Down on the grounds of Maine Maritime Museum in Bath there are a series of white poles which outline the length and dimensions of a pretty famous Maine-built six-mast schooner. They celebrate the 3036-ton Wyoming, the largest wooden schooner ever built. It was the last six-mast schooner built in New England, in fact the last six mast wooden schooner built on the east coast of the United States.

Wyoming under construction at Percy & Small shipyard in Bath 1909 (Public Domain)

Built and launched in 1909 in Bath at the Percy & Small shipyard, the 330-foot-long, 50-foot-wide, 30.4-foot-deep schooner sported a billet head and elliptic stern. It was named for the state of Wyoming because that state’s Governor Bryant Butler Brooks had been a major investor.

Wyoming had 303,621 cubic feet of space and room for 6,000 tons of cargo. There were three decks and five discharging hatches. The ship’s keelson was heavily covered with bands of sheet iron. The schooner even sported a ship-board telephone system.

Port side view of schooner-6 Wyoming nearly complete at Percy & Small shipyard in Bath, Maine in 1909. (LB2013.21.1128 Courtesy of the Penobscot Marine Museum)

At a cost of $175,000 (another source says $190K), Wyoming was the 9th and largest of the 10 six-master schooners built in Bath. These huge vessels, with a large carrying capacity, were built for the mid-Atlantic coast coal trade. As we saw with the history of Mack Point, their main competition were large barges maneuvered by steam tugboats, which eventually took over the trade.

Wyoming was built of yellow pine with six-inch planking and could achieve a top speed of 16 knots — about 18 mph. It was equipped with a Hyde anchor windlass and a donkey steam engine to raise and lower sails, haul lines, and pump out water. The steam engine did not power the ship but allowed for a smaller crew of only 11 sailors. Earlier clipper ships had needed four to seven times that many.

With an extremely long bowsprit, Wyoming’s total length measured 450 feet to the end of its rear spanker boom. Interestingly, this is equivalent to 300 cubits, which made the schooner the same length as Noah’s Ark.

The ship had 90 diagonal iron internal cross-bracings on each side. Because of its extreme length and wood construction, the schooner tended to flex when in stormy seas. This twisting or sagging was called hogging, an arching or bending upward of the hull at midship.

Close-up view of starboard stern quarter of Schooner-6 Wyoming. Vessel is berthed at the wharf. (LB2013.21.291 Courtesy of the Penobscot Marine Museum)

One Wyoming story told of a sailor who went down into the stern of the empty cargo hold. He could not see the forward part of the hold, due to this hogging effect. The long planks would twist and buckle, allowing sea water to enter the hold. The schooner had to use pumps to keep water from the cargo. Iron straps were even wrapped around the outside of the vessel to reinforce the hull.

With six masts, the vessel was able to make use of 22 sails. There were six gaff main sails, six gaff topsails, five staysails, and five foresails for a total of 39,826.8 square feet of sail area, or 13,000 square yards of canvas.

With the donkey engine, Wyoming’s master only required a crew of a dozen. There was a 1st and 2nd mate, an engineer, cook, cabin boy and seven sailors. According to legend, they always sailed either a crewman short or with an extra hand to avoid the unlucky number 13. Other than the master, the cook earned the most aboard ship — $85 a month, five dollars more than even the 1st Mate and engineer. Regular seaman earned $60.

Wyoming launched with its masts stepped on Dec. 15, 1909, having had to be delayed for a day due to a winter storm. Launch day had been well advertised, a day off for all shipyard workers so they could attend the celebration.

Starting with the back keel blocks, workers began knocking them loose shortly before 1 p.m. It took them longer than they figured. Before they were even close to the forward part of the ship, the remaining blocks began emitting some ominous creaking and crackling sounds. Gravity went to work, and 4,000 tons of schooner began sliding on the greased incline.

Workers near the bow blocks began to hurry as the large vessel quivered and began moving over their heads. It quickly turned into a free-for-all. Men raced and leaped over rolling blocks as the great schooner groaned overhead. They were in semi-darkness; the large vessel blotted out the sun. Their desperate efforts to get clear worked. It was a peculiar scene as dozens of tiny figures jumped and rolled into the daylight from underneath Wyoming as it roared overhead down into the Kennebec River.

