CASTINE, Maine — Under threatening skies Tuesday, the schooner Bowdoin eased away from the Maine Maritime Academy dock.
The crew quickly set all sails, which filled with a stiff breeze, and the Bowdoin headed smoothly out of Castine Harbor and down the Bagaduce River on its way north to Newfoundland. There the vessel will serve as a traveling ambassador for Celebrating Bartlett 2009 which marks the 100th anniversary of Adm. Robert Peary’s expedition to the North Pole in 1909 and the role played in that endeavor by Canadian Capt. Robert Bartlett.
Bartlett was captain of the Roosevelt, the ship that took the expedition into the Arctic, and traveled by dog sled with Peary’s team on the trek to the pole. In addition, he had a long career as an Arctic skipper. The Bowdoin is an apt representative for the celebration, according to Capt. John Worth, who will be master of the vessel for the first part of the summer voyage.
“The Bowdoin is an appropriate tall ship representative since it is an Arctic exploration sailing vessel similar to the one Bartlett sailed,” Worth said. “And Bartlett also sailed with MacMillan.” Donald MacMillan, who had the Bowdoin built and sailed the vessel on 25 Arctic expeditions, also was a member of Peary’s North Pole team.
Bartlett’s own vessel, the Effie Morrissey, which has been renamed Ernestina, is in Boothbay Harbor for refurbishment and was not present at the celebration for its former captain.
The Bowdoin sailed Tuesday with a full complement of 16 including students and professional crew. The ship will be gone for almost three months, longer than the usual one-month cruise, and the college has made arrangements to switch off crews and captains during the summer in order to accommodate the sail training needs of MMA students. The captains will be Worth, Rick Miller and Eric Jorgensen.
The current crew will deliver the vessel to Newfoundland as part of a two-month small vessels course that began in May. On their way they will stop in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Cape Breton Island, Isles de la Madeleine and Saint Pierre et Miquelon.
“This cruise is a little different this year,” Worth said. “We’ll have a lot of port stops, so they’ll have two or three days of sailing and then have some time in port.”
The Bowdoin will get three other crews during their time in Newfoundland, providing time for senior students to meet requirements for sail training certification. A total of 45 students plus training instructors will sail on the vessel this summer. For the first time in years, the Bowdoin will have a female chief mate on board in the person of Hannah Gray, 29, of Cranberry Isle. Gray has sailed professionally for five years, much of that near the equator.
“I’ve always wanted to sail north,” she said. “So I’ve kept my eye on the Bowdoin. Bowdoin has sailed a lot in the north, and it will be neat to follow that tradition.”
Gray said she is looking forward to working with the students, who, though mostly freshmen, have had some sailing experience.
“I’m really excited about the sail training,” she said. “We’ll be working full time with people who are training to be professional mariners. You can do a lot more with them.”
The student crew is mixed — half male, half female — which is unusual, Worth said. As more women enroll at MMA, more are taking an interest in the small vessels operations major. Some of the crew are small vessels operations students, but others are enrolled as biology majors.
“The Bowdoin is what drew me to this school,” said Katrina Morrison, 18, of Stuart, Fla., a small vessels operations student who just completed her first year at MMA. “I knew I wanted to spend a summer on that boat.”
Some said they were looking forward to adventure, to research opportunities, to seeing new lands, meeting new people, experiencing new cultures and seeing icebergs.
Sam Smith of Minot summed up what he was looking forward to in just two words. “The sail,” he said.
The Bowdoin is scheduled to visit 12 communities in Newfoundland and Labrador as part of the Bartlett celebration. While in those ports, the crew will provide visits on board and harbor sails when possible.
The first leg of the journey will be a short one. Gray said she expected to sail maybe 10 miles on Tuesday. The crew will run through some drills and get used to being at anchor before heading up the coast today. The Bowdoin is scheduled to return to Castine on Aug. 28.