The Daley family plumbs local underwater history

[wonderplugin_gallery id=”3″] Most people are familiar with the Taunton Bay they see from the Hancock-Sullivan Bridge — sparkling in the sunlight, the swift current creating turbulence visible from a moving vehicle.

John and Marlene Daley of Sullivan know another Taunton Bay: the one under the surface of the water where they explore shipwrecks, always alert for artifacts that illustrate the past.

The Daleys are certified divers in addition to their day jobs — he as vice principal and athletic director at Narraguagus High School in Harrington, and she as director of special education in Milo.

The two, who are parents of three grown daughters, also teach scuba diving and underwater archaeology at the University of Maine at Machias.

Oh, and barring a need for sleep, they also lobster fish and operate a popular restaurant, The Galley, on the Sullivan side of the bridge in the summer.

For John, underwater archaeology is a natural fit. He is a historian by training and nature.

For Marlene, it was an acquired taste.

John and Marlene Daley are certified divers with day jobs in education. PHOTO BY JACQUELINE WEAVER

John and Marlene Daley are certified divers with day jobs in education.

“Growing up I didn’t like history,” she said, “but finding these shipwrecks and seeing history is very intriguing to me. I also like exposing people to a new activity that gives them self-confidence.”

The Daleys are preparing to share their underwater adventures on a larger scale with a book they have written and hope to have published by Christmas.

The tentative title is “The History of Taunton Bay.”

The Daleys have often stumbled on finds while diving with their students, whether from the university or others who enroll for private lessons.

One longstanding interest of theirs is the wreck of the schooner Mabel E. Goss just below the bridge — one of an estimated 18 shipwrecks in Sullivan.

Originally built in 1890 in Nova Scotia as the Lizzie B., the 78-foot schooner went aground off Machias in 1895 carrying a load of lumber intended for Boston.

The damaged vessel was repaired and sold to the Goss family of Deer Isle.

Renamed the Mabel E. Goss, the schooner began to haul granite along the Maine coast.

On May 9, 1921, the vessel headed down Taunton Bay near the bridge crossing, loaded with small chunks of granite known as grout.

Powered by sail and a steam engine on deck, the schooner lost her wind and became stranded on Center Ledge.

The captain and crew were able to disembark. The Mabel E. Goss floated free as the tide rose and then struck another ledge and rolled over.

The Daleys have a number of artifacts from the vessel, including a brass-lifting winch, and donated several items to the Sullivan-Sorrento Historical Society, including a grinding stone use to sharpen tools on ships.

The Daleys have Meakin china and coffee mugs from what they believe was the Sebenoa, a steamship that ferried passengers from Mount Desert Ferry to Bar Harbor.

The vessel struck ledge in front of the Crabtree Lighthouse in Hancock. Luckily, there were only three passengers on board and they were enjoying breakfast.

A nautical chart of Taunton Bay

A nautical chart of Taunton Bay

Collecting artifacts is not as simple as it sounds.

Under the antiquity law, Maine State Museum owns all archaeological artifacts found on, in or beneath state-controlled lands and waters and serves as their trustee for the citizens of the state.

The Maine Historic Preservation Commission is then responsible for identifying, evaluating and protecting the state’s significant cultural resources.

In 1981, the commission established the Maine Shipwrecks Inventory to record information about ship losses, which number an estimated 1,300 along Maine’s 5,000-mile coastline.

The vessels fell victim largely to winds, fog, tidal currents, high seas and human error.

Daley said he obtains permission from the Maine State Museum in Augusta for any artifacts that he brings to the surface.

Part of the process is facilitated by the fact that he is a state university employee and that his intent is to preserve the artifact and put it on display.

The Daleys have donated many of their finds to the Sullivan-Sorrento Historical Society and keep others in a display case in their restaurant.

John said the state would prefer that the artifacts are retrieved, preserved and displayed to the public.

“Otherwise ice might get them, or draggers hit them and destroy them,” he said. “The state does not want you to pick it up, put it in your attic, let it disintegrate and then throw it away.”

The Daleys have compiled —but have not yet published — a list of Maine shipwrecks and maps indicating the locations of nearly 400 lost vessels.

One of their former students, Aaron Gilpatrick of Waltham, often teams up with John on a variety of projects and adventures.

About three years ago, Gilpatrick and John were looking for a wandering lobster trap when Gilpatrick spotted an interesting shape in the murky water not far from Gordon’s Wharf.

“The visibility is really limited up in there and I could only see 2 feet in front of my face,” Gilpatrick said. “Then I came onto the railroad car. It’s really close to the shore. I could make out the bed and one of the little wheels. It was all rusty.”

John believes the vehicle is an old railroad car that he heard about from an elderly resident and that supposedly sank almost a century ago.

The story is that the car was loaded with granite from a quarry across the road and went off the rails while being tugged down to the water by horse or mule.

It careened down the slope and came to rest on the bottom of Taunton Bay.

John said the wagon is about 8 feet by 5 feet. If it is deemed to be stable enough, he hopes to bring it up as a specimen for the Sullivan-Sorrento Historical Society.

Gilpatrick, a commercial diver with a captain’s license, said being a student of the Daleys 15 years ago was a unique learning experience.

“They were great,” he said. “John is a fantastic storyteller, a real unique Downeast character in that sense. He has these riveting stories about his earlier days of diving and they are all related to the lessons you are supposed to be learning in class.”

Gilpatrick said the waters the Daleys ply in their underwater forays are challenging for the best divers.

“You have to wear a lot of gear. It’s very restrictive and the visibility usually isn’t that great,” Gilpatrick said. “You have to have a little bit of that treasure hunter mentality. You never really know what you are going to find.”

John said the frigid bay waters have their advantages.

“Taunton Bay has good filter feeders, good current, clearer water and ledge,” he said. “But it’s dangerous if you’re not doing it right. The current can reach 13 knots.”

Another area that piques the Daleys’ interest are the underwater mining shafts used during Sullivan’s brief “gold rush,” from 1878 to 1882, depending on who you talk to.

The Daleys say mining shafts were created along the bay for silver and gold and some copper and nickel.

“The shafts were 186 feet up to 600 feet,” John said.

Some believe the prospectors who headed East never struck it rich in California and then found a similarity between the metal-bearing rocks of Maine and the ore deposits of the Western states.

The first discovery of silver ore occurred in Sullivan, but it was galena, which has a low percentage of silver relative to the total volume of waste rock.

The inflated values were then used to offer stocks to potential investors. The capital raised was used to finance the mining ventures.

Vertical shafts were sunk along potential veins of ore followed by explosives.

A problem in Maine was that once the shafts were drilled down, water began to seep into the shafts. Steam water pumps were used to flush out the water.

The Daleys are in the process of investigating the only mine shaft that had a cave-in, the Faneuil Maine.

For them, the world beneath the surface of the water is replete with continuing adventures.

“I like the history of it,” John said. “We’re diving just to see what it looked like.”

Jacqueline Weaver

Jacqueline Weaver

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
Jacqueline's beat covers the eastern Hancock County towns of Lamoine through Gouldsboro as well as Steuben in Washington County. She was a reporter for the New York Times, United Press International and Reuters before moving to Maine. She also publicized medical research at Yale School of Medicine and scientific findings at Yale University for nine years.[email protected]