SALEM — The Friendship should return to Salem by March, just in time for another major repair project to begin.

But this time, things are different: the work will be carried out at Derby Wharf.

The National Park Service recently signed off on the last leg of hull repairs for the Friendship, its replica of a 1797 East Indiaman. The ship left Salem for Gloucester in July 2016 for $226,000 in repairs, but the four-month project grew well beyond its original scope once the vessel was taken out of the water, uncovering hidden rot.

Now, two and a half years later, the project cost has hit $1.5 million. The final leg of repairs tackles hull work in the vicinity of the stem, the most forward part of the ship.

Friendship will return in February or March, at which point a roughly nine-month project will begin to replace the main deck, according to Paul DePrey, superintendent of the Salem Maritime National Historic Site.

“That’s funded through entrance fees to the other national parks — people going to Acadia, people going to Yosemite,” DePrey said. “A little piece of that entrance (fee) is available to Salem.”

Exactly how much the project will cost and exactly how long it will take will be determined through by the bidding process, according to DePrey.

“That comes with what a contractor anticipates they can accomplish and for how much,” he said. “We’re imagining it isn’t going to be a three-month project, a six-month project. We’re also imagining it isn’t going to be an 18-month project.”

So his best estimate is that it will take about nine months.

All boats have decks and those decks are built to get wet. So why the need to replace the Friendship’s deck?

Ship Capt. Jeremy Bumagin says it’s best to think about the deck like a house’s roof — it keeps water out, but over time it breaks down and needs repair or replacement.

“The deck itself is really at the end of its service life. It has been recaulked a number of times, resealed along the edge of the wood. That wood is wearing out and starting to get really thin,” Bumagin said. “Freshwater gets in, and that’s the main enemy.”

The biggest source of freshwater for a boat on the ocean is rain and snow, DePrey said.

“The goal is to replace and weatherproof the main deck,” he said. “If there are any structural elements — a frame that holds the deck up, like the joists of the roof — you make those repairs.”

The long haul-out

This might sound familiar, of course. The repair job wrapping up now at Gloucester Marine Railways was expected to be a haul-out lasting just a bit longer than a season. More than two years later, it’s evoking comparisons to “The Odyssey.”

But that shouldn’t have been that surprising, Bumagin says. Haul-outs — taking a boat out of the water for repairs — are part of routine maintenance, and once work crews open up the hull, the extent of damage inside becomes much more clear.

In Friendship’s case, the repair contract had to be modified several times to accommodate needed work, pushing back the completion date and pushing up the price tag.

And there are no guarantees it won’t happen again. This time, however, this will all play out in Salem, instead of Gloucester.

The ship will be open for visiting hours during the work, though the extent of those hours will be determined by the project’s schedule and how it will be tackled, Bumagin said. But she will once again be a presence on the Salem waterfront.

“If there are delays,” Bumagin said, “she’s here.”

Contact Salem reporter Dustin Luca at 978-338-2523 or DLuca@salemnews.com. Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/dustinluca or on Twitter @DustinLucaSN.