Sailing Into History

After years away, Mayflower is returning to Plymouth Harbor

Perched above Mayflower II’s decks on a cold February afternoon, rigger Don Heminitz is working on what is among the final stages of preparing the iconic ship to set sail for the first time since 2014.

“It’s really something to look up and see the sailing gear, all the components of rigging, and say I was part of everything you see here in some manner,” says Heminitz, one of three Plimoth Plantation staff who has worked on Mayflower’s three-year, multi-million-dollar restoration. Over the course of the effort, nearly 30 shipwrights and riggers from Plimoth and Mystic Seaport Museum in Mystic Connecticut have worked on the ship, not to mention dozens of volunteers from both museums.

The ship is a full-scale reproduction of the original Mayflower that transported the Pilgrims to the Wampanoag homeland of Patuxet in 1620. The second Mayflower was constructed using traditional wooden shipbuilding methods in 1955-57 in Brixham, England. The ship was conceived as a memorial honoring the friendships forged between the United Kingdom and the United States during World War II. The Mayflower II set sail from Plymouth, England on April 20, 1957 with a crew of 33 men. It arrived on the shores of Plymouth, Massachusetts on June 13 to a crowd of 25,000 spectators – a moment the Plimoth Plantation hopes to re-create later in 2020 when Mayflower arrives home to Plymouth Harbor.

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For 60 years, Mayflower has been an international tourist destination. An estimated 25 million people have stepped aboard its decks and imagined the Pilgrims’ experience on that difficult crossing in 1620. Visitors sense the perils of the 1620 voyage, learn about the Pilgrims, observe the tools of 17th century maritime navigation and are reminded of the hardships endured by their own relatives and ancestors who may have made similar voyages to America.

A Triumphant Homecoming
There’s no doubt that Mayflower’s presence at her berth in Plymouth’s DCR’s Pilgrim Memorial State Park has been missed sorely. The museum’s largest exhibit is a major draw for visitors to Plimoth Plantation, as well as to downtown Plymouth, and all are looking forward to the inevitable increase in business that will occur once the restored ship is back in the harbor.

The ship's return has been temporarily postponed due to the evolving situation with the COVID-19 virus, however Plimoth Plantation is actively working to set a new date in 2020 for Mayflower's debut. While details will take shape in line with Massachusetts' phased reopening, the museum plans to celebrate publicly the ship and her crew, including Whit Perry, Mayflower’s captain and director of Maritime Preservation and Operations. “We’re looking forward to sharing exciting moments of ceremony, celebration, and community,” says Kate Sheehan, Plimoth Plantation’s associate director of Media Relations and Marketing.

The ship’s movement is dependent on factors like weather and wind. Those who want to be part of the historic moment of Mayflower’s homecoming will learn about more specific details in the weeks leading up to her arrival via Plimoth's website and social media.

Once Mayflower arrives home, the crew and Plimoth staff will ensure the ship is safely secured and then transformed from a workspace to an exhibit once again. For the most up-to-date information, visit plimoth.org.

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