B A C K   T H E N


Winter Scene


Coombs Ledge, off Islesboro,
Schooner Alice E. Clark


The four-masted schooner Alice E. Clark lies hard aground on Coombs Ledge in West Penobscot Bay, off Islesboro. Built at Bath in 1897, the Clark had enjoyed a career that, by the standards of her kind, was nearly unblemished. On July 1, 1909, however, she was headed up the bay for Bangor with 2,717 tons of coal when she went to the wrong side of the buoy marking the ledge—Captain McDonald blamed a low-lying haze. Although sailing slowly, she impaled herself, thwarting extensive and expensive efforts at salvage.

Presumably these boatmen have legitimate reasons for boarding the Clark, and are not among those generally law-abiding coastal residents who were transformed into members of the genus piraticus upon the occasion of a bountiful shipwreck.

One might expect the coast of Maine to be littered with wrecks, but such was not the case. For example, of about 520 four-masted schooners built on the East Coast—over 320 of them Maine-built—only three were wrecked in Maine waters, all in Penobscot Bay. Explanations include the fact that big schooners spent most of their careers elsewhere; shipping along the Maine coast was much reduced in winter; unlike Cape Hatteras or Cape Cod, most of the Maine coast offered harbors of refuge in an easterly gale; and the Maine coast was well supplied with lighthouses. Many of the schooners wrecked on Hatteras were southbounders caught trying to slip by between the Outer Bank beaches and the north-flowing Gulf Stream.

Text by William H. Bunting from Maine On Glass.

Published by Tilbury House Publishers, 12 Starr St., Thomaston, Maine. 800-582-1899.

Maine On Glass and prints of the photographs are available through the Penobscot Marine Museum: PenobscotMarineMuseum.org.