ROCKPORT, MAINE—A new Godspeed that will become a signature emblem of the Jamestown 2007 commemoration and replace the aging and rotting current replica is two days away from its first taste of salty seawater.
Sitting in dry-dock along the serpentine Maine coast, ready for a ceremonial launch Saturday afternoon, the fourth incarnation of the Godspeed cuts a similar profile to her predecessors. But like the spoiled youngest sister, she has been lavished with a few more trinkets and gifts.
The ship, built by Rockport Marine here and based on one of the three ships that carried English colonists to Jamestown in 1606 and 1607, represents several new tacks in research and technique and is poised to serve the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation for a working life of 25 to 50 years.
Rot-resistant tropical hardwoods make up its ribs, curved planks and decking. Satellite navigation systems hide behind wooden cabinets. A shower awaits the 12-person crew that will man Godspeed on long trips. And twin diesel engines are set to churn below the waterline when conditions become difficult.
The modern touches on the $2.6 million ship are all built in such a way that visitors won't even see them, whether they are on deck or below. But the change in wood is probably the most practical difference.
"Most folks want to know, why are you replacing it?" said Eric Speth, maritime program manager for the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation. The answer is the wood. Or, to be more specific, the rot.
Since the late 1980s the current Godspeed replica, built of pine in 1982, has been deteriorating due to what's called white-rot fungus, Speth said. The fungus thrives in Virginia's climate and attacks the natural lignin in pine, slowly destroying the wood's strength.
The Rockport Marine-built ship is made of several kinds of hardwoods from a South American country, Surinam, that is only 66 square miles in size, about equal to Newport News. Angelique and wana make up the planking and ribs. The deck is made of silver bali.
All three should resist the rapid deterioration of the current ship and drastically cut down on maintenance time and cost, Speth said.
The new ship is also larger and boasts more than twice the sail square footage of the current replica, which was based on the first replica built in 1957. These changes represent advancements in scholarship and research, and led to what Speth said is a more accurate reproduction.
The ship measures 88 feet in total length with about 65 feet of deck, compared to 68 feet of total length a 52-foot deck on the 1982 ship. The crew will haul up a total of 2,420 square feet of sail - equal to a decent-sized house - compared to 1,128 square feet.
No one knows much about the original Godspeed - including what happened to it after its return sail to England - but Speth said there is enough research on ships of the era to be confident that it is comparable.
"We know the design process, we know the rigging process, and what we've created here is representative of a 40-ton merchant vessel from the 17th century," he said.
Workers at Rockport Marine, which builds only wooden boats, laid the Godspeed's keel in December 2004. After 15 months they are a few days ahead of schedule, said John England, the project manager.
England, who grew up on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland but has lived and built boats in Maine for about 30 years, has built other replicas from other eras and said there's enough information on 17th century boatbuilding to inform Rockport Marine's work.
"It's boatbuilding," he said. "Some of these techniques have been around for 400 years."
There is one difference, for most people, between the ship that the colonists sailed on and the one sitting at the water's edge in Rockport. The one in Rockport is just a "replica," right?
After a year and a half of work to create an 88-foot, oceangoing wooden vessel, don't call it by that label around England.
"We stopped using that word," he said, laughing, "a long time ago."