One day last season, I received a call asking if I might be able to assist the famous wooden schooner Harvey Gamage. While on one of its student cruises, the vessel had snagged several lobster pot lines which wrapped around its single propeller. I jumped at the chance to see up-close this well-known vessel.

The job to unfoul and clear props is a constant one for divers here in Midcoast Maine. At all manner of times, you might get a call to come ‘sooner rather than later’ so you have to be ready with full tanks and equipment. My gear is usually set to go when needed, a quick toss of it into the SUV and off I go, mileage and time, of course, factored in.

I have cleared props from small powerboats, sailboats, lobster boats, to even larger power catamarans. There is a proper procedure, like removing the ignition key, keeping everyone away from the controls, while I am down around the prop and having a tender or assistant on the dock or nearby ready to help. Things like that need to be clearly understood before you go in.

Some jobs go quick, one time I just touched my dive knife to a tangled mess and the lines parted away. I had been in the water for less than two minutes. One fierce looking mass simply was unwound by hand. In such quick cases, I tend to linger down under the boat, maybe do a hull inspection or something.

Other times, the line is tightly wound requiring some serious effort to hack and saw it away. I have different knives and tools depending on what is encountered. The physics of sawing underwater is also a little different; you need to brace yourself for leverage. Darn that Newton’s 3rd Law (every action having an equal and opposite reaction)!

One time a local lobsterman backed over his own line, called me and we got it cleared. A few days later, he called me back and said he had done it again. Boy, was he mad. So I went and cleared it again. As he paid, he wondered if I might offer a ‘bulk’ rate for the service! I don’t.

When contacted about Harvey Gamage, I was intrigued. Not only was it big (131 feet long), it was also historic. The vessel was built and launched in 1973 from South Bristol into the Damariscotta River. Named for legendary wooden boat builder Harvey F. Gamage, she was a gaff-rigged topsail schooner that has a sail area of 5,000 square feet. It was also one of the last of its kind to come from Gamage’s shipyard.

At 95-tons, her hull is made of long-leaf yellow pine and white oak, her spars spruce and Douglas fir. The keel is solid white oak. The schooner Harvey Gamage draws 10 feet and her large single propeller is powered by a 220 HP John Deere diesel engine.

Since 2015, Ocean Passages LLC ( has used the Harvey Gamage to offer world-class sailing education aboard this traditionally-rigged schooner. Twenty-two students and nine chaperones can be accommodated alongside nine professional crew. Her current homeport is Portland.

When I was called, Harvey Gamage had been out in Penobscot Bay on a student cruise. The vessel had snared some lobster pot lines, which had then wrapped tightly around prop and shaft, and now the wooden schooner needed assistance.

It was early October and I was teaching at Belfast Area High School, when I got the call. We arranged it so that I would rendezvous with the schooner at the Rockland town docks. After school I grabbed my gear and hurried down to the docks to get a decent parking slot, so I would not have far to lug my gear.

It was one of those magical fall days, and I stood mesmerized as I watched the elegant schooner slowly make its way into the harbor and to the docks. I had already geared up and was good to go, so just stood there with my GoPro taking video of the vessel as it came gliding in.

After a quick introduction with captain and crew and students, we worked out our game plan. There would be one crewman at the stern to assist me. Another would be at the controls to make sure the engine was truly shut down while I worked around the propeller’s big blades.

I am familiar with Rockland’s town docks, due to a job of cleaning some racing sailboats, so I knew that getting into the water from them was easy, but getting out not so much. Wish they might consider adding a ladder or something onto one of their floats!

With egress difficult, the Harvey Gamage captain arranged it so that I could make use of the ship’s boat lowered into the water. Once finished with the job, I could hand up my gear up piece by piece, and then more easily haul myself into the boat. Then I could simply transfer myself and gear to the dock. Easy-peezy.

The water felt great as I rolled in off the dock. It was an easy swim to the ship’s stern. The ship’s boat had been lowered and, with my assisting crewman watching over me, I went under to see what needed to happen next and what tools or cutting instruments I might need.

The prop was indeed pretty fouled, with line tightly wound and several pieces trailing off behind, a true mess. I found a good purchase to wedge myself into and began sawing away at the mess. Some lines parted more easily than others. I had to constantly shift myself to find a better angle to cut at the ropes, which also required finding another way to brace myself in order to bear down. Working methodically, it took quite a while, but I managed to clear most of it away before my air (and my arms) gave out.

Surfacing near the ship’s boat, I spit out my regulator and caught my breath. Chatting with the captain, who was leaning over the stern of the schooner, I handed up to the assistant whatever mess of tangle I held, as I do not like to just let the stuff just drop.

I began to de-gear, handing up my fins one at a time and then my rig. Launching myself over the boat’s gunwale as best I could, they finished hauling me aboard. I landed in the bottom of the boat none too graceful. We motored over to the dock and I transferred my gear onto it. There, I chatted for a bit with staff and crew and used my GoPro to take shots of the vessel.

Happy to be unfouled, they invited me aboard for dinner and a tour (would have loved to see inside the ship!) but I had to take a raincheck due to other commitments. The Ocean Passages people were great, they do a great job with their student sailing program and I admire their mission, so right then on the spot I decided to donate my time and services.

It was worth it to me just to be able to see the schooner up close (and underwater) and play a wicked brief role in its history. What a great opportunity to experience a wooden sailing vessel! The wooden schooner Harvey Gamage is part of the wonderful maritime history of Maine!

Charles Lagerbom teaches AP US History at Belfast Area High School and lives in Northport. He can be contacted at He is author of "Whaling in Maine" available through