Jamestown ship tour draws 456,000 visitors

Published 4:09 pm Wednesday, August 2, 2006

The Godspeed’s summer tour to generate goodwill for events marking the 400th anniversary of Jamestown did just that, organizers said Tuesday, with the number of people checking out the 17th-century replica ship exceeding estimates.

A total of more than 456,000 people attended the free “Landing Party” festival held at six East Coast ports the ship visited since late May, and the three-masted Godspeed was headed back to Virginia after wrapping up its last stop on Sunday in Newport, R.I. Planners had expected 250,000 to 350,000 visitors.

“Those are potentially people who are coming to Virginia” for anniversary events, Kevin Crossett, a spokesman for Jamestown 2007 organizers, said by phone from his Williamsburg office. “This definitely has the potential to bring in a lot of tourists to this area of the country.”

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The Godspeed, a new, $2.6 million replica of one of the three ships that carried the founders of America’s first permanent English settlement to Virginia in 1607, also visited Alexandria, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston.

The floating museum drew 20,000 to 30,000 visitors over the course of its weeklong stay in Newport, said Michael Martin, senior event manager at the Newport Yachting Center, which played host to the Godspeed in Rhode Island.

“The event did a great job of capturing the crowd and bringing them in,” Martin said. The family-oriented event attracted many camp groups, he said.

The “Landing Party” festival featured live performances, historical exhibits and cultural displays. Visitors also could explore the ship and talk to the Godspeed’s crew of paid staff and volunteers dressed in 17th-century costume.

The tour generated a lot of media coverage, planners said. They estimated that 1,200 stories in print, broadcast and online outlets reached more than 335 million people worldwide.

“We are very excited about the success of the Godspeed Sail,” Jeanne Zeidler, executive director of Jamestown 2007, said in a statement. “People reacted enthusiastically to the ship and the festival, demonstrating an intense interest in the nation’s origins.”

Jamestown 2007 is part of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, a state agency that runs two history museums and is coordinating efforts to commemorate the 400th anniversary. The federal Jamestown 400th Commemoration Commission is helping on some activities.

Organizers have said they are hoping for 2.4 million visitors overall for the commemorative events.

Some visitors to the Godspeed’s Rhode Island stop said the ship had piqued their interest in traveling to Virginia, while others said they weren’t impressed, the Daily Press of Newport News, Va., reported in a story on Sunday.

“Would this encourage me to come to Virginia if I’d never been there?” Carolyn Ivory, a Great Barrington, Mass., resident who’s visited Virginia many times, told the newspaper. “I don’t know if this would be an inducement.”

The Godspeed departed May 22 to launch an 18-month series of events marking the Jamestown commemoration. The actual anniversary will be commemorated May 11-13, 2007.

The ship was headed back to its home berth at the state-run Jamestown Settlement living history museum, a few hundred yards from the spot where the settlers built James Fort. It was expected to arrive between Thursday and Saturday, depending on winds, said Eric Speth, the Godspeed’s captain. Even using its modern twin diesel engines, the ship has been slowed somewhat by having to sail into the wind, he said.

“Sailing a vessel like this is a great deal of work and it’s very challenging — but it’s also very exciting,” Speth said by cell phone from the ship, which was off New Jersey’s coast Tuesday afternoon.

A highlight of the trip was sailing into New York’s harbor around the Fourth of July and seeing the Statue of Liberty, Speth said.

The crew also enjoyed an unofficial stop the ship made at Cuttyhunk Island in Massachusetts, between its visits to New York and Boston, Speth said. Bartholomew Gosnold, the captain of the original Godspeed when the settlers came to Jamestown, had explored Cuttyhunk aboard a different vessel in 1602.

While the goodwill tour is over, the Godspeed isn’t quite done traveling. Several sailing engagements are scheduled for the rest of this year and next year.

The ship next will anchor offshore in Aquia Creek in Stafford County as a backdrop for the Discovery Days Festival Aug. 19-20, said Megan Orient, the county’s tourism manager. The county requested the Godspeed because the festival, co-presented by the city of Fredericksburg, is a local celebration related to the Jamestown anniversary, she said.

On the Net:

Godspeed: http://www.historyisfun.org/jamestown/newgodspeed.cfm

America’s 400th Anniversary: http:www.americas400thanniversary.com

Discovery Days Festival: http://www.discoverydaysfest.com/