When I get a little restless on vacation, I turn to the BBC's website. Always a trove of interesting information, the website offered a story about a U.K. charity that is building a replica of the Mayflower that will be launched in 2020 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the original ship's landing in America. 

I was hooked on the story and started reading the project's website and articles in the British press, as I found virtually no coverage on this side of the pond.

Plans for the Mayflower 

The Harwich Mayflower Project is based in Harwich, a small coastal town about two hours north of London, on the east coast of England. For centuries, Harwich, from which Harwich, Mass., on Cape Cod took its name, was a center of the English merchant marine, producing many ships that sailed to the New World.

The town, pronounced "Hare-wich," built ships used during the Spanish Armada, played an important shipbuilding role in both World Wars, and claims to be the birthplace of the Mayflower, which was likely built in nearby yards in the 1580s. Like many similar shipbuilding towns in the United States, Harwich has lost its shipbuilding work over the past few decades, and as a consequence, the maritime skills of its workforce as well.

The project began in 2009 with the goal of building the Mayflower as a way of reviving the town's maritime heritage and passing on wooden shipbuilding skills from experienced old hands to a younger generation hungry for work and a life purpose. A training program is offered to aspiring apprentices in the shipbuilding trades.

As a side note, there's a bit of rivalry between Harwich and Plymouth, U.K., which tends to get all the attention when we talk about pilgrims and the Mayflower. The town of Harwich says the captain of the Mayflower — Christopher Jones — hailed from their town (his house is a tourist attraction), many of its crew and passengers came from there and the Mayflower's real home is Harwich. It set sail for the New World from London and made a stop in Plymouth to pick up passengers.

A charity project registered in the U.K. and recently in the U.S., the group is raising funds to complete the Mayflower replica, which just reached an important milestone when it completed the frame of ship's keel in December.

The replica will be similar to the one now on display in Plymouth, Mass., It has been designed with a high level of authenticity above the waterline with a minimum of modern intervention (removable lights, radars etc.) most of which is either essential or mandatory, according to the project's website. (In 1620, the crew had only a compass for navigation and an hour glass to measure time!)

The main decks, which accommodated 102 pilgrims as well as about 25 crew in the original vessel, will offer more comfortable but removable accommodation for up to 24 sailors for longer passages and twice that number for short voyages, the website said. The lower part of the hull will house the modern requirements for an ocean-going vessel such as generators, a sewage tank, stores and a small engine for maneuvering the vessel in port.

Plans call for the ship to follow the same itinerary in 2020 as the original Mayflower did when it crossed the Atlantic in 1620 with more than 100 passengers seeking religious freedom in the New World. During the voyage, young trainees will literally learn the ropes and challenges of sailing and caring for a vessel on the open seas. Organizers also hope to sail the vessel along the coast of New England — what a site that will be when under full sail!

And what happens after the Mayflower is finished? The project plans to build other wooden ships, including a replica of a Viking longship, thus assuring a long-term commitment to the revival of shipbuilding skills.

Pamela Glass is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for WorkBoat. She reports on the decisions and deliberations of congressional committees and federal agencies that affect the maritime industry, including the Coast Guard, U.S. Maritime Administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Prior to coming to WorkBoat, she covered coastal, oceans and maritime industry news for 15 years for newspapers in coastal areas of Massachusetts and Michigan for Ottaway News Service, a division of the Dow Jones Company. She began her newspaper career at the New Bedford (Mass.) Standard-Times. A native of Massachusetts, she is a 1978 graduate of Wesleyan University (Conn.). She currently resides in Potomac, Md.