Maine Maritime Museum

MAine Maritime MuseumIn direct contrast to much of Florida, Maine does not have a Walgreens or CVS on every corner. Bet that doesn’t stop Maine folk from being healthy and happy! But allergy med refill time was upon us and the nearest Walgreens sat 40 mins south in Bath. Bath sits on the Kennebec River and is home to Bath Iron Works (BIW), The Maine Maritime Museum, Chocolate Church and a slew of tempting shops, galleries and eateries.

Bath Iron Works’ skilled workers build and repair US Navy warships and we could see a fair amount of work in progress as we drove past.

The huge dry dock at Bath Ironworks is visible in the background

The huge dry dock at Bath Iron Works is visible in the background

Our destination though was…. Can you guess?   The Maine Maritime Museum! A cross between a smaller version of Mystic Seaport and Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, the MMM provides an affordable way to experience Bath’s connection to the sea. We learned about shipbuilding, the sea trade, lobstering and the dangers (and thrills) of sea life through exhibits, displays, models and paintings.

wooden carved chain

An amazing accomplishment: carved interlocked “chain” from a single piece of wood

The grounds contain buildings with permanent and changing exhibits, a snack bar, kid’s pirate play ship and human size lobster trap, docks with tour boats, a pier for visiting ships and a full-sized evocation of the Schooner Wyoming. We estimate the museum covers 8-10 acres. During the 1800s, 3 shipyards occupied these acres; one of them built and launched the largest wooden sailing vessel in the U.S., the Wyoming. Amazing how ships could be designed and built from the ground up, starting with, “let’s get those local trees felled and brought in.”

Compare this,

Compare this,

to this, honoring the Wyoming.

to this, honoring the Wyoming.

A precursor to the kayak? the WHYNYMS

A precursor to the kayak? the WHYNYMS

The museum has a reference library upstairs in their main building and it is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays, or by appointment. Today was Thursday so Russ wanted to see what might be dug up on the schooner Ortolan, our boat’s namesake. If you haven’t seen the teeny post way back in 2009 about how we named our boat, click here. Well, we got a hit right off; two Ortolan names came up and one just HAD to be her. The dates and her size fit perfectly with the info we had, but no owner, master or captain’s name was Rackleff (just one of many versions), so that was puzzling.

Needless to say, Russ dug up the document then began an intensive online search. The library provided this: Registered in Wiscasset, 74 ton schooner built 1848, 67 ft long by 17.5 ft wide, unknown builder, Henry Barter listed owner with Isaac Barter as Master in 1849.

From the various records and genealogy data we have or found, we are certain that the two-masted schooner, Ortolan, belonged to Captain William Rackliff who sailed her with his daughter, son William E. and seven others aboard from Portland, ME to San Francisco, CA.

Cap’n William made his living involved in the vast, varied and difficult Maine fishing industry. Seems he, like so many in the mid-late 1800s, felt the call of “the west”. The voyage began in late 1849 (why the rush to head out with winter coming?). Captain and crew survived a broken mast, being chased by pirates 🙂 and stormy seas around Cape Horn, finally arriving in San Francisco on August 5, 1850. They hung out doing whatever intrepid voyagers did back then, for two months, before sailing north to southern Oregon’s Umpqua River. There they (not sure if the un-named others got off in SF or continued) crossed the bar to sail Ortolan up to the trading center of Scottsburg where they (assuming we are talking Rackleff) settled into farming.

In 1850, Captain Rackleff purchased land, began building a home and sent for his wife and young son who arrived in San Francisco via the Isthmus of Panama. The family was industrious; their Oregon legacy long, their progeny many, their ship building continuous and farming didn’t last but eight years before William, being a seafaring man, built a schooner Twin Sisters and with her began trading and operated a trading post.

So what happened to Ortolan? Apparently the Captain sold her (proof that he owned her and was just not chartering her) in 1852 which was some time after Mary arrived because Ortolan carried her from San Francisco to Oregon. William then purchased a pack of mules to carry supplies; one way only because he sold them soon after. Digging a bit further Russ read an 1860 NY Times tidbit that said a schooner Ortolan, from San Francisco returned from a long-distance unsuccessful gold prospecting trip; “the soil was brilliant with mica, which accounted for the marvelous reports.”

On a vessel level, the take away is that Ortolan left Maine in haste, serving her owners well, then when sold she again proved herself solid and able. On a human level, the take away that I see is you can take the man away from the sea but not for very long!

Long Island; well named, well named

Russ takes Driver's Ed Bahamian style 101

Russ takes Driver’s Ed Bahamian style 101

So states Stanley; thus we attempt to see only the southern half in one day. Actually we didn’t even get as far as the lower quarter; only down to the Diamond Salt Works ruins in Hard Bargain and north as far as Morris (approx. 6miles north of Thompson Bay) where Stanley lives. The businesses and individuals who rent vehicles do it Enterprise-style; they bring the car to you and pick you up. Stanley is one Bahamian who works smart and hard, raised 6 sons and 2 daughters and really impressed us by being prompt on the phone and bringing the car; a Honda Accord with steering wheel on the right. Benj rode shotgun and was in charge of the “keep left” reminders.

Our day began on a humorous note. We were to get picked up in front of Long Island Breeze and didn’t know the rental man’s name. So we’re standing in front with our bag of stuff when a Bahamian man walks up and greets us, we exchange names and Russ is saying words that include, “car”. He motions us to follow him upstairs where Michael and Jackie are finishing breakfast then smiling because the man is one of their workers who thought we were new guests. If you have ever heard Bahamians talk, you know they talk rather fast and with a cadence and phraseology that can be difficult to decipher.

We didn’t have to stand around feeling foolish for long as Stanley drove up shortly and off we went. Last year Russ and I rented a car and saw some of the same sights we’d see today, so check the Jan  28, 2013 post for more photos.

The museum and library in Buckleys

The museum and library in Buckleys

The museum doesn’t allow photographs to be taken inside which was a shame since the displays were very interesting and depicted much of past and present life on Long Island. Sea Beans were used to play a children’s game, sea fans made good strainers and plaiting was a major source of income for many women.

Overlooking the famous blue hole in Deans

Overlooking the famous blue hole in Deans

The guys climbed the path to the top of the ridge while I walked the beach.

We stopped to shop at Ena's tiny store in Clarence Town

We stopped to shop at Ena’s tiny store in Clarence Town

If I understood the docent at the museum correctly, Ena is one of the last (if not THE) women to have been taught a fantastic array of plaiting patterns by a woman who created many of them and taught others. Long Island is well-known for this beautiful and versatile use of palm and silver palm leaves. I found a purse with a purple accent color that I couldn’t resist for less than $25. The bag is made from a single very long plait that begins at the base and wraps around in overlapping circles all the way to the top, then the width and pattern change to make the top edge.  Just beautiful crafting.

This practical structure was a new sight for us

This practical structure was a new sight for us

It really is what it looks like- bet you can figure it out.

These youngsters were curious and polite

These youngsters were curious and polite

We detoured off the Queen’s Highway which runs the length of the island. Before the road was paved in 1995 it was named the King’s Road. We’d only gone a short ways when a goat sitting in the road caused us to stop. When we did six children came over to check us out. A woman came out too and asked us if we were all one family and said they were too. This was grandma who was caring for the kids on Saturday while mom worked. She wasn’t bashful about asking me (mom to mom) for “something for the kids.”

Our next and last big stop was the salt works a few miles south of Dunmore in Hard Bargain. Stay tuned for the next post on the abandoned Diamond salt ruins