Living History:The North End Shipyard In Rockland
By Maine Author Doug Mills
There was a time when sail was king on the coast of Maine. The lime trade, granite & marble, lumber from virgin forests, ice and the fishing trades all employed sailing craft to move their products. The lime trade alone employed over 200 two masted schooners in Rockland and the surrounding coastal Maine towns.
Steam powered vessels were making some of the longer trans-Atlantic runs and the passenger trade up and down the coast. However, for coastal trade and the hundreds of islands located just off the coast of Maine sail is still king.
On any given day, the coastal waters would be filled with these two masted schooners delivering cargo to and from all the coastal towns. They are the lifeline for those living on the islands, delivering everything from lumber to butter and even your grandfather’s new Sunday suit.
Today only a handful of the sailing vessels remain. Many of them were simply used until they were worn out and replaced by a new one. During the Great Depression, thousands of these boats were just abandoned where they stood and left to rot.
There is, however a place where during the summer and fall you can still see these historic vessels sailing the clear blue waters the Atlantic much the way they have for the past 200 years. Penobscot Bay is located on the coast of Maine and on any given day in the summer you may be able to see as many as 15 or more of these proud sailing vessels, known as windjammers. Many of these boats have been sailing for over 100 years! They are truly living history.
Keeping these boats in “ship shape” is no easy task as many of these boats are over 100 years old. In Maine the winters are hard and long. The schooners spend the winter at the dock covered in a plastic cocoon. As spring approaches and the air starts to warm it is time to ready the boats for the sailing season. Each schooner is hauled out of the water for a complete inspection and a new coat of paint. Before the season starts every wooden part must be refinished and sealed from the weather and the effects of the salt water. This process takes about four to six weeks every year depending on how much repair work needs to be done.
In the town of Rockland is the North End Shipyard. The marine railway for hauling out boats has been operating for nearly 150 years. In the early spring they start to haul out the schooners for their annual inspection and refit. Between the first of April and the end of May there will haul as many as 12 of these historic boats, where they are lovingly taken care of and returned to the sea ready for the upcoming sailing season.
From up and down the US coast they have come, coastal schooners, scallop draggers, Grand Banks fisherman and racing yachts all have come to call Penobscot Bay home. If you come in the spring of the year you can see these beautiful boats as they are hauled out of the Atlantic waters for their new suit of paint and thrill to the sight of them sliding back into the sea.