A schooner returns ... sort of

Posted Tuesday, April 5, 2011 in Features

A schooner returns ... sort of

The Paul Palmer is launched from Waldoboro.

by Steve Cartwright

WALDOBORO – When the Waldoboro-built schooner Paul Palmer set sail from Rockport on Friday, June 13, 1913, it was just another trip south for a fresh load of coal.

But two days out, the five-master caught fire and sank off Cape Cod, despite an on-board fire pump and help from a nearby tug. All hands were rescued, and that might have been the end of the story, except that in 2000 the Paul Palmer was rediscovered.

The 276-foot schooner, burned to the waterline, lies on the bottom of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. This year, the Palmer’s “bones” were listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

When disaster struck in 1913, all hands were saved by a Gloucester fishing vessel. Among the rescued were Captain H.R. Allen, his wife and daughter. The captain’s great-granddaughter, Marcia Markwardt, is today an innkeeper in Searsport. She remembers her grandmother telling the story of the fire at sea, and she was amazed the Palmer had been found.

The Paul Palmer was launched in 1902 from the banks of the Medomak River. The graceful vessel belonged to a fleet of schooners owned by Boston shipping magnate William F. Palmer, and it was the only one lost to fire – and the only one found.

In all, Palmer commissioned 15 four- and five-masted schooners for his coal business. Six of them were launched in Waldoboro.

The Paul Palmer had been sold to J.S. Winslow of Portland before it sank. Five years earlier, the schooner almost caught fire during a blaze that destroyed Baltimore’s coal docks, a quarter-mile of waterfront.

The flames got close enough to burn the Palmer’s tops’ls and foremast, according to old newspaper accounts.

Built by George L. Welt at what is today the Waldoboro town landing, the Palmer was described as “a beautiful vessel. No effort or expense was spared.”

Her planking consisted of 675,000 feet of Georgia yellow pine, and her frames were built of 450 tons of Virginia mountain oak. Tall Oregon pine trees for her masts and spars were reportedly shipped by rail to Bath, then rafted to Waldoboro.

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