BOOTHBAY HARBOR, Maine — Boothbay Harbor Shipyard president Eric Graves confirmed Wednesday the company has been awarded a $6 million contract to rehabilitate and repair the 156-foot schooner Ernestina-Morrissey.
On Wednesday, the Massachusetts of Department of Conservation and Recreation finalized a contract with the shipyard for $6,048,025, department spokeswoman Lauren Feltch said in an email to the Bangor Daily News.
The Boothbay Harbor Shipyard bested Gloucester, Massachusetts-based Maritime Gloucester for the new restoration project, which Graves said would likely begin this winter and last about two years.
The work will allow the 120-year-old schooner, a National Historic Landmark and Massachusetts’ official tall ship, to to sail for the first time since 2004, according to Feltch.
The schooner was built at the James & Tarr shipyard in Essex, Massachusetts, for a total cost of $16,000, according to the Schooner Ernestina-Morrissey Association, Inc.
Launched on Feb. 1, 1894, the vessel, originally called the Effie M. Morrissey and owned by Capt. William E. Morrissey and the John F. Wonson Co. of Gloucester, was named after Morrissey’s daughter.
Capt. Robert Bartlett, a Newfoundland-born seafarer and friend of North Pole explorers Robert E. Peary and Matthew Henson, bought the schooner in 1926.
Among its many voyages under Bartlett, the schooner regularly was used to carry Arctic explorers through icy northern seas. In 1940, the schooner sailed to within 578 miles of the North Pole — the farthest north any sailing vessel has ever reached, according to the website.
After Bartlett’s death in 1946, the vessel was sold to a pair of brothers who planned to sail her to Tahiti. But a 1947 fire in New York, which caused the vessel to sink under the weight of water used to douse flames, scuttled that plan.
In 1948, Henrique Mendes of the Cape Verde Islands bought the schooner and renamed it Ernestina after his daughter.
Since then, the vessel has undergone multiple restorations and participated in tall ship events in the United States and other nations.
Graves said he wasn’t surprised to learn his shipyard won the contract, given its previous work on the schooner.
“We’re familiar with the vessel,” he said. “We have done very good work on it in the past.”
In 2008, funded by a $500,000 National Park Service grant matched by funds from the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, the Boothbay Harbor Shipyard repaired the Ernestina-Morrissey’s bow and replaced the entire foredeck and exterior planking alongside the foredeck of the schooner, according to the schooner’s website.
Last fall, the shipyard performed minor maintenance on the vessel, Graves said.
The shipyard has worked on other large wooden vessels including the Friendship of Salem for the Department of the Interior and Liberator for the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, Graves said. Boothbay Harbor Shipyard also built Discovery for The Jamestown Yorktown Foundation.
The shipyard also worked on a replica of the famed tall ship Bounty, which sank during Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
The Ernestina-Morrissey is berthed at the state pier in New Bedford, Massachusetts, but will be hauled to Boothbay Harbor at a date to be determined, Feltch said.
Graves said the new project could mean adding to the shipyard’s 10- to 15-person staff. He declined to comment further until details of the contract are released.
Descendents of the vessel’s original owner lobbied Massachusetts officials to have the work done in Gloucester, which is not far from where the schooner was built.
A representative of the losing bidder in Massachusetts also expressed disappointment the restorative work would not take place in Gloucester.
“We have learned that Piper Boatworks/Maritime Gloucester was not selected by the state to restore the Ernestina-Morrissey,” Maritime Gloucester Executive Director Tom Balf said in a statement to the Gloucester Times. “We are disappointed as we believe that Gloucester would have been the best place to conduct this work and honor the boat and its rich history.”
Massachusetts Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, R-Rockport, reportedly contacted officials at that state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation to express his displeasure with the decision, according to the Gloucester Times.