Maine Maritime Academy students sail aboard the century-old schooner The Bowdoin. Credit: Courtesy of Maine Maritime Academy

The Bowdoin, Maine’s flagship vessel, has been fully restored and will celebrate the 100th anniversary of its first mission to explore the Arctic Circle this year.

Built by the Hodgdon Brothers of East Boothbay in 1920, the schooner launched the first of many Arctic exploration voyages in 1921 under Arctic researcher Donald B. MacMillan. Since its maiden voyage, the Bowdoin has undergone numerous renovations to preserve the vessel. It was named Maine’s official state vessel and a national landmark in 1988, according to the Ellsworth American.

The vessel was designed by MacMillan with help from William Hand of Massachusetts to withstand the challenging conditions of the Arctic seas. Measuring 88 feet long, 21 feet wide and weighing in at 60 tons, the schooner is one of the smallest vessels designed to withstand Arctic conditions. Because the schooner boasts two masts and is double-planked and double-framed with white oak, it is one of the strongest Arctic vessels.

It is also equipped with an oversized rudder to help make quick turns to avoid sudden obstacles, as well as a steel plate bolted to the hull to help protect the ship from collisions with heavy ice.

Throughout the first half of the 20th century, the vessel made 26 voyages to the Arctic Circle. It was sold to the Navy during World War II, when it was used to establish airfields and performed surveys in the waters around Greenland.

McMillan took the Bowdoin on its last Arctic voyage in 1954.

The Bowdoin was rebuilt in 1984 at the Percy & Small shipyard in Bath. The schooner was acquired by Maine Maritime Academy in 1988. The academy conducted a full hull and deck restoration, which included installing new masts, from 2015-19.

The schooner has been captained by William McLean since 2017. He uses the Bowdoin to train the academy’s students, taking them on trips to teach them how to handle the challenges that arise at sea. Some students accompany McLean while the schooner is used to take tours around Penobscot Bay. Rising seniors can accompany McLean on 2-month-long voyages to Newfoundland, during which they become a skillful crew, he told the Ellsworth American.

But students have not been able to get the same experience on the 100-year-old ship because of the pandemic. McLean told the Ellsworth American that, if everything goes as planned, he will hold an accelerated training program over the summer.

McLean also hopes that the schooner can provide public tours by the fall.

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Leela Stockley

Leela Stockley is an alumna of the University of Maine. She was raised in northern Maine, and loves her cat Wesley and staying active in the Maine outdoors.