By Cheryl Costello
It was a sail five years in the making. The new Maryland Dove made a journey up the St. Marys River to her permanent home in Historic St. Mary’s City.
This Dove is the most historically accurate version yet of the ship that brought the first European colonists to Maryland’s original capital.
Bay Bulletin was lucky to be aboard one of the estimated 50 boats that ushered the vessel into port for a welcoming ceremony Sunday.
For the historical shipwrights who have poured years into research and hands-on work, watching the Maryland Dove sail sends chills up the spine, even on a hot August day. “It’s pretty surreal and it hasn’t completely settled in yet,” said lead rigger Sam Hilgartner.
The Dove was built as an educational vessel to tell the story of the first colonists and funded with $5 million in state funds. It replaces the well-known Maryland Dove that had been an ambassador of Maryland history since 1978. At more than 44 years old, that vessel would have needed extensive renovation and repairs. Updated research revealed some historical inconsistencies in the old interpretation.
People lined up to watch from the shore as the new Dove made its arrival.
“I think it’s going to be a great rendition for St. Mary’s City to have,” said spectator Bernie Taylor.
Capt. Matt Bowen grew up on the St. Marys River. He took Bay Bulletin out on his dad’s fishing charter to witness the milestone event. “Beautiful,” Bowen commented. “How did so many people get here on such a small vessel across the Atlantic?”
Lead shipwright Joe Connor and Hilgartner traveled together to Europe to look at shipbuilding techniques there and get closer to historical accuracy. “Huge exhale,” Connor said of completing the Dove project. “It’s like three-and-a-half years of pretty extreme dedication.”
The project continued right through the pandemic, while the maritime museum was closed to the public.
“It’s a more historically accurate rig. It’s a more unique rig to that time period,” Hilgartner said. “And it’s a rig that no one has really had experience sailing before, so it’s pretty exciting.”
Now the Dove’s focus shifts to educating the public. Historic St. Mary’s City Director of Education Peter Friesen says he’s “ecstatic, relieved, and looking toward the future.”
“We’ll be able to tell stories that we’ve never been able to tell before with a ship that’s a bit more accurate than what we think the Dove of 1634 would have looked like,” he said. “We know based off the historic record that the original Dove had a crew of seven. The Dove from 1978 had to have a crew of nine. So there’s no way the crew in the 1600s who have been able to sail that ship.”
The new vessel has two masts, while the old one had three.
“One of the most exciting things is it’s accessible. We have an ADA-compliant ship. We can get people on the main deck with our new gangway,” said Friesen.
There was a prayer and a presentation of flags for the new ship.
“We stand here on land once trod by Maryland’s first pilgrims embarking on this noble and glorious adventure,” Historic St. Mary’s Commissioner Ron Anton said before the crowd.
The cannon fired, the ribbon was cut and the public was welcomed on for the first time.
After years of work at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, leaders admit it’s a bittersweet goodbye. “In a way, we hated to see it go. But we could not be more elated today to see it here where it rightfully belongs,” said museum chair Craig Fuller.
Underneath sails meant to look straight out of 1634, the ship does have some modern comforts. “Forward is our ship’s galley. It’s very nice. We have a built-in galley, we have a refrigerator in there. We have a cooktop, counter space, and a sink. In the 177th century that space would have been the locker,” the Dove’s Jeremy Heveron showed Bay Bulletin.
And, of course, a modern-day GPS would not have been present in the quarter deck to navigate.
“She’s tiller steered—ship wheels didn’t exist yet. Ship wheels came in the early 18th century. So all the ships in our timeframe would be hand-tillered,” Heveron says.
“People don’t realize how fabulous this was as a stepping-ground from the old country,” said visitor Rosemary Hinkle. “I mean we were first. We were first down here.”
The new Maryland Dove will travel to several ports around the Bay to celebrate its completion. With assistance from the Maryland Heritage Authority and a multi-heritage area grant, the first port of call will be City Dock. The ship will visit Annapolis Sept. 9-11.
The ship is scheduled to arrive in Annapolis late Sept. 8. and will be open as a dockside exhibit from 1- 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 9, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday Sept. 10 and 11.
“Not only will this Heritage Tour public program showcase all of the important work done at HSMC, but it will bring HSMC to the other heritage areas of Maryland as we share our stories of discovery and achievement with the rest of Maryland’s citizens,” said Friesen.