Maryland Dove and its pier getting facelifts
As replica ages, plans for new vessel get underway
Those who visit Historic St. Mary’s City in the coming weeks hoping to catch a glimpse of the Maryland Dove will not find it there. Nor will they find the pier where the re-created Dove is usually docked, of which only the pilings currently remain.
Museum staff and contractors are replacing the worn-out pier this fall and winter, while maintenance work is being done on the 41-year-old ship.
The replica is loosely modeled after one of the two ships, the Ark and Dove,
that brought the first English settlers to the Potomac River shores in 1634 to start the Maryland colony. Although the original trading ships were lost to history, the re-created Dove has served as the ambassador of Historic St. Mary’s City since its construction in 1977.
The ship is currently ashore at Dennis Point Marina in Drayden, undergoing routine work including bottom painting, re-caulking, changing zincs to prevent erosion under the boat, and servicing the propellers.
This year, the shipwrights are also “replacing a plank on the starboard side which had a split end,” Will Gates, captain of the Maryland Dove, said in an email.
But four decades on the water has caused some wear and tear to the vessel.
“It’s getting to the point where we’re having to make large repairs to it,” Regina Faden, Historic St. Mary’s City’s director, said. “We have staff who take very, very good care of the ship now, but it is getting older.”
Over the years, Gates and a team of volunteers and shipwrights have had to replace a portion of the ship’s stem, or large timber at the forward most part of the bow, as well as “significant portions of the underwater planking and even some of the topside planking,” Gates said.
The stern post, too, has seen some “significant rot to the core,” Gates said.
“Those parts are not degraded to the point where they’re dangerous yet, but they’e degraded sufficiently enough that if we were keeping the ship for three or four more years, we would be concerned that they might become dangerous in that time frame,” he said.
A partnership between Historic St. Mary’s City and Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum to construct a replacement replica was announced last year. The state has allocated $2.5 million in the 2021 budget for the estimated $5 million project, but Faden expects that money to be moved up in the budget cycle after the contract is presented to the state’s Board of Public Works on Dec. 5. The new ship could be finished by August 2021, Faden said.
As one of the researchers on the new replica, Gates said the challenge lies in aligning a historically accurate ship design with U.S. Coast Guard standards.
The existing replica is not a true re-creation of the original Dove. For one, no pictures of the 380-year-old ship exist, leaving researchers to infer how the ship might have looked from 17th century depictions of similar vessels.
“The original concept was to build a [1680s] tobacco ship to go with the town center,” which depicts a late 17th century St. Mary’s City, the first capital of Maryland, Gates said.
“In the process of talking to a designer, William A. Baker, a naval architect and historian, it was determined to build a small, 40-ton [replica] the same size of the Dove of 1634. It became obvious that naming it the Dove would help with fundraising,” Gates said.
He added, “In the years that followed, it became apparent that the main story people wanted to hear about was the voyage of the Ark and the Dove to found the colony. Our program [will be] better served by a vessel that clearly represents the Dove of 1634, rather than a 1680s merchant vessel that happens to be the [same size as] and named to commemorate the Dove.”
Although the design has yet to be fleshed out, Gates said the biggest differences between the two ships will be in the number of masts — it’s believed that the original Dove had the three masts typical for a coastal vessel, rather than the dual masts on the current replica — and the type of rig on the ship, which was thought to be a combination rig.
The existing replica was not intended to routinely carry passengers, but the remodeled vessel will be designed “with U.S. Coast Guard requirements in mind” that will allow the ship to traverse the waters with passengers onboard, Gates said.
There has been interest in fundraising activities involving auctioning off rides on the Dove, Gates said, but “the current vessel isn’t authorized to do that.”
With the new ship, the hope is that it will be opened up to those fundraising opportunities. Still, the ship won’t be used to ferry visitors on a regular basis. “Our mission isn’t to take people for rides. Our mission is to teach,” Gates said.
Maintenance on the current Maryland Dove should be completed by mid-December, Gates said, and it will probably remain at Dennis Point Marina as work on replacing the Dove’s pier continues. That construction is expected to be completed early next year, weather permitting, ahead of when the outdoor museum’s living history exhibits open again in March.
The new pier, funded by the state and National Parks Service at $850,000, will sit slightly higher than the last dock, built in the 1980s, to account for the rising water levels, Faden said. Museum staff will also have access to a new boat shed when that is complete.
As for the current replica, visitors can still expect to find it at Historic St. Mary’s City for the next few years. The ship’s fate after the new re-creation is finished is still to be determined, but Gates doesn’t expect the museum to continue maintaining it.
“It would not be an efficient use of the taxpayers’ money to maintain two vessels,” he said. The museum commissioners have been “mulling over a number of options,” including stripping the ship down to the bones to keep at the museum, or for use at another museum.
“We don’t want to sell it to someone who’s gonna have a pirate ride option in Baltimore or Annapolis. The museum has to protect its brand,” Gates said. “My fervent hope is that ship will [continue to function in an] educational role.”
Visiting shipwright David Jones inspects the underside of the Maryland Dove at Dennis Point Marina on Nov. 21.
The Maryland Dove sits on dry ground at Dennis Point Marina as work to repair parts of the ship gets underway ahead of a planned U.S. Coast Guard inspection.