PANAMA CITY — A 145-year-old man Bay County Schooner crossed to dry land on Saturday morning to prepare for his long-awaited makeover.
The Governor Stone was lifted from Watson Bayou and parked at Saint Andrew The school will begin its once-in-a-lifetime community rebuild in time for National Maritime Day.
The historic ship is a cargo schooner built in 1877, the surviving ship among five that were built. After Michael’s wrath damaged it in 2018, it had to be moored on land in Snug Harbor to protect it from further damage.
It will be rebuilt almost exactly as it was before Hurricane Michael and with historically accurate tools, the main changes being the electric lights and engine. The rebuild will be led by St. Andrews Boatbuilder Captain Anderson Barnes and his team at Stone Loft Boat Shop Inc. It is expected to be completed by October 2023 for its 147th anniversary.
The reconstruction project receives a grant:The 145-year-old schooner Governor Stone will be rebuilt with a $1.5 million grant from FEMA. How to help.
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Colleen Reilly, president of Friends of Governor Stone, said she was overwhelmed by her ecstasy. She had live-streamed the entire move, saying she couldn’t help but rave about viewers.
“It was amazing to see (Governor Stone) get pulled off the mainland and down the road and I was the second vehicle,” Reilly said. “(Barnes) was behind the truck first, then me, then we had six other cars. It was so cool.”
Stone Loft’s Community Outreach Coordinator, Megghan McDougall, said the process was generally smooth with a few minor hiccups. She said she loved hearing all the stories about the community’s experiences with the boat.
“It’s cool that the next generation is kind of getting involved,” McDougall said. “And then we all have kids, so we want our kids to know that. There’s a lady I know who was talking about her kid’s very first outing was a sailboat ride on the Governor Stone and I thought how cool that was.”
The Governor’s Stone Reconstruction Project received a $1.5 million grant from FEMA to restore the ship and was approved for a short-term lease to the school on May 11. Reilly said the day means so much to her because it took almost three years to get here.
“The three-year journey up to this point, lots of open hands, asking for donations, lots of pleading and pleading, ‘Please help us, help us get coins back. If you have parts, let us know,'” Reilly said. “Grant filing to keep the organization going. Hoping FEMA gets the historic grant. Find a shipbuilder.”
Finding a shipbuilder was one of their many challenges, as they wanted to find someone locally to complete the job. Just when Reilly thought they might have to ship the ship to an out-of-state museum, they found Barnes willing to do the job.
Barnes said he had experience both with older ships and with the Governor Stone itself.
“I was apprenticed in Newport, Rhode Island, for about two years doing restoration. I’ve been doing this for 15 years, my dad and I owned a 75 foot wooden deadrise that we restored for about 10 years I was boat builder for most of my life, really,” Barnes said. “To be able to be part of this project, I have always admired and loved the Governor Stone. I was a junior member before when he was still floating. I’ve helped work there many times in the past.”
He said he sees 12,000 man hours needed for this rebuild, but knows he and his team can do it.
“It’s a huge responsibility, but I have a good team behind me. And it takes a village so really, we have the whole team here – the Stone Loft – and then tons of volunteer help, the Friends of the Governor Stone, which is the organization looking after the boat,” Barnes said. “They provide tons of material support and volunteers and I’m pretty sure the whole community is going to be a part of that. So it’s a really big honor.”
As Barnes and his crew begin work on the ship, residents have a chance to help rebuild. Visitors to the St. Andrews area can come to the property and pick up a piece of sandpaper and sand a little on the ship itself, as well as watch the rebuilding over time.
Reilly said community involvement in the process was important to her.
“It’s vital that even Bay County residents and visitors to our area are a part of this, because it’s not every day that you get to walk past and watch a boat rebuild using the skills and tools you ‘they used in the 1800s,’ says Reilly.
As the countdown begins for Governor Stone to finally return to his marina home, Reilly said she can’t wait for residents and visitors to learn about his story and find out why he’s so important to the culture of St. Andrews.
“It’s so much more than an average boat that seems like a money pit, because it’s history and lets kids see it and beat it and get a taste of what it’s like. than being on the water,” Reilly said. “Once you’re on the Governor’s Stone, it enters your bloodstream and it never lets go.”