In 1957, two replica sailing ships were launched celebrating the
colonization of North America by the English; the Mayflower, launched in
Brixham, England, and the Susan Constant, launched in Newport News,
Virginia. In addition, two other replicas were launched in Virginia as
well, the Godspeed and the Discovery.
All of these vessels were replicas of late Elizabethan ships. The larger
two represented typical merchant ships of their classes.
Of those replicas, only one remains afloat, the Mayflower. The original
replica Susan Constant, as well as the smaller two, were replaced after
suffering deterioration. The new Susan Constant is an impressive sight,
but the previous replica was interesting as well.
That the previous replica Susan Constant deteriorated is not the point I
want to raise. The first replica had an interesting pedigree. Unlike the
replica Mayflower, the Susan Constant was designed by a relative unknown,
one Robert Fee; the Mayflower replica was designed by William Avery Baker,
a name well known in nautical research circles.
In the Transactions of the Society of Nautical and Maritime Engineers,
January 1958, quite a bit of space was dedicated to the Jamestown
replicas. The first section dealt with their design and construction,
written by Fee himself. The second section told of how the vessels sailed. It was
here that William A. Baker gave a fairly critical review of the designs.
This seems a bit harsh, in retrospect. When I first read the reports, I
was something of a W.A. Baker fan; I still am. But, I've also learned that
people are people as I've matured, and everyone has a competitive streak
somewhere inside. Now whether or not that was the case here is hard to
gauge. What is apparent, though, is that Mr. Fee seems to have moved on.
There are questions, though, that still persist. The Fee Susan Constant
seemed to have borrowed heavily from R.C. Anderson's Mayflower, yet as I
recall no credit was given. What of the hull section, why that design? The
Baker Mayflower was designed to cross the Atlantic; could the Fee design
have done the same.
Sadly, we'll never know. The old Susan Constant has long since been
scrapped, and I am having difficulty finding anything else out about Mr.
Fee. The new Susan Constant, based upon research by Brian Lavery, is the
last word on that ship's appearance. Still, the old design was as close as
we could ever get to knowing if Anderson's Mayflower could have sailed.