STONINGTON — There was a time not that long ago that a fleet of speedy, graceful boats plied Maine’s waters loading herring caught in stopped off coves or in seine nets set offshore to be carried to dozens of canneries in harbors along the coast.
Most of those canneries were between Penobscot Bay and Cobscook Bay far Downeast. By the time the last cannery — the Stinson Sardine plant in Prospect Harbor — closed a decade ago, the carriers were almost entirely gone.
A few of the boats remained on the water — the Jacob Pike built in 1949, for example — though their days lugging herring were long gone. One of the survivors was the Pike’s sistership, the Pauline.
Built in Thomaston in 1948, the “pretty Pauline” was the queen of the fleet, carrying sardines from the coves of Vinalhaven and the waters around remote offshore islands at the mouth of Penobscot Bay such as Wooden Ball and Seal to the North Lubec Canning Co.’s plant in Rockland.
In 1988, the owners of the windjammer Stephen Taber bought the carrier, removed her aft pilothouse and converted her into an elegant passenger vessel with a lofty superstructure and handsome passenger accommodations. For the past decade or so, the boat has sat unused alongside the breakwater at the Billings Diesel & Marine shipyard in Stonington.
Harlan Billings, late owner of the shipyard, kept Pauline afloat and the yard did some work on the boat’s hull to keep it tight. A few years ago, he donated the boat to OceansWide Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Newcastle that, among other educational projects, has organized the Traps to Treasure program in Gouldsboro.
Now, says Campbell “Buzz” Scott, the organization’s founder and president, OceansWide is raising the funding need to restore Pauline to her original appearance as a sardine carrier and to use the vessel to further the group’s educational mission. That mission is to excite students from middle school up through high school “to become good stewards of the planet’s oceans and to expose them to possibilities for careers in marine science and technology.”
To accomplish those goals, OceansWide aims to put students together with ocean scientists and marine technicians in the Gulf of Maine.
A primary tool in the OceansWide program is a submersible (ROV). Eventually, Pauline will become the base of operation for the program’s students and ROV program.
Scott estimates it will take an estimated $1.2 million, “best case,” to restore Pauline, $1.5 million “worst case,” and $750,000 to “get her operational.”
OceansWide already has a significant financial commitment from a family on Deer Isle that has “adopted” the project and a commitment from the Maine Lobster Union to make a grant to the project from its community development fund established as part of its Fair Trade certification by the nonprofit Fair Trade USA.
The certification confirms that lobstermen selling their catch to the union co-op, and the co-op itself, have met the rigorous standards set by Fair Trade for environmental stewardship, social responsibility and fair labor practices.
Currently, Pauline is on the ways at Billings, where her hull will undergo some repairs and painting. Eventually, she will be moved to another yard “where we can haul out to do the hull and get the top (the added superstructure) off,” Scott said.
Though no boatyard has yet been chosen, ideally it will be one where visitors can watch the restoration as it progresses to generate additional interest in OceansWide and Pauline itself.