considered a naval facility since it builds navy ships. This is as close a picture I could get, viewing part of the shipyards from the museum. During the building of the Liberty ships the shipyard was at its peak and employed 12,000 people. Today it only launches one or two ships a year and employs about 4000. Many of the employees are 2nd and 3rd generation, their parents and grandparents having also worked at the shipyards too.

Following the tour I headed south with my ultimate goal to arrive at Cabela's where I planned to sit out Hurricane Irene. But on the way I stopped at the L.L. Bean Flagship Store in Freeport, ME. Well, my timing was terrible as there were all kinds of activities going on over the weekend. Traffic was horrendous, streets were narrow and almost all the parking lots had "NO RVs". I made my way to the only lot in the area which was marked for RVs.

It consisted of one small lot, with 5 lanes, where you could park end to end up to 3 RVs or trailers. Although, two of the lanes could not be accessed by any larger RVs because of the angle necessary required to turn from the road into the lot. And if you parked end to end behind someone else you were stuck there until they decided to move on. When I returned the unit in front of me was still there, so I ended up unhooking my car and backing both my car and the RV out of the lot. NEVER will I take an RV or recommend taking an RV to Freeport. And to top it off, I wasn't really impressed with L.L. Bean. They had about 5 stores, along with many other outlet stores, but yet they didn't seem to have much selection except for clothing.

Because of all the activities there were radio stations covering the events and many tables set up outside with vendors and manufactoring reps.

These people are all watching the dogs jumping into the pool, chasing some object. The winner seems to be the dog who can make the longest jump. Some dogs jumped as much as 17 feet before landing in the water to fetch the object and return it to their masters.

This was all happening on Saturday, the day before Hurricane Irene (Tropical Storm Irene by the time it arrived here). No one seems the least bit concerned and shopping and activities were going on as usual.


Sarah Paul said...

Amazing how simple it can be to communicate with people and have them understand a certain topic, you made my day.

King Iron Works

scott davidson said...

What an interesting blog, introduced by a thought-provoking photo. The unusual wall painting of the dwellings is also a strangely modern interpretation. Something like this hieroglyphic view of a park by Swiss painter Paul Klee,
The image can be seen at who can supply you with a canvas print of it.