Of the thousands of Maine-built ships, most if not all have had interesting happenings, careers and fates. Sadly, many have long since been forgotten, except perhaps by some inquisitive maritime historian compiling a database, or noticed as a painting hanging in some parlor, an image in some nautical book on a library shelf, or as a record entry in a dusty logbook locked away in a museum, or seen as a photo trapped, faded behind a frame of glass.

Which is kind of too bad, if you think about it, as all these vessels represent our Maine maritime history… and each has interesting stories and facts and memories associated with it. And it would be a tragic thing if they were to pass into obscurity and be forgotten.

I was fortunate to receive from an interested reader several Hyde Windlass Co. flyers of Maine-built ships. The Hyde Co. of Bath produced steering gear, windlasses, winches and capstans for about every size and class ship in the naval and commercial services.

Hyde Windlass was the forerunner of today’s Bath Iron Works and was founded in 1895 for the manufacture of deck machinery. As America became more international in this period of globalization, demands for marine transportation increased the Bath company’s size and scope of operations. Known for quality, they sent products all over the world.

At some point, the company issued a series of large flyers or advertising broadsheets, each one highlighting a particular Maine-built ship. Of course they mention Hyde products, but they also include useful data such as that particular vessel’s launch date, dimensions and tonnage.

An image or photograph of the vessel is there as well, usually followed by different snippets of historical facts and events throughout the ship’s career. These tidbits are often interesting, concerning some aspect of its life and/or fate.

Take, for instance, the Courtney C. Houck. Built in 1913 at the G.G. Deering Shipyard in Bath, it measured almost 219 feet in length. The 1,627-ton, five-masted steel schooner was launched July 8 that year into the Kennebec River.

It cost $85,000 to build and sported three decks. Money was not spared on its finishing. The large after-cabin was trimmed in mahogany and ash and included a roomy master’s quarters, complete with a bath and pantry. Each of five decent-sized staterooms had its own clothes closet.

The steel schooner was named for one of the members of M.W. Houck & Brothers brokerage firm. The namesake’s wife christened the vessel when it was launched in 1913, just prior to the outbreak of World War I.

The Courtney C. Houck spent most of its career sailing under the Deering flag, but after the war it became idle, barely used and allowed to slowly deteriorate. Like many other sailing ships at that time, its abandonment and fate seemed certain.

That is until it was discovered by an exciting new industry out of California known as Hollywood. Wanting it for a silent movie to be filmed, producers chartered the ship in 1921 and had it relocated to Boston Harbor.

Author Peter B. Kyne emerging from a United Air Lines flight in the 1930s. Source: Los Angeles Times https://digital.library.ucla.edu/catalog/ark:/21198/zz002cvf67

There, it would be part of a movie based on a series of the popular Cappy Ricks books by author Peter Bernhard Kyne. A prolific American novelist, Kyne published dozens of books and short stories between 1904 and 1940. He was born and died in San Francisco.

Many of his works were adapted into screenplays during the early years of Hollywood, and more than 100 films were made from his books between 1914 and 1952, including the Kyne-created character Cappy Ricks.

In 1921, Hollywood wanted to film this popular character and series of books. Veteran actor Thomas Meighan was picked to portray Ricks, a crusty soft-spoken Scots sea captain aboard his schooner Retriever. The stage name for the ship even meant that the Courtney C. Houck’s name had to be temporarily changed on the vessel’s official register.

One of the highlights of the movie included a big fight scene aboard ship between Ricks and a giant sailor named Ole Peterson. The large sailor was played by Ivan Linow, a Latvian-born American wrestler, whose good looks and size helped him become a character actor in American films during that era.

Actor Thomas Meighan, left, as Cappy Ricks in a still from the 1921 American film Cappy Ricks, the fight scene aboard the Courtney C. Houck, the ship’s stage name Retriever. Michael A. Dean. Image in Public Domain

The Hyde advertisement flyer has a sketch of the scene as it was being filmed aboard the schooner. It must have been quite a sight. A still has also survived from the movie showing Cappy Ricks with his fists up.

Sadly, it is not known if a complete copy of this Cappy Ricks movie still exists. The Library of Congress database of American silent films reports the UCLA Film and Television Archive lists a preserved but incomplete print of the film.

After the schooner’s brush with Hollywood fame, the vessel fell into disuse and disrepair. At some point, probably around 1930, it was towed to Mill Cove in Boothbay Harbor and basically abandoned.

Courtney C. Houck in its final resting place on the Boothbay mud flats of Mill Cove, stripped but not gutted. Andrew Toppan, Haze Gray & Underway at https://www.hazegray.org/about.htm

Boothbay’s Mill Cove became a popular dumping ground for obsolete large schooners during the Great Depression. At least five of them, perhaps more, were left sitting in the mud. Some were eventually stripped and gutted, others removed for use as barges and some were just left to rot, including the Courtney C. Houck.

Zebedee E. Cliff, left, Courtney C. Houck and Edna M. McKnight in Mill Cove in the late 1930s. Andrew Toppan, Haze Gray & Underway at https://www.hazegray.org/about.htm

Finally, its remains were sold for scrap in 1937. The price was $255. Stripped where it sat, the remaining hulk was left to rot alongside fellow schooner Edna M. McKnight. In 1945, to celebrate the U.S. victory over Japan in World War II, both old schooners were set ablaze.

One hulk burned to the waterline; the other remained partially intact. Locals speak of three ships being burned that night of celebration, but nothing has been confirmed about that. If you look closely today, you can still see some of the remains of those ships, although which is which, is not entirely clear.

Regardless, the Maine-built schooner Courtney C. Houck ended its life in a blaze of glory. Come to think of it, much like many a Hollywood star.

Charles H. Lagerbom teaches AP U.S. History at Belfast Area High School and lives in Northport. He can be contacted at clagerbom@rsu71.org. He is author of “Whaling in Maine,” available through Historypress.com.