BOSTON — Control of the historic Essex-built schooner Ernestina-Morrissey would move from the state Department of Conservation and Recreation to the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, which will maintain the vessel and use it for training, under a bill the state Senate passed Thursday.

The transfer comes as part of an effort to develop a long-term plan for preservation of the 125-year-old schooner, once part of Gloucester's fishing fleet and designated as the official vessel of Massachusetts.

Restoration has been underway since 2015 thanks to $3.8 million in combined funding from the state, the Schooner Ernestina-Morrissey Association and philanthropists Robert Hildreth and H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, according to state Sen. Mark Montigny, who was the bill's lead author.

Under the legislation advanced Thursday (S 2328), the Massachusetts Maritime Academy will take over management of the vessel, though DCR will provide funding to help complete existing renovation contracts in fiscal year 2020. The academy must use it as a sail training ship for at least 15 years.

The vessel's home port will be in New Bedford, where it must be berthed for a total of 90 days per year over a three-year average, and the city's schoolchildren are guaranteed access to the schooner for educational events.

"For decades, the people of New Bedford cared for and maintained the schooner Ernestina-Morrissey," Montigny said in a press release. "This meant we had to forgo public funding for other worthy projects in order to ensure we had the funding necessary to keep the Ernestina at sea. After many years and countless, dedicated volunteers, we are now poised to complete a fully restored vessel accompanied by a thoughtful long-term maintenance and operations plan."

The schooner may now be ported in Buzzards Bay and New Bedford, but she still carries a gilded Cape Ann lineage.

The Effie M. Morrissey was launched out of the James & Tarr shipyard in Essex on Feb. 1, 1894. Work on the 156-foot schooner, which later would be renamed Ernestina and then Ernestina-Morrissey, commenced in the fall of 1893.

Four months and $16,000 later she entered the water, spending her first decade as a fishing schooner out of Gloucester, journeying to the Grand Banks and beyond.

A Canadian ice skipper, Capt. Robert A. Bartlett, an Arctic explorer who served as Robert E. Peary's navigator, bought the boat in 1926 and sailed her more than 20 times to the Arctic, venturing within 578 miles of the North Pole in 1940 — the farthest north of any sailing vessel in history.

Bartlett died in 1946 and the schooner was sold to two New York brothers. A year later, a fire broke out below decks and the boat flooded and sank in New York Harbor.

Capt. Henrique Mendes purchased the raised vessel and renamed her Ernestina, after his daughter. The schooner spent the next 17 years ferrying immigrants and cargo to the Americas from the Cape Verde Islands.

According to its history, Ernestina was the last sailing vessel to provide regular service for immigrants looking to cross the Atlantic to the United States.

In 1982, after a restoration, Cape Verde gifted the schooner to the United States. Renamed the Ernestina-Morrissey, the schooner was presented to Massachusetts, where it was designated as the state's official tall ship.

The schooner has been designated a National Historic Landmark and served as a maritime educational vessel and standing element in New Bedford's Whaling National Park.

It last sailed in 2004.

In 2014, Maritime Gloucester and the Rye, New Hampshire-based Piper Boatworks bid on the project to restore the Ernestina-Morrissey to her full sailing glory. But the project was awarded to the Boothbay Harbor Shipyard in Boothbay, Maine.

The first phase of restoration has been completed in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, but according to Montigny's office, the legislation needs to be finalized before the second phase, involving sails and rigging, can wrap up. If that can proceed soon, the vessel is expected to return to New Bedford next summer. 

Montigny said when the Ernestina-Morrissey is docked in New Bedford, it will be featured in the annual Cape Verdean Recognition Week.

The bill also calls for establishment of a schooner Ernestina-Morrissey advisory board bringing together state and local officials, a member of the schooner's association, someone with expertise in Cape Verdean history, and others.

Although the schooner's home berth will be in New Bedford, it will be allowed to travel up and down the state based on the advisory board's recommendation.

The bill is awaiting a vote in the House.

Material from Times staff writer Sean Horgan and State House News Service staffer Chris Lisinski was used in this report.

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