The Apalachicola Maritime Museum Works Hard to Provide a ‘Franklin County-Friendly’ Industry

Charting the Course



(page 1 of 2)

Matt Burke

 

 

Once upon a time, the powerful splashing blades of elegant wooden steamboats churned the waters of the Apalachicola and Chattahoochee rivers. The steamboat era, so vital to early commerce, ran for a century from 1827 to 1927. But these weren’t the only boats that would have been familiar to the dockworkers and merchants in Apalachicola. Sleek sailing ships of various shapes and sizes, capable of carrying tons of precious cargo, plied the waters of the northern Gulf of Mexico and opened trade to far-off ports.

Today, thanks to the hard work and dedication of a small army of craftsmen, historians, machinists and other enthusiasts, the maritime heritage of this laid-back tourism destination is coming back strong. The Apalachicola Maritime Museum’s mission celebrates and preserves this rich history with regular sailing cruises in Apalachicola Bay aboard the aptly named Heritage, a 58-foot wooden ketch purchased by the museum in 2007; boatbuilding classes for young and old; ecotourism excursions; and ecosystem stewardship education throughout the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River System.

The Samuel Floyd begins sea trials as it nears completion in Jacksonville.

George Floyd

The museum’s sailing program will be expanded to include the resumption of trips aboard the Heritage that will be open to the public and a sail training program based on the American Sailing Academy guidelines, said George Floyd, museum chairman. The Heritage can accommodate up to 20 passengers.

As important as that mission is, there is an ancillary benefit that local officials are counting on being just as successful. The hope is that the museum will continue to provide a much-needed long-term boost to the local economy. To date, more than 11,000 people have ventured along on the museum’s many educational excursions, and that number is expected to grow.

“Most recently, both (Franklin County and Apalachicola) have transitioned into major destinations for visitors,” said Curt Blair of the Franklin County Tourist Development Council. “The Apalachicola Maritime Museum is a cornerstone for the city’s tourism economic engine. For over 100 years, the county’s future has been connected to the maritime industry. The museum’s role in chronicling those transitions and laying a pathway to the future has been a critical element in the vibrancy of our economic evolution.”

 

The Jean Mary/Samuel Floyd

Perhaps the most ambitious project to date for the owners and directors of the Apalachicola Maritime Museum is the renovation of the Jean Mary, an 86-foot-long replica paddlewheel boat that will “capture the beauty and romance” of the bygone era of steamboats. The boat was donated by legendary actress Debbie Reynolds, the vessel’s most recent former owner, after it sank in 2008. Reynolds gave the ship to the museum in hopes that it could be restored to its former splendor, according to Floyd.

The extensive restoration work began in a Jacksonville shipyard in September 2012. More than two years later, renovations were nearing completion, Floyd said.

“This magnificent vessel will soon be at her new home port at the Maritime Museum docks, where she will restore paddlewheel transportation to the area for the first time since the 1930s,” he said.

By September 2014, more than 90,000 man-hours of crew and volunteer time had been applied in this enormous endeavor. The vessel was launched on Nov. 4, 2014, and in January had paddled up the St. Johns River to a marina in Green Gove Springs, where it will undergo final renovations and sea trials.

The restoration funds come from a foundation Floyd established in 2007. The repair work exceeded $1.2 million in 2013, Floyd said, and delays from bad weather and illness hampered progress, but the plans remain the same.

“While way over and way beyond expected delivery time, we expect the wait will be worth it,” he said.

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