All over town, there are people have neglected to go see the Godspeed — the historic recreation of a 17th century ship that was part of the founding of the Jamestown colony in 1607. The $3 million replica has been sitting at the foot of Queen Street since Friday morning, yet some Alexandrians are going about their day-to-day lives as though nothing unusual was happening.
“I haven’t seen it yet,” said Mary Ruth Coleman, executive director of the Carlyle House, on Tuesday afternoon. “I meant to go today at lunch, but I wasn’t able.”
Coleman has an excused absence because the Carlyle House has had a 50-percent increase in attendance since the festival began Saturday morning. She plans to see it as soon as possible, but other people have little or no excuse. The landing party will be on the Alexandria waterfront until June 3 — workers will begin the takedown process at 8 p.m. Saturday evening.
“I was surprised by its size,” said Michael Miller, the city historian. “It looks like a matchbox floating in water. I don’t think I’d want to risk my life crossing the Atlantic in that.”
THE SHIP ARRIVED on Friday morning with understated fanfare. A gaggle of VIPs gathered aboard the Cherry Blossom to greet the Godspeed south of Jones Point. Then, as the replica was on its way through the Capital Beltway, the old Woodrow Wilson drawbridge began to open. (The new span did not need to be raised.) A handful of truckers paused temporarily to let history sail north.
The wind was not blowing enough to use the ship’s square-shaped sails, so twin diesel engines were used to navigate toward Founders Park. Onboard the Miss Mallory — a Potomac River Boat Company sightseeing vessel — photographers mingled with television correspondents and officials of Jamestown 2007, the state agency organizing the anniversary events. Kevin Crossett, a communications specialist with Jamestown 2007, appeared on the upper deck to explain the sailing process.
“That is a navigation light that’s required by the Coast Guard,” he said, pointing toward a green light on starboard side of the Godspeed. “This ship is fully compliant with all sailing regulations.”
Masked under its historic veneer were a working kitchen, modern necessary facilities and a digital navigation system. The diesel-powered engines hummed out of sight, giving the ship an authentic appearance as it went up the Potomac River. As the ship approached Founders Park, Crossett said that representative government was the most important legacy of the original Godspeed.
“The Virginia General Assembly traces its history back to the Jamestown settlement,” Crossett said. “The legacy of the Godspeed is representative government, cultural diversity, free enterprise and exploration.”
CROSETT BRISTLED at one passenger from Florida who suggested that the concept of “America’s birthday” was flawed because St. Augustine was settled on Aug. 8 1565 — a full 42 years before the British empire planted its standard for the Virgin Queen. If Phillip II of Spain’s conquest of Florida does not count for the birth of America, then the question must be asked: What is America?
“St. Augustine was a military encampment with missionaries,” Crossett said. “It was not English, and it did not have representative government.”
He looked out across the Potomac at the Godspeed, which was being greeted by a team of firefighting boats that were spouting giant streams of water in the air as a salute to the boat as it began docking at the foot of Queen Street.
“Actually, the mayor of St. Augustine gave me a hard time about that too,” he said.
COAST GUARD officials arrived within minutes to begin a code-enforcement inspection. Crew members disembarked along the pier. Their eyes scanned Founders Park, surveying the ship’s maiden port of call. Cook Noel Veden said that the previous night’s menu included baked ham, green bean casserole with an apple dumpling.
“We eat well,” Vedon said. “The original ship’s crew probably only ate one hot meal a day, so we were eating much better than that.”
As the docking process initiated, crew members needed their strength. They climbed up webs of rope, where the square-shaped sails were rolled into disuse. Men in 17th-century costume set up a gangplank. The noonday sun was bright, and the windless landing was on schedule.
“It’s a beautiful ship,” said Mike Oliver, who docked his canoe next to the Godspeed at the city’s pier. “In Alexandria, we love a parade whether it’s on the street or on the river.”