SEARSPORT — Tall ships and schooners will set sail for the Penobscot River July 9 through 18, celebrating Maine’s 200th birthday and honoring the state’s rich maritime history.

The newly formed Penobscot Maritime Heritage Association has put together a “Four-Port Loop” with stops in Searsport, Bucksport, Orrington and Bangor/Brewer. Several waterfront towns in the Four-Port Loop will also take part in summer celebrations with family-oriented events.

One of the most impressive ships on display, the “Nao” Santa Maria, is a 3-year-old replica of Christopher Columbus’ famous flagship. The massive square-sailed ship is a floating historical museum and will be available for tours while in Bucksport July 9-14. The ship will then sail upriver to Bangor July 15-17, where it will offer tours before departing for Searsport’s Schooner Gam July 18.

PMHA President Dick Campbell said tall ships haven’t plied the waters of the river this far north for about 40 years. When asked the reason for the long lapse, he said the Interstate 395 bridge, also known as the Veterans Remembrance Bridge, connecting Bangor and Brewer, is an obstacle.

As it is now, he said, the ships will have to travel during “dead low” tide and will have 4 to 12 feet of clearance. “It’s a challenge that we are excited to meet,” he said. Campbell noted the Santa Maria crew from Spain will use a drone to guide their maneuvers.

PMHA Publicist Sue Pate agreed, saying the I-395 bridge is a problem for many of the tall ships, as they cannot pass under it safely. The Santa Maria will travel upriver and time it just right to pass under the bridge at low tide.

“They should have plenty of clearance, even with waves or wind,” she said. The captain and crew will be taking a trial run in a smaller boat to check out the currents, tides and nautical markers.

Bucksport will celebrate Maine’s bicentennial with a host of events Saturday, July 17, including live music, games, vendors, an outdoor movie, and fireworks from Fort Knox. Civil War encampments will also be featured at the fort July 16-18.

The Schooner Gam, according to Pate, is a gathering of schooners, ships and other sea vessels that can either be tied up together, anchored in the same location, or sailing together.

The July 18 event in Searsport is open to all tall ships and pleasure boats that want to be a part of the “Gam” gathering off the town’s coast.

Several activities will take place at Mosman Park that day, including live music, a picnic with food vendors and fireworks. Penobscot Marine Museum will also curate several seafaring exhibits.

UMaine’s largest 3-D printed boat, 3Dirigo, will be on display at the Bucksport and Searsport events.

Pate said PMHA is promoting the history of towns in the lower Penobscot River basin with a phone app (for both Android and iPhone) that guides people to historical statues and monuments “commemorating people and events in our area.”

The app debuts July 1 and can be used any day, any time, year-round for self-guided tours. “Users can travel by car, boat, bike or foot while they learn about the past that makes this such a special place today,” she said. “The PMHA worked with local historical societies in the 4-Port Loop region to encourage and develop digital histories of their towns.”

In 2019 PMHA was awarded a grant to develop the app, she said, but unfortunately last year, because of the pandemic, most organizations were shut down.

“Last year, we had the Oliver Hazard Perry, the state ship of Rhode Island, scheduled to travel the Penobscot,” she said. “They are not available this year, but we were lucky to have the Nao Santa Maria to be our featured tall ship.

“It is the goal of the PMHA to continue celebrating the maritime history of the Penobscot every July, and introduce visitors to this beautiful area of Maine.”

For information and a complete listing of events, or to install the cellphone app, visit 4portloop.me.