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St Mary (shipwreck) 1890

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St Mary (shipwreck) 1890

Postby john sefton » Mon May 03, 2010 4:02 pm

SG421.jpg
SG421
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In the Maine State Museum in Augusta a forty foot section of the starboard side of the ST. MARY of Phippsburg is slowly being restored for exhibition as part of a major display of Maines maritime past. The massive timbers which once formed her hull topped with wooden "knees" which supported the deck, stands sixteen feet high dwarfing the visitor, but giving a sense of what it must have been like to stand ‘tween decks of a nineteenth century wooden sailing vessel engaged in the trade around Cape Horn.
Six thousand miles to the southward at Whale Point in the Falkland Islands, sea birds nest in the storm bleached timbers of the rest of the St Mary cast up there on her maiden voyage nearly ninety years ago. The story of the St Mary’s return to the banks of the Kennebec River which gave her births and the stories of the more than 200 ships including Maine vessels' whose remains dot the shores' of the Falklands are major chapters in the histories of modern marine archaeology and the great days of sail at the end of the last century.
A glance at the map of South America shows the Falklands about 300 miles east of Cape Horn at the southern tip of Argentina: Sailing vessels bound from Atlantic ports often took weeks to round the Cape into the Pacific, battling what were at times awesome seas and gale force westerly winds. Steamships needed less sea room and could take the more sheltered inside passage, but the square rigged ships were forced to go outside. In the passage a vessel could be severely damaged, masts carried away, deckhouses smashed and hulls strained by pounding seas. In such a case there was but one place to go — Port Stanley on the Bast Falkland, a secure harbour and a safe place, to make repairs.
The fate of the ST. MARY must be one of the saddest stories of a maiden voyage of a sailing ship and her unfortunate captain. She began auspiciously enough when her keel was laid at the Charles Minott yard in Phippsburg in the, fall of 1889: She was to be 242 feet in length, fortytwo feet in beam and eighteen feet deep, with a keel and frame of white oak and the other timbers of yellow pine, but even as work on her began the end of sail was in sight.
The ST. MARY took shape over the following months, great wooden frames for her hull being built on the ground and hoisted into place as a unit. When she was launched on the 20th March 1890 the Bath Daily Times commented approvingly "the launch was a beauty, she is a remarkably built vessel, the best frame ever seen around these parts". She was also a considerable and slightly risky investment. In addition to the specter of steam. British built steel hulled square riggers were beginning to challenge Maines wooden ship builders. The ST. MARY was unusually large and to finance her a syndicate was formed with Charles Minott as the largest shareholder and with Captain Carver holding a substantial interest. It was a real gamble for Carver; his investment represented his life savings and he was also a hard luck skipper who had lost his previous command, the RICHARD P. BUCK to a fire set by drunken sailors in Bermuda. Carver was deeply in debt and this voyage would make or break him.
Arriving in New York the ST. MARY was taken in tow on May 3 to South Street on Manhattan's lower east side for final fitting out and the loading of cargo. The tug AMERICAN STANDARD towed the ST. MARY out past Sandy Hook on the 30th May to begin her maiden voyage to San Francisco. She carried a mixed cargo of coal, whiskey, iron pipe, boxes of tacks, and toy trains for a San Francisco Christmas. She was chartered for almost a quarter of her 120,000 dollar cost and appeared to sail well with Carver estimating that with a proper breeze she would make twelve knots. All seemed well and with sky sails set the ST. MARY headed for Cape Horn. On August 6th just off the Cape she gained on and passed the JAMES DRUMMOND which was another Minott ship that had left Philadelphia two weeks before the ST. MARY sailed. But that night Captain Carver's luck changed.
