Maritime Museums

Maritime Museums

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The USS Wisconsin, an Iowa-class battleship, dwarfs the museum next to which she’s docked. Photo: Zuzana Prochazka

Keep your family learning all summer long and explore maritime museums across the country and around the world.

Maritime museums bring centuries of boating to life. Whether you’re interested in a bit of culture while exploring the ICW aboard your own vessel or flying cross-country with the kids and want to develop their nautical interests, a maritime museum visit is sure to educate and entertain. (It may even spark some lively debates that could reduce the amount of time the kids spend on social media!)

Here are a half-dozen museums our editors love. Share your favorites with us on Facebook or email the editor at   sbletters@southernboating.com.

Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum
St. Michaels is a charming historic town 26 nautical miles from Annapolis. Here, the spectacular 18-acre Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum stretches across multiple buildings with outdoor models of typical Chesapeake boats scattered about the grounds, including the bugeye Edna Lockwood, the skipjack Rosa Parks and the buyboat Mr. Jim.

The museum is composed of exhibits dedicated to the maritime heritage of the area—waterfowl hunting, boatbuilding and seafood processing. Enjoy a  lighthouse tour or learn about oyster tonging—digging oysters off the bottom with long-handled tongs—which couldn’t have been an easy job.

The Hooper Strait lighthouse is a typical Chesapeake screwpile lighthouse that was decommissioned after 75 years of service in Tangier Sound and transferred to its present location in 1966. These region-specific, cottage-style buildings formerly housed lighthouse keepers and were anchored to the muddy bottom of the bay on pilings that were screwed in, thus the name “screwpile lighthouse”. cbmm.org

Calvert Marine Museum
The Calvert Marine Museum on Solomons Island is a southern Chesapeake gem. Its mini estuary and extensive permanent exhibits include a Fresnel lens and another screwpile lighthouse, this time characteristic to Drum Point. The main facility houses nearly 30,000 square feet of exhibits containing many types of bay boats, fishing equipment and old-time outboard engines that make you ponder the humble beginnings of your own tender’s motor. A 6,000-square-foot outbuilding houses a small craft collection, putting the various styles of bay boats in perspective and could qualify as a museum in its own right.

A half-mile south of the main museum is the Lore Oyster House. Built in 1934, this restored seafood packinghouse displays exhibits having to do with shucking, storing and shipping oysters, which was a mainstay industry of the area for a period of time.

Neat and tidy, this facility can be completely explored in one afternoon, keeping short attention spans happy. calvertmarinemuseum.com

Nauticus
This maritime-themed science center and museum in Norfolk, Virginia, often goes by the name National Maritime Center. The 80,000-square-foot, multi-story facility is located in the commercial and military maritime heart of Norfolk. Opened to the public in 1994, the property features interactive theaters, a weather station and even touch tanks.

Docked next door to Nauticus is an exhibit you simply cannot miss. The USS Wisconsin (BB-64) is an Iowa-class battleship and sister to the USS Iowa (BB-61) on display in Long Beach, California. She launched in 1943, two years to the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and opened for public tours at this center in 2001. The imposing ship even dwarfs the formidable building to which she belongs. nauticus.org

Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center
If the northern leg of your Great Loop summer excursion includes Lake Superior—the greatest in size and depth of all the Great Lakes—take advantage of the free admission at this museum located near the aerial lift bridge at the historic Canal Park in Duluth, Minnesota. Learn about Lake Superior’s rich maritime heritage as well as the heritage of the lower Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway System. Exhibits include the historic Fresnel lens, which was originally installed in 1901 and replaced in 1995.

Schedule your visit to coincide with the arrival or departure of big ships by visiting the museum website at duluthboats.com. And when the time comes to cast off the lines to leave Duluth for the next stop, keep an eye on the port by visiting lsmma.com to watch the live webcam of ship traffic.

Maritime Museum San Diego
Whether you’re interested in the age of sail or the age of steam, chances are there’s a vessel on display at the Maritime Museum of San Diego that will enchant your imagination. The crown jewel of the fleet is the Star of India, a bark launched in 1863 just five days before Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. She’s sailed around the world 21 times, has no auxiliary power and still sails a few times a year with a volunteer crew. Also on display is the steam ferry Berkeley (first propeller-driven ferry on the West Coast) and the steam yacht Medea (served in two World Wars under three navies and six national flags). The museum is even home to the USS Dolphin, a submarine renowned for her deep diving capabilities.

Some of the ships and boats at this museum tour the harbor, so in addition to perusing the permanent exhibits on everything from fishing to charting the oceans, there’s a chance to get out on the water. sdmaritime.org

Vancouver Maritime Museum
If your summertime cruising itinerary includes the northern U.S. Pacific coastline, consider crossing the border to Canada and visit the Vancouver Maritime Museum. This location has worked tirelessly since 1959 to preserve maritime history of the Pacific Northwest and the Arctic. Located in Vanier Park just west of False Creek on the Vancouver waterfront, the facility rests in a beautiful location and is actively seeking to expand.

Executive Director Captain Ken Burton, a Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) retiree, heads up the growth and jests that the light bulb replacement budget of the maritime museum in Sydney, Australia, comprises his entire budget in Vancouver. Burton has close ties to the museum’s main exhibit, the wooden St. Roch, an Arctic exploration vessel that charted the Northwest Passage just after the start of WWII. In 2000, Captain Burton commanded the RCMP Patrol Vessel Nadon during the Vancouver Maritime Museum’s re-creation of the original St. Roch voyage, a 24,000-nautical-mile circumnavigation that took 169 days.

Visitors may board the St. Roch (now housed indoors) to get a taste of what life was like aboard the ship, where sled dogs shared the deck with the working crew and even an Inuit family. Kids can also enjoy the St. Roch simulator, which allows them to navigate the St. Roch among icebergs and polar bears. vancouvermaritimemuseum.com

—More Maritime Museums—
1. Mystic Seaport Museum of America and the Sea – mysticseaport.org
2. J. Millard Tawes Historical Museum – crisfieldheritagefoundation.org
3. Reedville Fisherman’s Museum – rfmuseum.org
4. Annapolis Maritime Museum – amaritime.org
5. U.S. Naval Academy Museum – usna.edu/museum6. Florida Maritime Museum – floridamaritimemuseum.org
7. USS Midway Aircraft Carrier – midway.org
8. Los Angeles Museum/USS Iowapacificbattleship.com
9. SS Lane Victory – lanevictory.org10. San Francisco National Historic Park – nps.gov/safr
11. Royal Museums Greenwich – rmg.co.uk
12. New Zealand Maritime Museum – maritimemuseum.co.nz
13. Australian National Maritime Museum – anmm.gov.au

By Zuzana Prochazka, Southern Boating June 2016