Maine’s Schooner Culture: The Wyoming and the Bowdoin

Did you know the largest schooner ever constructed was built right here in Maine? It’s true - the Schooner Wyoming was built in Maine and is the largest schooner ever by tonnage. But Wyoming is only one of Maine’s connections to schooners, the elegant ships that have been used on the Maine coasts since the colonial era when they were a favorite of traders frequenting Maine’s trading posts. Maine also lays claim to the arctic expedition schooner Bowdoin.

Schooner "Wyoming" of New York, the largest schooner in the World at the L & H Docks, Pensacola. 1916

Schooner "Wyoming" of New York, the largest schooner in the World at the L & H Docks, Pensacola. 1916

The Biggest Ever 

The most immediately interesting of Maine’s schooner history is the construction of Wyoming, a massive six-masted schooner that is still the largest ever built and also ranks among the largest wooden ships ever constructed. This 450 foot vessel was built in 1909 in Bath, Maine, and named Wyoming because the governor of Wyoming had contributed heavily to its construction fund. By 1909, Wooden ships were already on the way out in favor of metal steamships, but Wyoming was built along with eight other six-masted wooden ships, most of which were built in Maine. The schooner even featured a steam engine, but not for driving the vessel. Rather, the engine was used to pull ropes and pump water out of the ship, which commonly became waterlogged due to it’s gargantuan size. Because of the steam engine, the ship could be maintained by a relatively small crew, requiring only eleven crewmen. Despite its ungainly size and penchant for taking on water due to shifting wood, Wyoming successfully sailed the ocean for fifteen years, hauling coal for a few different companies. In 1924, the ship came up against a fierce nor’easter when moored near Nantucket. She sank, and all of her crew was lost in the storm. Today, a sculpture outside the Maine Maritime Museum remembers Wyoming, the largest schooner ever to sail the sea. 

"Bowdoin at Sable Island" Dylan Clark, 2007

"Bowdoin at Sable Island" Dylan Clark, 2007

Maine’s Official Sailing Vessel

Another famous Maine schooner is Bowdoin. A research vessel built to explore the Arctic, Bowdoin remains unique in that it is the only schooner ever specifically constructed for this purpose. The Bowdoin was built in East Boothbay, Maine in 1921, and was a creation from the mind of Arctic explorer Donald Macmillan, who wanted a ship that could thrive in the unique conditions of the Arctic Ocean. Macmillan’s vision was a success, and with him at the helm, Bowdoin visited the Arctic roughly 25 times during a period from 1923 to 1940, with Macmillan often bringing along curious scientists and explorers to the mysterious Arctic. By the dawn of the Second World War, the ship was in the command of the Navy, who used it in the war effort. At the war’s end in 1945, Macmillan bought back his vessel, and in 1954 took it one last time to the Arctic. In 1986, the schooner was named the official sailing vessel of the state of Maine. Today, the ship belongs to the Maine Maritime Academy, where it is used to train students in the cold seas of Maritime Canada. 

This July, Bowdoin will be one of the ships that visits Portland harbor. If you are interested in Maine’s historic schooners and maritime culture, come see Bowdoin in Portland Harbor July 18th-20th. Tickets are on sale now!

The Man Who Opened Japan: Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry

"Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry, USN" Matthew Brady, 1856.

"Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry, USN" Matthew Brady, 1856.

    Today, Japan is a major player on the global stage, with a modern economy and a taste for American popular culture, so it’s hard to imagine Japan as a reclusive nation. But in the early 19th century, Japan was so shut off from outside influence that it wouldn’t even grant an American ambassador an audience with its rulers. How did this sheltered nation become the truly global force it is today? One of the people responsible for this change was US navy officer, Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry. Commodore Perry is credited today as being the man who “opened” Japan to outside influence, playing a crucial role in the development of American trade and diplomacy in Asia.

Two Brothers

Matthew Perry was born in South Kingston, Rhode Island in 1794. The younger brother of famous commander Oliver Hazard Perry, Perry joined the navy at an early age. Perry became a midshipman in 1809, and fought alongside his brother at the Battle of Lake Erie in 1812, the conflict that lead to his brother’s famous line “We have met the enemy and they are ours”. (for more on Oliver Hazard Perry, check out this biography by naval historian Lincoln Payne). After the War of 1812, Matthew Perry worked for the Navy, advocating for steam powered ships and fighting in the Mexican War. It was during this time that Matthew Perry was promoted to the rank of Commodore, in recognition of his work in the New York Naval Yard. 

