Captain Meservey Tweaks the US Navy

During the War II, the State of Maine owned a boat, which was named the Maine. She was steel, 85 feet at the waterline, and financed by the Department of Sea & Shore Fisheries. At that time I was a boy reporter and unready for combat. I would go now and then to look for sea stories, some of them appearing, to everybody's good fortune, in this newspaper.

At the time, this newspaper was a broadsheet and had more departments than Duncan had doughnuts. Wartime shortages made groundfish important news. The Maine's master was Capt. Clarence Meservey of Brooklin (with an "i"), Maine, and his mate, Clayton Simmons,of Friendship, tripling as cook and engineer. They were a merry twain who never spoke well of each other, but you didn't want to bad-talk one if the other could hear you. Summer folks called them "characters."

Their duty as cruising wardens was to enforce the fishery laws from Kittery Point to the Bay of Fundy. It was said, but I never knew myself, that both gentlemen had coped with the Maine Coast in the Volstead Era, and had ideal navigation knowledge to serve as lobster guardians. They were, anyway, gentlemen both.

The Maine, in addition to chasing short lobsters and measuring scallops, had the less-advertised duty of taking the governor's friends on haddock hunts, or perhaps a day sail out to the Damariscove Islands, on which occasions Captain Meservey wore his Mark Twain uniform and Mate Simmons provided the seafood banquet.

The governor, during part of this time, was Sumner Sewall, an early aviator and a World War I ace. He, too, was ever a gentleman and a good man. After the war, he served as Occupation Governor of the German state of Baden-Wrttemburg, but I always admired him most for his calling card, which he handed out liberally. The card said he was a fence viewer for the City of Bath, which he also was.

As the war enveloped us, the United States Navy took over the United States Coast Guard. Suddenly there was a query from the brass in Washington as to why the State of Maine was playing around with a boat when all such nonsense was strictly regulated and forbidden in time of war. Who did the State of Maine think it was, anyway? Since supply convoys to Europe were making up off our Maine shores and enemy submarines had been snooping about, there was some sense to this. The Maine did have a machine gun on deck, even if tarped and tied and well hidden behind the lobster crates. Captain and mate feared it.

It was just about now that Walter Cunningham, the burry editor of the Monitor's weekly magazine section, telephoned to ask me about the boat. He had a lady writer, he said, who had been doing some war-related stories, and did I know if she might go out on the Maine to see how the Maine fishermen were meeting the nation's needs?

At the same moment, Governor Sewall had the Secretary of the Navy on the hot line, and was telling him if he didn't get off his back he'd issue a stop order to close off Casco Bay and so on and so forth. I was able to tell Editor Cunningham that the Maine would be delighted to take his lady writer wherever she wished to go and was she fond of lobster and did she play cribbage?

The writer was Pearl Strachan. A poet of mature talent, she was English-born, a fine reporter, and unmarried. (She became Mrs. Hurd, if you want to look her up.) As an accredited Monitor correspondent she took part in a major incident of World War II, though she may never have known it. She arrived by train and I squandered a ration stamp to take her to the waterfront, where she settled into the commodious accommodations aboard the Maine and sailed off to the war zone to develop her fish story.

The US Navy did have important duties off the Maine coast. British warships assisted. Convoys were escorted, and enemy submarines were taken and dispatched. Under Navy command, the Coast Guard continued its usual maritime services, even though fishing was curtailed and non-commercial boating eliminated.

ON this voyage, the Maine was hailed just off Cutler Harbor, where she was bound to interview a fish warden, by a Coast Guard (now Navy) patrol boat manned entirely by boy wonders from Oklahoma, Indiana, Wyoming, and Nebraska. The small Navy boat circled the larger Maine twice, and came alongside. Sidearm prominent, a mere lad in a new uniform ordered the ship to lay to, and as this had already been done, Captain Meservey knew rather well what was coming next.

The big moment came when the Navy asked to see the captain's papers.

Captain Meservey had papers, all right. He had his commission as Chief Warden of the State of Maine, and his certificate for wind and steam in all waters. He had his ticket for crossing the line, and his membership in the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine. Captain Meservey was a joiner and he had 'em all.

The Captain did give the Navy lad his Maine motor-vehicle driver's license. It was studied well. The boy asked about the radio, tuned to the Maine State Police frequency, and he wanted to know about the machine gun. In various ways Captain Meservey amused himself for some time without actually telling the US Navy to go fly a kite. And in his own way he brought the incident off without a hostile shot. What has tickled me about all this is that Miss Strachan wrote some smashing pieces about Maine fish and winning the war, and never worked in the details of this naval engagement.

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