Following a change in ownership and a 14-month restoration, the South Bristol-built schooner Harvey Gamage, previously used for a Damariscotta-based educational program, is back on the water and ready for students.
According to The Lincoln County News archives, the 1973 schooner was one of the last boats built by its namesake, South Bristol shipbuilder Harvey Gamage. Gamage was the owner-operator of the Gamage Shipyard in South Bristol from 1924 until his death in 1976. During that time, the Harvey F. Gamage Bristol Yacht Building Company and Harvey Gamage Shipbuilders built more than 288 boats.
The Harvey Gamage, along with Westward and Spirit of Massachusetts, were previously used by Ocean Classroom Foundation Inc., a Damariscotta-based nonprofit that provided educational semester-at-sea programs. Ocean Classroom ceased operations for financial reasons in August 2014.
Greg Belanger, the executive director of Ocean Classroom from 2012 until the organization shut down, said a decrease in enrollment and donations combined with expensive repairs needed for two of the ships contributed to the nonprofit’s debt.
“What Ocean Classroom did for 20 years was an absolutely terrific program,” Belanger said. “It was a hard decision to make, but we knew it needed to be done.”
Belanger said there was always a hope the three vessels would be used again in the future.
After Ocean Classroom shut down, Spirit of Massachusetts was purchased by a private investor and has since been refurbished into a floating restaurant in Kennebunk.
Belanger entered into an agreement with Portland Yacht Services, of Portland, to preserve both Harvey Gamage and Westward. Belanger said Portland Yacht Services owner Phineas Sprague Jr. played a key part in making sure the vessels were taken care of.
“(Sprague) has a great passion for the sailing experience and knows the benefits of the educational programs these schooners provided,” Belanger said. “He was committed to finding a way to preserve the legacy and keep them in Maine.”
Sprague, who owns the Harvey Gamage through Harvey Gamage LLC, said the vessel is an important piece of Maine history, and he wanted to see the Harvey Gamage restored to its original glory.
“There’s a feeling of responsibility that comes with being a steward of anything,” Sprague said. “It’s a boat that has proven itself to be a treasure of the boat-building community of Maine.”
Portland Yacht Services spent 14 months repairing the Harvey Gamage “from the keel up,” Belanger said.
“It’s a real reflection of the standards and quality of Portland Yacht Services,” Belanger said. “(Sprague) did not want to compromise in the repairs so that she can operate efficiently for a long time. The Gamage is probably in the best shape she’s been in since she first sailed out of South Bristol in the 1970s.”
While the Harvey Gamage was under repair, an attempt to jumpstart a program similar to Ocean Classroom was made. Belanger, who was not involved in the effort, said putting together a similar program would face the same difficulties Ocean Classroom had.
“To run a school ship program, there are so many different pieces that need to come together,” Belanger said. “Funding is a large component of that, and without a proper plan, the program would not run sufficiently.”
Although the effort to create a new program similar to Ocean Classroom ultimately failed, Sprague and Belanger were both interested in seeing the Harvey Gamage used for educational purposes again. Belanger started Ocean Passages, of Portland, which would provide the Harvey Gamage as a resource for educators to run their own programs and curriculum.
“Through Ocean Passages, we hope to partner with nonprofits and educators and provide the platform on which they can run their programs,” Belanger said. “The organizations and educators will provide the curriculum, and we will focus on the ship to give them a reliable platform they can use to fit their needs.”
Restorations to the Harvey Gamage were completed just after Thanksgiving, Belanger said. The vessel is on an exploratory trip to Cuba with a trained crew.
“If we didn’t make a trip, the alternative would have been to winterize and cover the boat,” Belanger said. “There have recently been some changes in the relationship between the United States and Cuba, so it is a very exciting time.”
The Harvey Gamage is set to return to Maine in the summer, when it will be in the Gulf of Maine for educational sail programs with Maine youth, something Sprague is looking forward to seeing.
“I think it is the responsibility of adults to train the next generation and give back some of the knowledge we have acquired over the years, and the Harvey Gamage will foster that,” Sprague said.
Belanger said he has heard from a significant number of people who are thrilled to hear the Harvey Gamage is back on the water. The hope is to one day restore Westward as well.
“We’re taking it one thing at a time,” Belanger said. “If we can keep the momentum going, it would be terrific to pull the Westward in and see both of these ships out and sailing again.”
For more information about Ocean Passages, go to http://ocean-passages.org or email email@example.com.