We go rail-up aboard the other 'Battleship Maine'

The Battleship Maine is properly associated with the Spanish-American War, which began when the vessel was blown up in Havana Harbor. I refer now, however, to the other "battleship Maine," which we beached out just before World War II in Eggemoggin Reach so we could remove a pot warp from her propeller. You may not have heard about this until now

This Maine was the patrol boat of the Maine Department of Sea and Shore Fisheries, now known as the Department of Marine Resources. The Maine was the entire navy of the Pine Tree State. She was steel, 90 feet, diesel-powered, and with comfortable accommodations if the commissioner wanted to take some friends deep-sea fishing, which he often did.

The Maine's complement consisted of Capt. Clarence Meservey of Brooklin, Maine, and Mate-Engineer-Cook Clayton Simmons of Friendship, ditto. The function of the Maine was to patrol the 2,500 miles of the Maine coast looking for infractions such as short lobsters.

It happened that Cap'n Meservey played a fine hand of cribbage. It also happened that Mate Simmons did not, whereas I did. So I'd be teased and cajoled into a patrol voyage on the Maine now and then so the Cap'n might have an enemy worthy of his mettle. Cook Simmons deigned to pop us a bowl of corn, and then he'd read The National Fisherman while the captain and I played cribbage, oblivious of all else.

The principal hindrance to smooth sailing along the Maine Coast is the pot warp. The only legal way to "take" a Maine lobster is by a trap, a device once made of wood but now of wire. Baited, it rests on the ocean floor and is so designed that a lobster can get in but can't find his way out. From a buoy above, a line runs down to the trap. Another word for trap is "pot," and the line is a "warp."

Lobster traps are set about three feet apart all along Maine's coast, so a power boat is fair game. A pot warp wound about a propeller slows a boat, she loses headway, and the remedy is to beach out and cut away the tangled line. We were about to enter Eggemoggin Reach when Cap'n Meservey sang out, "We just caught a pot warp!" We had time for three games and supper before we could beach out.

There's not much to it. You put out the anchor and then wait for the tide to ebb. Your boat will go down with the tide until the keel hits the mud. Then as the tide continues to recede, your boat slowly tips to one side or the other until the water is gone and the craft is rail-up. Then you go overside and cut away the pot warp, after which you wait for the tide to come back and float the boat. The Maine had settled on her starboard beam, and that was the only time I played cribbage port-side up.

For safety's sake, Mate Simmons had turned off our utilities, so the captain and I played by candle with the flame jauntily, if eerily, askew. The tide righted the Maine by morning, and I noticed an illusion persisted for two days that the world was sideways.

The war brought an end to such frivolity. Our waters were covered by mine sweepers daily. Work boats and pleasure craft were restricted, and many were taken to be converted to war purposes. We caught some spies put ashore from U-boats.

Fishing areas were restricted, and any civilian activity afloat was subject to search and seizure by the officious sailors from Oklahoma who didn't know a sternsheet from a bollard. And it wasn't all kid stuff. An Army general found the Navy had a wharf in Portland Harbor and he didn't have one, so he announced the Army would "take" Custom House Wharf, which served some 35,000 island commuters daily.

The word ran around that the Maine was to be taken by the Navy to be converted to a mine sweeper. The Maine, we heard, would no longer be allowed to carry arms and must stop using its short-wave police-band radio.

Oh, yes: The Marine Corps "took" another wharf, and the Marines didn't have any boats. Anybody frequenting the waterfront had to pay for an ID picture so he could walk down the street in the town where he was fetched up! Our governor at that time was Sumner Sewall of the shipbuilding Sewall family. Sumner was an ace pilot in World War l, and after World War II he would be occupation governor of the German state of Baden-Wrttemberg.

Sumner didn't need to take guff from anybody, and he thought things had gone far enough. So he put in a call to the right admiral in Washington, and because he was Sumner Sewall the call went through.

He spoke as follows: "Look, buster, get off my back! Maine has a navy just as much as you have, and I'll thank you to mind your own business. If there's something we can do to help, call on us and we'll be glad to oblige. In the meantime, the Maine will carry her usual arms and she'll have radio. Bye, now!"

Tensions eased after that, but once the Maine was boarded by a prairie youngster who asked to see Cap'n Merservey's "papers." The cap'n (who had his ticket for wind and steam in all waters and had been around the world 32 times) showed him his driver's license.

After we beached out the Maine that time, Mate Simmons ably brought us into several harbors of great beauty and greater tranquility. At one of them I bought a new deck of playing cards in the local store. And that's all I can tell you about the Spanish-American War.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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