Ernestina-Morrissey launch celebration draws hundreds

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After seven years and several million dollars of work at the Boothbay Harbor shipyard, the Ernestina Morrissey dipped her keel in harbor waters on 29 August. The historic ship, which was due to launch in the early afternoon, drew hundreds of spectators to board, take photos and talk to Bristol Marine workers before the access stairs were removed and the ship is ready to launch.

Bristol Marine chairman Andy Tyska said the ship was a good project and a source of pride for the staff who had worked on it. After spending seven years getting the work he needed in stages as more funds became available, the initial contract for the hull and deck became more complex.

“We (also) finished the interior, systems and rigging,” Tyska said. “It will still be a month or two in the water while we finish it.”

Schooner Ernestina Morrissey Association (SEMA) President Julius Britto, Vice President Bob Hildreth and former New Bedford, Massachusetts Mayor John Bullard spoke to the crowd about the historical significance of the 1894-built ship and its promising future at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy as a teaching vessel.

Hildreth said the ship was at the start of its downward trajectory when it became involved 27 years ago and ‘by the time it hit bottom’ it was almost lifted out of the water and turned into a museum . “I stood up in that meeting and just said, ‘No, no, no, never.’ And I’m glad I did.

The ship’s course has instead been geared towards repair and restoration, keeping it true to its fame as the “Phoenix of the Sea” for its tumultuous past of fires, sinkings and subsequent resurrections, Hildreth said.

Bullard praised the work of Bristol Marine’s shipbuilders and craftsmen and said he foresees a successful future in using the ship to train the next generations of maritime professionals graduating from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy. “If the ship accidentally falls into another crack on the west coast of Greenland, it may hit all the rocks it missed the first time. This ship is built to last… Many thanks to everyone at Bristol Marine.

With high tide still approaching, the Morrissey, wedged on its launching platform, descended the rails in the direction of the port. Moving a few feet in the water, the rig was raised a few feet to inspect the rail; it was damaged. Frustrated by the unforeseen development, Bristol Marine workers announced that the ship would not be launched that day.

Anticipation gave way to disappointment for both the crowd and Bristol Marine, but there was a silver lining: the ship may be in its best shape for over a century. And, even if only for a moment, Ernestina Morrissey touched the waters, connected with the rest of the world and announced that the phoenix had risen again.

Ernestina Morrissey was rescheduled for launch the following day after repairs to the rails were carried out overnight at low tide.

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