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Mayflower II begins voyage after restoration

Mystic — As onlookers flanked both sides of the Mystic River and people watched from small boats and kayaks, the Mayflower II left the Mystic Seaport Museum shipyard in the fog Monday morning on its way to New London.

The voyage marks the completion of a yearslong restoration project at the museum. The ship, a replica of the vessel the Pilgrims traveled in to reach Plymouth in 1620, will participate in sea trials in New London for about two weeks before leaving to return to Plymouth, Mass., on Aug 10.

“What a wonderful moment for us to send off the Mayflower on a really exciting voyage,” said Chris Gasiorek, the seaport’s vice president of watercraft preservation and programs. “We’re a little bit sad because she’s become a big part of the family for us, but really excited that she is able to make the voyage back to Plymouth in 2020 on the 400th anniversary of the original voyage.”

Quentin Snediker, director of the shipyard, said Monday’s event “has been a long time coming,” with discussions of the project starting back in 2011. He said Mystic Seaport has established a relationship with Plimoth Plantation, the ship's owner, that will be long-lasting, adding that it's exciting the Mayflower II has “come back to life.”

The ship was setting sail on Monday after the COVID-19 pandemic delayed its originally scheduled spring departure date. The ship carried a flag with a red heart in honor of first responders.

Ellie Donovan, executive director at Plimoth Plantation, which will be renamed Plimoth Patuxet later this year, noted all the people who made the project possible, including artisans, shipwrights, painters, riggers, and Plimoth and Mystic staff, along with donors.

The tugboat JAGUAR towed the Mayflower II, as people gathered along the shore and in boats to take photos and video and watch the ship’s departure.

Kate Sheehan, Plimoth’s associate director of media relations and marketing, said the large number of people watching was a “beautiful sign of support.”

She added that Plimoth is so grateful for the support of the community and Mystic Seaport Museum.

“We couldn’t have had better partners and we received such a warm welcome in Mystic,” she said. “We hope to see them again soon and we hope that people come visit us.”

The ship appeared through the fog in New London and reached City Pier around 11:45 a.m.

While in New London, the crew, under Captain Whit Perry, will perform sea trials and training on the Mayflower II, a reproduction of the 17th century square-rigged vessel, said Sheehan.

The crew will be isolated due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so visitors will not be allowed on board, she said.

Once the ship returns to the Plymouth waterfront, the museum will operate the ship, like its other exhibits, and welcome visitation within public health parameters set by the state, she said.

Among the spectators at City Pier were Russell Huff, his son Thomas, and wife, Denise, who visited from Long Island to see the ship’s arrival. He said the family has ancestors who came over on the Mayflower in 1620.

Russell said that looking over the horizon for the Mayflower II, the anticipation he felt to see the ship in person was immense.

“I felt like I was jumping out of my skin waiting for the ship to come,” he said.

D. Andrews, who works for the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, watched the Mayflower II leave Mystic and then arrive in New London with her friend Rodney Brown of East Hampton. She said it was nice to have the event when so many others have been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re coming together in a safe way to celebrate what we’ve been waiting 400 years to celebrate so it’s really very exciting,” she said. She added that she applauded the people on board and the workers and craftsmen who believed in the dream.

“You don’t do this because you have income in mind,” Andrews said. “You do this because you have a passion for it and because you believe in preserving history so that other people can learn. Not that everybody did everything right then, but we can learn from that now.”

Carolyn Leuze, who recently moved from New London to Mystic, saw the ship coming in while she was on the back deck of Otto's Barber on Bank and was taking a closer look from City Pier. She pointed at the view with the Mayflower II, the water and the Coast Guard barque Eagle in the background.

“It’s very thrilling for the city to have this here,” she said.

k.drelich@theday.com

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