Wake of the Coasters.
John F Leavitt. The American Maritime Library: Volume II. published for The Marine Historical Assoc, Inc by Wesleyan University Press, Middletown CT. 1970.
John Leavitt was a crew member on a series of coastal schooners in Maine, from about 1918-1925, the ragged tail end of the schooner era. The book is a combination of general and specific history and personal memories of the times. He looks back quite nostalgically, and so the title means both the historical traces left of the boats' passing and a celebration of the end of a glorious tradition.
The personal memories and the reconstruction of typical days as a crew member are the most interesting bits for me. Some might be more interested in the lists and short descriptions of the vessels, but I found it tedious.
The peak of the schooner boom was the 1870s and 1880s, after which the railroads and steamers, fast and reliable, took over all the passenger business and more and more of the freight business. Very few small schooners were built in the 1900s, though there was a flurry in WWI, and the last was built just before WWII. So the schooners being used in the 1920s were mostly old, about 30-50 years old, with rare ones up to 100 years. Many had been built for Banks fishing, converting to coastal shipping when their type became obsolete for that. The easy profits were gone, and the ships were not being well maintained. Age and heavy cargoes made them leaky and hogged (the keels bent up in the middle). Some required constant pumping. In the end-time, they were often pathetic tubs, patched together with used parts to run cheap, barely sea-worthy, heading into port most nights. Even at that, the remnants were sold to Cape Verde and the Carribean, often sinking before they arrived there.
Most were being used for bulk cargo, and some as ferries and traveling shops for the islands. The bulk cargoes leaving Maine were construction lumber, box boards, lime, and granite. Typical return cargoes were salt and coal. Within Maine and with Canada, the schooners in worst shape were used to bring in kiln-wood to the lime furnaces. Ironically, the small gasoline engine is what kept the schooners economically possible: the 19th century crew of 6-8 or so men was mostly replaced by the one-lunger lifting engine, and it was even usually set up in the forecastle, so in the 1920s there was most often just the captain, a mate/cook, and a boy. There were rare captains who sailed alone! Most schooners also had gasoline-engined yawl-boats, which they used instead of an internal engine to push them up-stream, in calms, and through locks.
There are many illustrations, and they are mostly of 2 sorts: Leavitt's own meticulous line drawings of the ships and their gear, and many old fuzzy photographs of the ships and harborsides. Comparison diagrams to illustrate the various styles, shapes and conditions of the ships would be good. There is a fairly good glossary, but still plenty of unexplained jargon. And no maps, which, as usual, I think is a major flaw in a history book. He should have been more specific about the dates he was on which ship - it gets confusing or just vague. The text could have used some real editing - cliches abound ("tide flowing freely through her seams"), there are many repetitions, and some contradictions (2 construction places and dates for Pendleton, p 145) and confusions (Endeavor timing makes no sense, p 141).
The schooner design is said to derive from 18th-century Chebacco boats (later Essex, Mass.), and there is reference to archeological support for that. The schooner sail rig became common, I think, because it requires a small crew; and its large expanse became possible with strong and cheap sail-cloth. Maritime writers make a big deal out of small rig differences, but don't explain them or discuss reasons.
Random bits: later ships usually had the names of people (owners and relatives), earlier ones had more traditional and evocative names. Metamora was a pinky, built in Gloucester in 1834, surviving into the 1900s, schooner rigged. Lorenzo Dow Baker's Telegraph, built in Boston in 1847 for the West Indies fruit trade, ended as a Maine limer. Limers usually had a riz (raised) deck, to help keep the dangerous cargo dry. Droghers were the more specifically bulk cargo boats. Chebeague Island specialized in stone droghers, and before that in stone sloops, and they had special tackle for their heavy loads. Middletown CT was building ships into the mid-late 1800s. The Mizpah was a small schooner, and is a word carved prominently on the top of a Hamblen's Wellfleet gravestone. Most schooners sank at some point in their lives, but were usually raised and repaired. Leavitt seems annoyed at the existence of "dude" schooners, and it seems they've existed since at least the1930s; also annoyed at converting ships into quaint tea-rooms, which has been going on for more than 100 years. Sail free or die!
David Kew, April 2003
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