Thursday, June 16, 2005

Historic ship gets refurbished home

Published in the Current

SOUTH PORTLAND (June 16, 2005): An important piece of American history and Maine lore has a refurbished home on Spring Point in South Portland, as well as a tribute to a man key in its preservation.

A portion of the clipper ship Snow Squall, launched in 1851 from the Cornelius Butler Shipyard on Turner’s Island in Cape Elizabeth (now South Portland), is part of the permanent collection at the Portland Harbor Museum.

The gallery has been refurbished and was reopened for the first time last week, showing off the new elements of the exhibit, including a display in memory of maritime historian Nick Dean, the man who rediscovered the wreck of the Snow Squall in the Falkland Islands in 1979 and spearheaded her return to Maine.

Dean, who was also the first director of the museum when it was called the Spring Point Museum, died in January at age 71. His widow, Zibette Dean, attended the gallery’s opening, as did Dave Switzer, who with Nick Dean wrote a history of the ship, called “Snow Squall: The Last American Clipper Ship.”

The ship was a fast freight ship carrying cargo around Cape Horn between the east and west coasts of the United States, as well as across the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

In 1863, she escaped from the Confederate raiding ship Tuscaloosa near the Cape of Good Hope in an all-day race pitting crew skills and ship speed against each other.

In 1864, the Snow Squall was on her way from New York to San Francisco but ran aground near Cape Horn. She limped back into Port Stanley in the Falklands and was abandoned.

“It sat there for 114 years,” said Hadley Schmoyer, the museum’s new curator, who started the job April 20.

When it was discovered in 1979, it was one of a few remnants of the American clipper shipbuilding years, and a rare specimen of how the ships were designed and built, Schmoyer said.

Because clipper ships were built so quickly and with many changes from ship to ship – all in search of a few extra knots of speed – there were few models left to show how they were built.

Dean, an Edgecomb resident, recognized the value of the find, and coordinated the work required in returning her to Maine.

Other parts of her hull are in the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath, South Street Seaport Museum in New York City and the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park in California.

The evening also saw the opening of the new seasonal exhibit at the Portland Harbor Museum, called “Old Salts and New Directions” and focusing on the people who work in and around the harbor.

Among the artifacts is a scale model of the Casco Bay Lines steamer Maquoit, handmade by Capt. Larry Legere of Cape Elizabeth. Legere, the operations agent for the lines, is the son of Capt. Edward Legere, who captained the ferry steamers for many years, and the father of Alexandra Legere, who also works for the ferry company.