Unknown to Carver he was on a collision course with the British ship MAGELLAN which in company with nine other ships was headed north on the port tack with plenty of room to round the Cape into the Pacific. The westerly wind was brisk and the ST. MARY topsails reefed, not having yet come about to make her run to clear the Cape, bore down on the other ships under a bright moon. At about 1 a.m. the MAGELLAN struck the ST. MARY on her port quarter, carrying away the mizzen rigging and the sails, the mainsail yard and sail and inflicting brutal damage on her hull. To make matters worse, a Cape Horn gale immediately arose. The MAGELLAN sank with all hands and the crew of the ST. MARY fought for their lives aboard their crippled ship for three days, snatching fitful sleep when they could.
When that storm blew itself out, another gale of wind sprang up from the southwest. "The men could do no more" Carver wrote and decided to run for Port Stanley. At 5 p.m. on August 10th three days after the collisions an exhausted Captain Carver went below leaving firm orders that he was not to be disturbed and turning the ship over to his first mate. The ST. MARY was southeast of the Falklands,and her course was changed from east north east to north to bring her closer in. At about 8pm the carpenter, with that kind of intuition sailors develop, told the mate that he thought they were near land, but the mate scoffed. The carpenter then went aloft to the fore royal yard and sighted a line of breakers in the gloom to the north west. He slid down the back stay and pleaded with the mate to call the Captain, but the mate again refused both to check his story or to call Carver on deck.
When Carver finally came up to the quarterdeck and took one horrified look at the situation he immediately ordered the helm put over to bring the ST. MARY off, but just as the ship began to swing, she struck fast on the Pinnacle Rock just thirty odd miles south of Port Stanley. In little over an hour the St. MARY went aground and by early morning the crew could tell that she was doomed, if her back was not yet broken, it soon would be.
They lowered a boat and prepared to head for Fitzroy, the nearest settlement, pleading with their Captain to go with them. Carver refused and when crew members tried to bring him along by force, he drew his revolver and threatened to blow the brains out of the first man that tried. When the stewardess, possibly a crew member's wife, found him with a glass of a reddish mixture to his lips she took it away from him, but he remarked that "he could get another when she had left". The crew rowed off without him and next day when the carpenter returned, he found Jesse Carver dead. What actually took place while the crew went for help will never be known but the ST. MARY was a total loss less than five months after her launching.
Some attempts were made to salvage the cargo, two schooners took off quantities of coffee, whiskey, ink, soap, and carpet, but the principal beneficiaries of the wreck were the children of the Falklands. As the ST. MARY began to break up, her cargo washed ashore, and the cast iron toys she carried in her hold became Christmas presents for nearly every child in Port Stanley that year. Some of them are still in use. Eventually a large section of the ship's starboard side came ashore at Whale Point while her masts, bowsprit and other wreckage covered a six mile stretch of rocky beach. Even today, a visitor to the wreck can find at low tide in the turn of her bilge, rusty pieces of iron which turn out to be barely recognisable toy trains.
The task of moving a forty foot thirty ton section of old ship over more than 12,000 miles was a formidable one, and involved delicate international co-operation. Homelite Corporation donated huge chain saws with which to cut up the hull on predetermined
lines. The saws were transported to the Falklands by U.S. and Argentine Navy Ships. Joined by Joe Sawtelle, an Earthwatch volunteer from Newcastle, New Hampshire, Throckmorton, Berryman and local workers spent ten days sawing pieces out of the hull,
often working in winds which blew sixty knots. The sections then had to be skidded three miles to a freighter for shipment to Port Stanley. There the ST. MARY's timbers were loaded aboard the British Antarctic Survey's RRS BRANSFIELD bound for England, where the carefully tagged pieces were transferred to the Maine Maritime Academy's training ship STATE OF MAINE to be brought to Portland. From that port the Maine National
Guard loaded them on trucks for their final resting place in the the State Museum in Augusta.
The recovered section of the ST. MARY is now being reassembled. Casts are being prepared from the moulds Throckmorton and Berryman made of the ship carvings in Port Stanley, and these will form part of the display.

(Taken from the Downcast Magazine July 1979 — article written by Nicholas Dean. Sent to Log Book by Jack Duhant of Taunton)
Falkland Islands SG421
john sefton
 
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