Ships and ship building dominate the history of Bath, ME. Over 200 ship builders once made their living here. During WW2 over 16,000 workers produced 80 ships for the Navy, roughly turning out one every 2 weeks. Bath Iron Works has three Navy ships currently being outfitted, and contracts for 11 more, so this tradition continues. The years of ship building along the Kennebec River, along with the related industries, resulted in the river being essentially dead. No fish and no birds. The captain of our tour boat was a font of information, and he seemed most proud to say that the river has recovered and the fish and birds are back.
This wasn’t the tour I had hoped to take when I drove to the Maine Maritime Museum. I hoped to take a lighthouse cruise, but the only lighthouse on this cruise was the little one here. Little because a lighthouse along a river only needs to be seen for 3 miles. But in foggy weather ships couldn’t see the lights and still ran aground, so they built a bell tower as an added safety factor. The lighthouse keeper was required to trudge through the woods every four hours in bad weather to wind up the bell.
This proved to be quite an interesting tour and talk, and even though it wasn’t the tour I had hoped for I was happy to have had the experience. I was a Navy wife in the summer of ’71 when I lived here while my husband’s ship was readied for it’s trip to it’s eventual port in San Diego. For a short while the plan was for the ship to cruise south around South America, stopping at all the famous (infamous) ports along the way, but clearer heads eventually prevailed and that plan was nixed, and his ship went through the Panama Canal instead. That must have been an experience in itself, though not the one whomever made the first plan probably had in mind.This represents the Wyoming, which was built in Bath. It’s true to the size except for the masts. They were an additional 70 feet high, but the FAA wouldn’t let them build those to scale.
The other two Navy ships being built are very different from this one. This is a Zumwalt class ship, built to be stealth. On radar this ship appears to be a 40 foot fishing boat.This little ship is the Mary E. She was built in Bath in 1906 and was in service carrying many different cargos over the years. She was eventually sunk, but was brought back to Bath and restored to her original and now carries passengers instead.
In the feature photo you see the size of the dry dock itself. It was built in China and had a long journey to Bath since it was too big to go through the Panama Canal. This isn’t a town that grew up to serve the tourist trade, and it shows. But it’s worth a trip to see.