Maine Maritime Museum; Bath, Maine
There aren’t any wooden speedboat rides in Bath; on the other hand, there aren’t any lobster boats in Clayton. If Clayton is the antique boat center of the world, the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath can claim the same title for lobster boats’—and almost anything else that’s been plying the Kennebec River since Samuel de Champlain led the first European expedition up there in 1605.
On the water, Bath is as easy to get to today as it was in the 17th century. If you’re heading along the Maine coast from Portland, the Kennebec River is just east of Casco Bay, and then it’s a straight shot about 11 miles up to Bath. When I was there on a Back Cove 30 with Bentley Collins from Sabre/Back Cove, we were on a cruise that started in Boothbay Harbor and took us west to Wiscasset and then over the Sasanoa River to Bath.
You’ll know when you get there. Bath also is home to the Bath Iron Works, which has been building warships for the U.S. Navy since 1893. In the Second World War, BIW built 82 destroyers (more than the entire output of the Japanese navy). Although I loved the performance and looks of our Back Cove 30, when we pulled near the USS Spruance, a just-launched 529-foot guided-missile destroyer at the BIW dock, we felt fairly puny and insignificant. After paying our respects and readjusting our egos, we headed about 100 yards downstream and tied up at the visitors’ dock at the Maine Maritime Museum.
Sitting on a beautiful 20-acre campus, the museum houses a collection of 20,000 objects—from sextants and spyglasses to fine art and lobster boats—in a series of buildings surrounding the open sculpture of the Wyoming, at 450 feet the largest wooden ship built in the U.S. Launched here in 1909, the Wyoming went down in a storm off Nantucket in 1924 with her captain and crew of 13. Today, white steel replicas of the bow and stern mark the actual spots where they were built. We sat here eating lobster rolls for lunch from an outdoor café on the lawn dotted with picnic tables.
The museum has a terrific history of lobster boats, with six boats demonstrating how they evolved over the years. Kids can play on a 50-foot pirate ship, learn how to tie knots or blow the whistle in the interactive tugboat exhibit. Throughout the year boats are being built and restored. If you really want to get into a hands-on mode, the museum has a two-day boatbuilding class over summer weekends when each family builds an 11-foot wooden skiff that can be launched and taken home. This is a “no experience necessary” activity; all the materials are precut and made ready for assembly.
If you’re coming to the Maine Maritime Museum by boat, just tie up and go to the admissions desk. There’s no dockmaster and no charge for day visitors. Overnight stays at the dock cost $3 per foot, or you can pick up one of the nine moorings for $35 a night. The museum has an immaculate Visiting Yachtsmen’s Building with restrooms, showers, and launch facilities.
Maine Maritime Museum
243 Washington St., Bath, Maine 04530
Admission: Adults: $12; Seniors 65 and older: $11; Students: $9; Youth 16-5: $9; Children 4 and under: Free