BOSTON — A Essex-built schooner, already a National Landmark, may be designated as Massachusetts' official state vessel.
The state House passed legislation Monday that would transfer control of the historic schooner Ernestina-Morrissey from the Department of Conservation and Recreation to the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, and name the ship as official state vessel.
Passed by the Senate last September, the bill would set up an advisory board to oversee the schooner, including designees from Mass. Maritime, the Office of Travel and Tourism, and the Executive Office of Education. The bill (S 2328) would allow Mass. Maritime to use the schooner for educational and training purposes and charge fees to passengers on excursions or tours.
Ernestina-Morrissey's home port would be New Bedford — for at least 90 days per year on a three-year rolling average, the legislation stipulates.
The transfer comes as part of an effort to develop a long-term plan for preservation of the 126-year-old schooner, once part of Gloucester's fishing fleet. 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, where the first phase of restoration — a rebuild of the hull — was completed. Passage of the House bill will allow Phase 2, the outfitting of the rig and below decks, to proceed.
Material from the State House News Service and Times staffer Sean Horgan was used in this report.