In 1611, while English ships continued to supply, populate and monetize the Virginia colonies, the trip, which travel 3,000 miles and took over two months was a serious challenge but ships like the Susan Constant and Godspeed aided in the colonization of Virginia.
A replica of these types of ships, a British three-masted, square-rigged sailing ship, was started in the 1970s and completed in the 1980s. Called the Sea Lion, the replica is now being restored and headed for the Citie of Henicus Historical Park in Chester.
“It was a fantastic fit, it was built exactly according to the standards of time [early 1600s] using the same materials that they would have used at the time these ships were used,” said Dennis Strawderman, who has organized the project.” Strawderman also reenacts Sir Thomas Dale at the park.
“Why do these 20th century builders of a 16th century ship insist upon doing things the hard way using tools and techniques 400 years old? Why not employ modern methods? Why not take shortcuts?
“It could not be an authentic replica if it were built with present-day materials, using modern technological shortcuts,” according to the original documents of the Sea Lion project in New York.
There was celebration when the Sea Lion was first commissioned on Chautauqua Lake, New York in 1985 including a visit from the Crown (a dignitary sent by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth). A choppy history followed in 1992 when it was sold to the Buffalo Maritime Society, where it had three different homes. After the Society could find no support for the Sea Lion, it sank at its moorings in 1999. In 2000, a tw0-year project began to raise it from the bottom of Lake Erie.
Strawderman said, “About seven years ago I saw a picture of this forlorn picture of this ship sitting near Lake Erie and it was one of the most beautiful ships and because it has been our desire for years, to bring a ship here. It’s hard to have a 17th century place without a ship and visa versa. We’re hop
It he Henricus Historical Park Foundation purchased the vessel for a dollar and has now begun the process of restoring the great replica. The ship is one of the most accurate reproductions of a colonial ship that has been seen, according to Strawderman. It has ten canons to protect it from pirates, not as a battle ship.
Ron Blackburn, who has the expertise to rebuild the ship assessed the damage to the ship and said it was sound except for the upper part of the hull. Strawderman said that part of the ship will take only about three or four months to rebuild and it should be sitting at Henricus within about a year. He said the valuable part of a ship is the hull, the above decks part is not that hard to rebuild. The work on the hull and deck will be done in Albany, New York.
“The idea is not to be like Jamestown, we just want it to be displayed at the park and interpreted at the park. It will be put on a cradle and built right in front of visitors to the park. When they restored the Susan Constance at Jamestown it was almost as fun to watch them build it as it is to walk on it today.
“We started an organization called the Sea Lion Foundation,” Strawderman said. The cost of restoring the hull and deck and then moving it was borne by the Sea Lion project who owned the ship, the Sea Lion Foundation raised some money, and a member of the Sea Lion Project in New York donated some money to the cause.
“I can’t wait, there are parts of the ship that I want to work on,” Strawderman said. “Ron [Blackburn] says hold on slow down.” This is not something you want to rush if you want it right and it will be.