PLYMOUTH — Three hours into the Mayflower II’s rare summer voyage from a Fairhaven dry dock back to its home in Plymouth, Captain Peter Arenstam stood erect on the ship’s half-deck, hands on his hips, and took in the scene.
A boat from the Wareham harbor master shot a stream of water into the bright sky as a makeshift flotilla of more than two dozen boats flanked the wooden replica on its way through the Cape Cod Canal Wednesday morning.
Hundreds of spectators lined the seven-mile canal, cheering as the Mayflower II returned to Plymouth after an eight-month tuneup.
The repairs to the hull and rudder were the first in a seven-year, $2 million effort to get the vessel ready for the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ 1620 landing.
“Wow,” said Arenstam, taking out his iPhone to capture the scene. “It is never this crazy.”
Arenstam, dressed in stained work pants, boots, and a denim shirt, was not expecting the hero’s welcome that greeted the ship and its crew.
The vessel usually returns from dry dock every other winter, leaving the six-person crew huddled up around a radiator in the captain’s cabin and fighting nausea for much of the six-hour ride. But this year, repairs took longer than scheduled because of a scarcity of the white oak that is needed to replace parts of the hull and other unforeseen repairs.
Thanks to the delay, Wednesday’s journey had a decidedly different feel.
The crowds were enormous, for one thing, and the boat bustled with a partylike atmosphere.
“Like the queen, wave like the queen,” said a chuckling Thomas Bott, a volunteer on the ship. “Fourteen waves per minute is our quota.”
After climbing the mizzenmast with Arenstam to hoist the St. George’s Cross, Bott brought out a pot of home-made gumbo and fed the crew as they floated through the canal. The smell of shrimp, sausage, and chicken mixed with the salty breeze and the rich scent of pine tar.
“My seaman skills are pretty marginal,” the 54-year-old Bott said as he served the other crew members. “I like to increase my utility on the ship so they invite me back.”
The boisterous Bott took a vacation day from his day job as a town planner in Kingston to make his fifth or sixth voyage with the ship — he couldn’t remember.
From the moment the ship left Fairhaven at 6:15 a.m., crew members sipped coffee, chitchatted about kitchen renovations, and caught up with each other as the vessel gently bobbed in the calm waters of Buzzards Bay.
The wood creaked and the ropes twanged with tension as the crew took turns scouring the decks to check for leaks and pump water out of the hold during the journey.
“We are all like family,” said volunteer crew member Diane Fletcher, 58, of Plymouth, who first began volunteering on the ship before its 50th anniversary sail in 2007.
The replica was built in Devon, England, and first sailed to Plymouth in 1957.
It is a memory Loring Weeks has not forgotten. When he was just a boy, he ventured down to Plymouth Harbor with his parents and grandparents to watch the ship’s historic arrival.
Fifty-six years later, the New Bedford resident took the day off to man a radio on the Mayflower and communicated with the tugboat captain, a friend of his. “This ship is part of our story,” he said, leaning on the deck of the Mayflower II. “It keeps our past alive.”
The ship zipped through Plymouth Bay just after noon and approached its home on the state pier, where hundreds more lined the harbor.
“Nice to be welcomed home, huh?” said volunteer Dick Beane, to no one in particular, a smile coming over his face as the ship docked.
Beane, a spry 73-year-old, threw a rope to the dock and leaped onto the pier.
Home, sweet home.