The 6-mast schooner Wyoming moving along smartly under reduced sail. she is floating high out of the water due to absence of cargo. The steam exhaust to the side is from its donkey engine being used to hoist the sails. (LB2005.24.10524 Courtesy of the Penobscot Marine Museum)

After launching, the schooner saw merchant service for the next 15 years, mostly along the Atlantic Coast. Capt. Angus McLeod of Somerville, Mass., was master from 1909 to 1912.

Its maiden voyage was to Newport News, Va. The 1st mate was McLeod’s brother, Norman. With frugal owners, they carried just enough coal to power the donkey engines and warm the cabins. December storms blew them off course, delaying them, and their coal ran out. This meant cold cabins and the few crew members were overworked to man-handle sails. It finally made its delivery of coal.

Just prior to World War I, Wyoming was in charter to the International Paper Company. In April 1917, it was sold to France & Canada Steamship Company for $350,000.

Schooner Wyoming in 1917 (Public Domain)

Wyoming escaped the fate of being laid up during the war by owners who sent it sailing on ever longer routes. By Oct. 1919, the schooner had earned back twice its cost. France & Canada chartered it to carry coal from Norfolk for Genoa at $23.50 per ton.

In 1921, it was sold to Capt. A. W. Frost of Portland, Maine, from where it operated for the next three years. Its 1924 voyage was under 65-year-old Capt. Charles Glaesel of Jamaica Plain, Mass. He sailed for much of his career out of Portland.

In March 1924 on its way from Norfolk to St. John, New Brunswick, with a cargo of coal, Wyoming encountered a severe nor’easter in Nantucket Sound. Between Chatham and the Pollock Rip Lightship they decided to anchor and wait out the storm.

Nearby was the Maine-built five-mast schooner Cora F. Cressey, which had left Norfolk under Capt. H. Publicover at the same time as Wyoming. In the early hours of March 12, 1924, Cora F. Cressey weighed anchor at dusk and stood out to sea. They took shelter in the lee of the Isles of Shoals and survived the storm. That schooner later became a casino in Boston for several years then ended up a hulk at Keene’s Neck, near Hog Island off Bremen, Maine.

But Wyoming disappeared that March night, with all hands. Capt. Publicover reported seeing Wyoming’s light in the stormy gloom. The lightkeeper at Pollock Rip reported seeing both Cora F. Cressey and Wyoming, likely the last person to see the six-master.

The USCG Cutter Acushnet intercepted a radiogram about Wyoming and called the Coast Guard station at Madaket. The station responded they had nothing further other than to report they had found that morning wreckage of masts and planking on a beach near the station. The Portland Press Herald reported on March 16 life belts of the schooner had been found, but that all hope for the vessel was lost.

Wyoming remained lost until 2003, when after a 25-year search, it was found by American Underwater Search and Survey Ltd. The schooner had sunk in 70 feet of water a few miles northeast of Pollock Rip, a section of rough water to the southeast of Monomoy Island.

Wyoming was found using a side-scan sonar and magnetometer. Apparently, the ship had shattered amidships, which supported the working theory that the fully loaded coal carrier had struck bottom in a trough between huge storm waves and broken its back. The wreck was identified by both its length and presence of the iron strapping.

Side view of the white poles and flags outlining the Wyoming at Maine Maritime Museum in Bath (Photograph by Charles H. Lagerbom)

Seeing the white poles in the shape of Wyoming on the grounds of the Maine Maritime Museum makes one contemplate the vessel’s gargantuan size. It is truly impressive and just boggles the mind thinking about the engineering involved, the amount of wood needed, and the forces of physics exerted on such a huge structure in a pitching sea. And this all done with late 19th and early 20th century technologies.

Looking at the bow of Wyoming with the white poles and flags at Maine Maritime Museum in Bath (Photograph by Charles H. Lagerbom)

Like J. Bruce Ismay’s Titanic, or Howard Hughes’ airplane Spruce Goose, or the end of the western cattle drives, the phasing out of the Erie Canal, or the last of the dirigibles like the Hindenburg, the six-mast schooner Wyoming was the last breath of a defined era and way of life no longer around. Now it is only available through photos and recollections…and a series of white poles.

Charles Lagerbom teaches AP US History at Belfast Area High School and lives in Northport. He is author of “Whaling in Maine” and “Maine to Cape Horn,” available through Historypress.com.

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