Schooner Bowdoin returns to Boothbay Harbor

Route mirrors historic Arctic voyages
Thu, 05/23/2024 - 3:00pm

    The Bowdoin, the official sailing vessel of Maine, will return to Boothbay Harbor May 25. The crew will set sail May 29 for the Arctic, mirroring the ship’s historic voyages that left from the same Maine waters.

    The schooner Bowdoin was built in 1921 by Hodgdon Brothers Shipyard in East Boothbay for explorer and researcher Donald MacMillan to work in the Arctic. Now, Maine Maritime Academy (MMA) owns and operates the vessel, which it acquired in 1988. The vessel was in Boothbay Harbor in 2023 and returns largely thanks the Friends of Windjammer Days, who helped organize the visit.  

    “It’s about bringing Boothbay region history back into the present for the younger generations to understand by seeing it replicated,” said Mark Gimbel of the Friends of Windjammer Days. “The past becomes the present!" 

    Captain Alexander Peacock said the crew of 16 will take the ship on a six-week, 5,000-mile route to Greenland, as far north as the 70th parallel. It’s the first time the ship has been past the Arctic Circle since 2008, and it’s the first time Peacock will make the milestone.  

    “I've been telling people it never really sets in until after the fact, of course. But, short of being a huge honor, (I’m) just really grateful for previous captains at Maine Maritime for really paving the way. Keeping that legacy alive and being good stewards of the boat since they've taken her on.” 

    The voyage also has historical merit. According to MMA, Bowdoin has made 26 voyages past the Arctic Circle from 1921 to 1954, and two more under MMA’s ownership. Historically, these trips often departed from Wiscasset or Boothbay Harbor. According to Peacock and Gimbel, this year’s route may be the same as the first that MacMillan took to the Arctic.  

    Peacock said the route follows the same ports of call, including some of the glaciers and fjords MacMillan was tracking. That provides a unique opportunity for research. MMA is working with Bowdoin College to match historical records with data that could be collected on this year's journey. The ship has scientific equipment on board to gather information about sea conditions, including temperature and salinity through the water column. Using that and other data, a comparison could provide insight into environmental changes tied to specific locations.  

    It is a valuable educational experience for the 10-student crew and the six professional sailors guiding them. Peacock said some students have been on voyages aboard Bowdoin before but most have not, with most of their experience around Castine and training day-sails. He said the students will be going on the voyage to take it all in, hearing from the locals and seeing the environmental conditions before starting careers that may send them back with professional responsibilities. 

    “It's renewing the legacy and keeping that legacy looking forward. It's keeping the boat in doing what she was built to do originally. And it's giving the next generation of mariners and professionals firsthand experience with no commercial agenda in these waters,” he said. “So, hopefully, they can ... become appreciative of that and have a steward's eye for the area ...” 

    But the beauty of northern waters comes at a price. Peacock said weather is the biggest challenge, coupled with keeping rested. With 16 people on an 88-foot vessel, he said one person down from seasickness or injury can be a significant setback. “We have a great crew, but you're trying to facilitate that small microcosm in a way that everybody's looking out for each other and taking care of themselves and getting adequate sleep and being fed,” he said.

    The Bowdoin has had several upgrades Peacock said make the voyage safer. Thanks to modern technology, the crew can take advantage of regular weather updates, accurate radar, and systems to spot other vessels at sea, all with relatively low power consumption. As for entertainment, the crew will have to wait to catch up on their favorite shows. Satellite communications are too limited for internet or streaming.  

    While in Boothbay Harbor, the ship can offer limited tours and dockside visits to school classes or similar groups, weather and schedule depending. Contact Peacock at