Commodore Perry’s Expedition to Japan

In 1852, at the urging of President Millard Fillmore, Matthew Perry was given an important job: “open”  reclusive Japan up to negotiating trade terms and diplomatic relations with the US, a task that American ambassadors had failed at in the past. After years of working in the Navy, Commodore Perry knew how to use naval power to his advantage. He brought a powerful fleet to Japan with him, and when denied an audience with Japanese officials, threatened to use his ships to personally deliver the message President Fillmore had given him. Perry then presented the Japanese with a white flag, telling them they could agree to negotiate or be destroyed. After witnessing the power of the Commodore’s fleet, the Japanese agreed to receive the message of President Fillmore. Commodore Perry returned two years later to sign a Japanese treaty, that to the surprise of Perry, accepted all of President Fillmores demands. Perry then returned to the United States a hero. 

For anyone interested in the rich naval history of the United States, Tall Ships Portland 2015 is a must attend-event! Come and see tall ships from around the world in historic Portland harbor, July 18-20th. Tickets are on sale now!

Clipper Ships: Maine’s Maritime Past

"Portrait of an American Clipper Ship" Lai Fong 

"Portrait of an American Clipper Ship" Lai Fong 

A significant part of the mission of Tall Ships Portland 2015 is to highlight Maine’s rich maritime heritage, to emphasize a lineage of sailing, boatbuilding and shipping that continues to this day. There was a time when Maine built some of the fastest ships in the world - swift ”clipper ships” that dominated the shipping world and made Maine craftsmanship a household name. 

"Some ships of the clipper era", by State Street Trust Company, Boston, MA, 1913

"Some ships of the clipper era", by State Street Trust Company, Boston, MA, 1913

Understanding the role played by clipper ships requires only a quick look at their name. Clipper Ships were vessels that were incredibly fast for their time, and moved “at a good clip” a phrase that is still used today. These ships allowed for rapid delivery of goods from distant places. Their speed meant they could deliver shipments and thus increase profits on shipments of teas, spices and silk from Asia to California or New York to California. The fastest of these ships was Red Jacket, a clipper ship from Rockland Maine that was renowned all over the country for what was considered blistering speed - in 1854, Red Jacket set the record for the quickest crossing of the Atlantic, sailing from New York to Liverpool in 13 days, one hour and 25 minutes. After accomplishing this feat, Red Jacket was a celebrity, and the Maine born ship was greeted by throngs of people whenever it docked, waiting to see the ship that crossed the ocean so quickly. 

Red Jacket  isn’t Maine’s only tie to clipper ships. Shipbuilding was a huge industry in 19th century Maine, and some 27 towns from Kittery to Rockland built clippers. The era of clipper ships lasted from the 1840s until 1869, when the completion of the Suez canal shortened some ocean routes. As a result, the speed of clippers became less important and they were replaced with slower ships that could carry more cargo than the relatively diminutive clippers. Today, the remains of the clipper ship Snow Squall reside in the Maine Maritime Museum, a fitting resting place for a breed of vessel bought to life in Maine. 

If you have interest in maritime history, Tall Ships Portland 2015 is the event for you! Come see beautiful tall-masted ships in historic Portland harbor, July 18-20th. Tickets on sale now!

Tall Ships Portland 2015 Designated a “Marine Event of National Significance”

Recently, the crew at Tall Ships Portland 2015 received word from the US Coast Guard that our event has been designated a “Marine Event of National Significance”, or a MENS. 

The coast guard defines a MENS as “an event that carries a high degree of political or public interest”. The Coast Guard recognizes that MENS have “an underlying purpose to promote maritime heritage, cultural exchange and international goodwill.” In addition to the recognition of cultural contributions, a MENS allows certain types of foreign vessels the right to be present at an event with special permits. Normally, most foreign ships that are not cargo ships (like the Spanish flagged  tall ship El Galeón Delucia for example) would require extensive certification from the Coast Guard despite having foreign safety documents. In the case of a MENS however, these foreign tall ships will be able to use foreign documents to ensure that they meet safety restrictions.  Beyond the fact that a MENS certification allows foreign ships to carry passengers and participate in events they otherwise would not be able to, a MENS certification also demonstrates that an event has a strong link to maritime heritage, and that this link is strong enough to be acknowledged by the Coast Guard. 

    With this designation, even the Coast Guard recognizes how significant this event will be. If you want to attend this nationally significant event, tickets are on sale now!

What is Tall Ships America?

This July, tall ships will be visiting Portland harbor. But how are these impressive vessels connected to the larger Maritime world? How can everyday people get involved with Tall ships outside of events like Tall Ships Portland 2015? An organization called Tall Ships America can provide the answer to all of these questions.

Tall Ships America

Founded in 1973, Tall Ships America (the organization originally known as the American Sail Training Association - ASTA) the TSA was founded to promote sail training and provide sail education to the youth, and is the largest sail training organization in the world. In addition to focusing on sail training, the organization is dedicated to teaching and preserving North American maritime history. TSA operates as a nonprofit, and some of it’s major programs include organizing the TALL SHIPS CHALLENGE Series, a set of international sail races and maritime festivals, and providing scholarships for crew members on Tall Ships America vessels.


