Gala celebrations for the launching of ships are not extraordinary. But in Maryland last weekend, state officials staged a two-day extravaganza for the public debut of a 15-foot copy of an 18th century boat named the Federalist.

The boat is the focal point of Maryland's celebration of the 200th birthday of the U.S. Constitution and is a copy of a boat presented to George Washington by Baltimore merchants in 1788 to symbolize Maryland's role in colonial America. The modern Federalist is fully rigged and can sail, but is also fitted for a specially built trailer and will tour the state through the year. In September, the Federalist will be Maryland's entry in the Philadelphia parade celebrating the constitutional bicentennial.

The replica was designed and built by the team that designed and built the ill-fated sailing ship Pride of Baltimore: Melbourne Smith, an Annapolis boat designer, and Allen C. Rawl, a master shipwright.

Smith said that it took about 2 1/2 months to complete the design. For almost a year, Smith met once or twice a week with Rawl and his daughter Laurie, a beginning journeyman shipwright.

Rawl said he could not estimate the number of hours he put into the Federalist. Because of the intricacy of the work and the six-month time limit he had to complete the project, Raul commented, "I really had to push to get it done."

In designing the Federalist, Smith added features that the original Federalist did not carry. For example, Smith and Rawl called for modern materials -- treated cotton sails, bronze fastenings, synthetic rigging -- yet, all have been designed to look like authentic 18th century materials.

Smith also added symbolic touches that had not been adopted by Maryland at the time of the original boat's construction: a carved billet head with the state flower, the black-eyed susan; a carving of an eagle on the transom, the wood used in the carvings is Wye oak, the state tree, and the boat's colors are black, gold, red and white, the state colors. The new boat also contains special air compartments that give it more buoyancy.

The 18th century boat was commissioned by Commodore Joshua Barney, a Revolutionary War naval hero, who called for it to be built to signify Maryland's role as the "seventh ship in line of ratification" of the Constitution. Unlike the 90-foot ships that prevailed in that day, the Federalist was just 15 feet long. To further symbolize Maryland's position as the seventh state to ratify the Constitution, the boat carried seven sails.

A month after it was built, Barney sailed the boat down the Chesapeake and up the Potomac to Mount Vernon, where it was presented to Washington. But six weeks later, it sank during a storm.

Funding for the present boat was arranged by John Driggs, chairman of the Driggs Corp., a Capitol Heights construction firm. His nonprofit organization to solicit funds for its construction and maintenance has raised $100,000, and he hopes to raise about $200,000 more.