Beacon Hill OKs Act to Preserve the Schooner Ernestina-Morrissey
Today, the Massachusetts General Court enacted legislation to complete the long-anticipated restoration of the historic Schooner Ernestina-Morrissey.
Sen. Mark Montigny pushed the bill through the Senate last year, and Rep. Antonio F. D. Cabral helped secure House approval last week. Enactment in both legislative branches today means the bill heads to Governor Baker for his signature.
An Act to Preserve the Schooner Ernestina-Morrissey designates the schooner as the "official vessel of the commonwealth." It further permits the state to receive significant funding from private philanthropy and seeks to honor ties between the historic vessel and local Cape Verdean community.
Montigny, Cabral, and other members of the delegation have long supported the vessel’s restoration. Since 2015, the vessel has been undergoing restoration at a shipyard in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. Montigny today credited a combination of legislative earmarks and donations from philanthropists Robert Hildreth and the late H. F. “Gerry” Lenfest. The Schooner Ernestina-Morrissey Association (SEMA) also met their fundraising commitment of $1 million in 2018.
The bill designates New Bedford as the vessel’s home port in perpetuity and requires significant access for New Bedford school children at no cost. The Ernestina-Morrissey will be made available in New Bedford for major cultural events such as the annual Cape Verdean Recognition Week.
“The New Bedford community has cared for and maintained the Schooner Ernestina-Morrissey for decades,” said Montigny in a statement. “Because of this, other worthy projects in our city could not be funded, but this opportunity cost is finally coming to fruition in the form of a fully restored and seaworthy vessel. After many years and countless, dedicated volunteers, we are now poised to welcome her home. I am thankful for the legislature’s final approval today and look forward to the Governor’s final action to sign this bill into law.”
Under the legislation, Massachusetts Maritime Academy will assume control of the historic vessel and provide for its operations and maintenance while still keeping the vessel’s local connection with New Bedford. The Academy, with the assistance of DCR, will ensure the Ernestina-Morrissey is docked in New Bedford at no cost for residents, school children, and tourists when not in use for training or official voyages.
The bill creates a Schooner Ernestina-Morrissey advisory board consisting of state officials and five members appointed by the governor, one of whom must be a resident of New Bedford, one a member of the Schooner Ernestina-Morrissey Association, and one with relevant historical knowledge.
The schooner Ernestina-Morrisey was built in 1894 for the Gloucester fishing fleet. Under Captain Bob Bartlett she sailed to within 600 miles of the North Pole, and later brought immigrants to the U.S. under the power of sail. Returned to the U.S. in 1982 as a gift from the newly independent Cape Verdean people, she sailed as an educator until 2005, according to SEMA.
The legislation was cosponsored by Representative Antonio F.D. Cabral (D-New Bedford), former-Senator Viriato deMacedo (R-Plymouth), Senator Marc Pacheco (D-Taunton), Representative Christopher Hendricks (D-New Bedford), and Representative David Vieira (R-Falmouth). Former New Bedford Mayor John Bullard has also played a critical role in facilitating the connection between the private donors and the state, Montigny said.
The bill now heads to Governor Baker for his consideration.