Flotilla celebrates progress in saving Wood Island

By Suzanne Laurent
August 10, 2014 2:00 AM

KITTERY POINT, Maine — A flotilla of boats led by the Gundalow Piscataqua set sail late Saturday afternoon from Pepperell Cove to Wood Island and back in support of restoration efforts of the life saving station on the island.

“One thing I can say is that this building is going to be restored,” Sam Reid, president of the Wood Island Life Saving Station Association, said to the crowd gathered on the lawn of William Dean Howell’s home after the flotilla returned.

While about 45 people boarded the gundalow, another group, also invited by WILSSA, joined the flotilla on the Portsmouth Harbor Cruise Heritage touring boat. The two vessels soon had a parade that included a lobster boat, the Jersey Girl, a catamaran, kayaks motorboats and sailboats.

“It’s a fun, community thing to do,” said Reid, who estimated more than 25 boats joined the flotilla.

WILSSA was formed in 2011 and a contract was created to restore the exterior of the 1908 life saving station in October 2013.

Cynthia Fenneman, a 30-year resident of Kittery, was aboard the gundalow.

“This event is a fabulous way to present Wood Island,” she said. “The life saving station was used to rescue ships that crashed into the Whaleback Lighthouse ledge. I don’t want to lose this visual representation of history.”

Molly Bolster, executive director of the Gundalow Piscataqua, said the missions of the gundalow and WILSSA are both about protecting the area’s maritime heritage.

“The gundalow is a floating classroom,” she said. “We are thrilled to be a part of this.”

Reid said there are four parts to restoring the station.

“Three are in our sights and a fourth is still to come,” he said.

The first is the cleanup, as the station is full of asbestos and toxic bird guano.

“Working closely with Nancy Puff (town manager) and her staff, we applied to the EPA for funding to clean up that mess and in May we received the very excellent news that the project was awarded $200,000 to be matched with $40,000 by Kittery,” Reid said. “That grant means that project is definitely going to happen.”

The second part of the restoration is the building itself at a cost of $350,000 for a brand new exterior, and interior structure elements that are rotting to be replaced and a new marine railway.

“We are planning to apply to the Department of Interior for a grant of $200,000 to be matched with another $200,000 that we will raise,” Reid said. “That is moving ahead nicely.”

The third part of the restoration project is the sea wall and the site around the station, which will cost $100,000.

“We’re planning to apply to the state of Maine for a grant of $50,000 and we will match that with $50,000,” Reid said. “So, if we can secure those two grants, and that is a big if, we need to raise $250,000 and the place will be restored. We’ve already raised $100,000 and that is reason to celebrate.”

Reid said they would like to see the restoration begin in 12 to 16 months, but most likely it will take two years.

The fourth part is to restore the interior and install a dock.

“We have estimates for cost there as well, but we do not yet have an agreement with Kittery for the public to use the restored building.” Reid said. “WILSSA needs to show first that it can raise the funds to do the first three parts and then we will all return to the table to include the fourth part.”

Reid thanked the board of WILSSA and town for the progress WILSSA has made so far.

“What was a difficult relationship with Kittery has blossomed into a fine working partnership,” he said. “We are going to restore Wood Island Station and you will be able to say you were on the first flotilla.”