The Nao Santa Maria will visit towns along the Penobscot River between Searsport and Bangor, July 9-18. Credit: Courtesy of Penobscot Maritime Heritage Association

The lower Penobscot River will play host to a festival of tall ships and other large seafaring vessels for nine days next month, more than a year after the occasion was canceled due to the pandemic.

The festival that was supposed to be among Maine’s Bicentennial celebrations kicks off on July 9, when the Nao Santa Maria will arrive in Penobscot Bay. The Nao Santa Maria, a replica of the type of ship sailed under the Spanish flag by Christopher Columbus and other mariners, is a 93-foot caravel that was launched in 2017. Maine will be its most northerly visit in 2021.

The festival is organized by the Penobscot Maritime Heritage Association and sponsored by Bangor Savings Bank.

The Nao Santa Maria will dock in Bucksport on July 9, before slowly making its way up the Penobscot past the towns of Verona Island, Frankfort, Prospect, Winterport, Orland, Orrington, Hampden and Brewer.

The Schooner Bowdoin, Maine Maritime Academy’s 88-foot sailing training ship, will also make its way up the Penobscot that week, before docking alongside the Nao Santa Maria on July 15 in Bangor. 2021 is the 100th anniversary of the launch of the Maine-built Schooner Bowdoin, which was first captained by famed Arctic explorer Donald MacMillan.

From Thursday, July 15 through Saturday, July 17 in Bangor, the Bowdoin and the Santa Maria will be joined by the 175-foot U.S. Coast Guard cutter Abbie Burgess, and the University of Maine’s 3D printed boat, 3Dirigo, the largest 3D printed object in the world. All four vessels will offer tours during their Bangor visit.

Dick Campbell, a former Orrington legislator who is helping to organize the visit, hopes tall ships will visit the Penobscot River on a yearly or semi-yearly basis going forward — not just as part of the festivities for the 200th anniversary of Maine’s statehood, the majority of which were rescheduled for 2021.

“We’re trying to get local businesses to participate when each ship is in town,” Campbell said. “People in all the different communities along the river between Bangor and Bucksport will all be able to see these ships. It’ll be something special for each one.”

Tall ships have not visited Bangor or Brewer since 1984, before the Veteran’s Remembrance Bridge carrying Interstate 395 over the river between Bangor and Brewer was fully constructed, according to Dave Cheever, co-chair of the Maine Bicentennial Commission.

“It will be quite a sight, to see these massive ships making their way up the river,” Cheever said in March 2020, before the original festival dates were canceled. “It’s a sight that was commonplace back in the 19th century, but hasn’t happened in a very long time.”

The ships’ visits coincide with  Orrington’s Old Home Week, which kicks off on July 9 with events including a craft fair and the town’s annual “endless yard sale.” It also coincides with the annual Civil War reenactment weekend at Fort Knox State Historic Site in Prospect, set for July 16, 17 and 18. Bucksport will host a mini-festival on July 17 on its waterfront, with live music, vendors, fireworks and a movie projected on the sails of one of the ships.

The ships will head to Searsport on Sunday morning, July 18, where they will arrive in the harbor midday for a “Schooner Gam,” the traditional name for a gathering of ships. There will be a picnic and concert in Mosman Park, followed by fireworks at 9 p.m.

The Nao Santa Maria will visit Rockland after its Penobscot River stops, before heading back down the East Coast.

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Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.