Cadets training on the USCGC  Eagle

Cadets training on the USCGC Eagle

What is Sail Training?

Sail Training is the primary goal of Tall Ships America. According to the organization’s handbook: “‘Sail Training’ is a relatively modern phase describing the ancient practice of learning the skills of seafaring while serving in ships at sea”. One of these skills is sail handling, which involves manipulating the sail in a few of ways. These include “setting”, “reefing” and “trimming”, which work together to ensure the sails are properly mounted, unfurled, and pointed as to catch the most wind. 

    Another important sail training skill taught by TSA is marine spike seamanship, which is the term for using, repairing and maintaining the ropes on a ship. This includes tying complex knots, setting ropes up on shackles, and “splicing”, or weaving ropes together. These rope skills together with sail handling are important for keeping the sails, the most important part of the ship, working correctly . 

    Other sail training skills taught by TSA include Ship Handling, or driving the ship, and Navigation, which teaches sailors to navigate with tools like a compass, sextant, or the night sky. Finally, TSA also stresses the importance of teamwork as a sail training skill, because in order for a tall ship to function, many people have to work together efficiently. All these skills are important, but there is no replacement for good teamwork!

    Tall Ships America does not directly provide Sail Training. Instead, it acts as a mediator to introduce people interested in sail training to programs and opportunities. The organization urges those who are interested in a Sail Training program to carefully consider the programs advertised, because Tall Ships America cannot evaluate programs that are always changing. This means that those who wish to pursue Sail Training must investigate for themselves when looking into a program, and this self sufficiency is in keeping with the spirit of Sail Training stressed by Tall Ships America. For any fan of Tall Ships and the maritime heritage of the United States, Tall Ships America represents an incredibly opportunity to pursue this interest with likeminded people, and learn valuable sailing skills.


If you have not yet experienced Tall Ships firsthand, but are interested in these magnificent vessels, Tall Ships Portland 2015 is a chance to see Tall Ships in historic Portland Harbor. Tickets for the event, which runs from July 18 to 20th, are on sale now!

When tall ships came to Maine

The Tall ships visiting Portland this July are not the first fleet of tall ships to visit the city. In fact, Portland harbor had the  honor of being the final stop of OpSail 2000, a multi-city tall ship parade that was Portland’s last encounter with these beautiful vessels.

The USCGC Eagle at Portland Headlight. Photo by David MacDonald, Friday, July 28, 2000. © Portland Press Herald

The USCGC Eagle at Portland Headlight. Photo by David MacDonald, Friday, July 28, 2000. © Portland Press Herald

What is OpSail?

OpSail 2000 was an event sponsored by Operation Sail Inc, a organization that was created by none other than President John F. Kennedy. The organization, which is focused on recognizing the rich maritime history of the US, as well as teaching Americans about sailing, was founded in 1961 and has been operating since 1964. OpSail 2000 was the fifth major Tall Ship gathering held by the organization; Called the “Summer Millennium Celebration”, the event had Tall Ships sail from Genoa, Italy to Puerto Rico and then up the East Coast, with Portland as the final stop. The event featured not only ships from the United States but also vessels from Argentina, Brazil, Ukraine and Venezuela. 

Why Portland?

OpSail 2000 chose Portland as the final stop to such a large and impressive event to highlight the rich maritime history of our state and city. After all, Maine can claim many maritime firsts, dating back to the earliest occupation of North American by Europeans. One of these notable firsts was the construction of the Pinnace Virginia of Sagadahoc in 1607, which was the first ship built by English settlers in the North America at colony on the mouth of the Kennebec River. With such a proud naval history, Maine (and Portland) make perfect sense as the site of a celebration of sailing like OpSail 2000. The event was a success too! Figures collected by the Associated Press found that the event was watched by more 135,000 people across the Portland waterfront, the South Portland and Cape Elizabeth areas. 

Schematics for the Pinnace Virginia of Sagadahoc

Schematics for the Pinnace Virginia of Sagadahoc

    The success of OpSail 2000 shows Portland’s continuing connection to a rich maritime history. This strong link will be demonstrated again this July at Tall Ships Portland, an event that will feature some of the same beautiful vessels in Portland harbor. For anyone interested in History, Maine’s maritime heritage or just the breathtaking sight of tall ships, Tall Ships Portland 2015 tickets are on sale now! 

Who was Oliver Hazard Perry?

Who was Oliver Hazard Perry?

One vessel in the Tall Ship fleet set to sail into Portland this July is the fully-rigged ship SSV Oliver Hazard Perry. 

    Who was Oliver Hazard Perry? 

Just a 27-year-old American naval officer who uttered one of the most famous lines in the War of 1812 — and won a crucial victory to boot.