June 22, 2018
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MMA Waterfront Expo to mark schooner Bowdoin’s 90th birthday

By Rich Hewitt, BDN Staff

CASTINE, Maine — Maine Maritime Academy will hold its annual Waterfront Expo this weekend to mark the 90th birthday of the college’s historic schooner Bowdoin and the start of the schooner’s sailing season.

The daylong event will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday, April 9, at the MMA waterfront and will include a waterfront open house and public tours of facilities.

Bowdoin is truly a Maine schooner, built at a cost of $35,000 by the Hodgdon Bros. boatyard in East Boothbay. Saturday’s event marks to the day the date the schooner was launched at the boatyard in 1921. The 88-foot schooner was built for Adm. Donald B. MacMillan, a Massachusetts native who graduated from Bowdoin College. He was a member of Robert Peary’s successful expedition to the North Pole in 1909, although MacMillan was forced to turn back before the final trek to the pole.

After serving in the U.S. Navy during World War I, MacMillan had a schooner designed specifically for travel in northern seas and named it for his alma mater.

The schooner is 88 feet long, 21 feet wide and weighs 60 tons. According to the Peary-MacMillan Museum website, the Bowdoin is the smallest vessel designed expressly for Arctic work but also is one of the strongest.

“The ship is double-planked and double-framed with white oak,” the website states. “A five-foot belt, one-and-a-half inches thick, made of tough Australian greenheart, protects against ice, and the rudder is overly large for turning easily and quickly when working through narrow stretches of open water between ice packs.”

Between 1921 and 1954, “Mac” and his schooner traveled regularly to the Arctic, often carrying along students who helped with scientific research during those trips. The schooner also served a stint as a patrol vessel in the North Atlantic during World War II.

After MacMillan retired, the schooner was neglected and in danger of being scrapped. It underwent a restoration in the 1970s and again in the 1980s and eventually was restored to full sail capability. It served briefly in the Outward Bound program before it was leased by MMA in 1988. It was named the official sailing vessel of the state of Maine that same year.

The academy purchased the schooner the next year.

Today, the Bowdoin serves as a traditional training platform as part of MMA’s small vessel operations program. It regularly sails the waters of Penobscot Bay and has taken student crews on several voyages back to Arctic waters, traveling as far as Greenland. Designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1989, the schooner also serves as a public ambassador for the college, promoting traditional sail training techniques and serving student and community groups.

Saturday’s event will include a free barbecue 1-2 p.m. at the waterfront and a performance by the MMA student band Iron Mike. The guest speaker for the expo will be Mary Morton Cowan, a niece of one of the Bowdoin’s original crew members and author of “Captain Mac.” After her speech, Cowan will make the honorary first cut into the Bowdoin’s winter cover. Removal of the cover is the first chore for the schooner’s crew and students as they prepare the vessel for the sailing season.

Plans call for the schooner Bowdoin to spend some time early in the season at the North End Ship Yard in Rockland to undergo routine and preventive maintenance. The schooner will sail the coast of Maine this summer. Much of that itinerary is still being planned.  

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