A Proud Ship, Last of a Breed
SEAFARING is a laudable pursuit if one retires at an early age - attest for which were the hundreds of old master merchant mariners downeast who started as boys and returned as rich men when they were in their early 20s. Among such were a batch of Soules who took brigs and barks and morphodites around the world in the 1800s, uncles and cousins and all. Thatcher Soule was the last of this seafaring family, and in 1920 he "launched" the last big wooden sailing vessel at his yard at South Freeport, Maine. She was the five-masted Sintram, and when she slid into the sea her deck was iced from a February slush storm, and I had to hang to the rail to stand up. I was an uninvited member of the launch party. I just went and climbed the ladder. The desperate need for ships to move wartime cargo was met during World War (afterward known as World War I) by the Ferris-type steamer - wooden ships all made from the same prints and turned out in haste. During World War II we had the Liberty Ship - same idea. Freeport built hundreds of deep-water craft in the days of sail, and the chance to build some more at government expense appealed to the old shipwrights who came out of the bushes and went to work. In the Bible we read that Adam named all things - a prodigious assignment if you think about it. During World War the naming of the vessels in the emergency fleet was left to Mrs. Woodrow Wilson, and that, too, was a feat. She had to come up with two or three names a day as the boats plopped into the oceans east and west. For the vessel being built in the ancient Soule Yard at South Freeport, she had sent the word "Nemassah," but before the Nemassah was finished the armistice brought the war to an end an d there was no need for more boats. Thatcher Soule persuaded the businessmen of Freeport to put up some money, and he gave Uncle Sam $1 for the unfinished hull. When altered about the stern and with a few other changes in design, the would-be Nemassah became the Sintram in fact and her launch was the complete old-time shipyard party of the true days of sail. The Sintram did go to sea and did turn a penny for her owners, but she was beyond her time and after a few voyages she was stripped and used as a coal barge - towed from Norfolk to Boston and back by a tugboat. It was no surprise whatever to the boys at Lloyds when she was lost off Jersey just about the time Cal Coolidge became president. The intended steam engine for the Nemassah was never installed. The sails of the Sintram made a brave sight when she put to sea. Fore, main, mizzen, spanker, and jigger were the five masts, rigged fore and aft. No such ship has been launched since, or will be again. I stood that February day on the ice, hanging to the rail, and looked overside at the thousands of spectators. The Rev. Trewlawny Carruthers had made the invocation - a prayer larded with seafaring lingo - and Mrs. Thatcher Soule stood poised with the (then) illegal bottle to be smashed when Sintram began to slide down the ways to salt water. When such a vessel was begun with "layin' o' the keel," certain supports kept the construction upright, and they were called shores. All shores had to be removed before the launch. The last shore, known as the dog shore, held the vessel until it was knocked away. All but the dog shore had been removed in a tumultuous pounding of mauls and continued for maybe 10 minutes, to be followed by silence. It was, as accurately calculated, precisely high tide. The Skillin, a real dreadnaught, had offered to strike the dog shore, which could be a perilous challenge - it usually popped and flew. "Strike now!" shouted the master builder, and Ike struck. Imperceptibly, but gaining, the Sintram began to smoke the greased ways, and went into the water. Mrs. Soule had swung and said, "I name thee Sintram!" During that summer I went many times to go aboard the Sintram while she was tied at the wharf and a crew of two carpenters and two sailmakers finished her accommodations and rigged her. The only machinery on the sailing-ship Sintram was a steam donkey engine meant for handling lines and the capstan, and I used to scavenge chips and fire it up. When I got steam, I was allowed to pull the lanyard and blow the little whistle, and the workmen would laugh. They called me "The Inspector." Otherwise, I didn't follow the sea.