| May/June 1980

108 Garfield Avenue, Madison, New Jersey 07940

October's bright blue weather had nothing to compare with that brilliant day in September. Tall white clouds drifted out across Fishers Island Sound and the wind and sun combined to coat the Mystic River with sparkling wavelet jewels as I walked out onto the pier where SABINO was moored. No ship is ever quiet and still. There is always some movement. I could hear the squeak of her brass sheathed rubbing strake against the piling as the morning breeze off the river stirred her at the pier. Two deck hands were scrubbing down her decks in anticipation of the arrival of the day's passengers.

Thus was to be my introduction to the last of the coal burning coastal steamers that had played such a part in the development along the Main Coast beginning around 1840. Many were larger than SABINO and perhaps a few smaller too, but the fact remains that here is one of the finest examples of that coastal trade and best of all, she still brings back fond memories of those simpler days as she goes about her runs on the Mystic River. For, it is here at the Mystic Seaport that SABINO is preserved and still leads an active life in daily cruises under steam during the active season from early spring to late fall.

Probably many a school child can tell you that on August 17, 1807, Robert Fulton's Clermont . . . actually the NORTH RIVER . . . made its maiden voyage from New York to Albany on the Hudson River much to the consternation and awe of the rustics along the up-river shoreline. Lacking today's instant communications, they surely thought, according to accounts at the time, that some sea monster belching smoke had found its way into the river. This little paddle steamer was to be the first coastal steamer. It was followed by the innaugural ocean steamer, the SAVANNAH, in 1819. This crossing to Liverpool from Savannah, Georgia, was more of a token beginning since the vessel used its sails for most of the voyage and kept her paddle wheel safely folded.

Although the development of paddle wheel propelled ships continued for a number of years, the age of steam at sea really was technically ready when the Swedish engineer, John Ericsson, introduced the screw propeller. The first iron hull, screw propeller, ocean going vessel built in America was the BANGOR, built in 1884 at Wilmington, Delaware, by Betts & Hollingsworth Company for the Bangor Steam Navigation Company. This vessel of 212 net tons burthen entered the coast-wise trade as the Bangor Packet from Boston around Cape Ann and across the Gulf of Maine and up Penobscot Bay. In later years she was replaced by other vessels and finally was used by some South American rebels and eventually was a prize of war to the Venezuelan government.

Maine's long coastline with watery fingers reaching far inland and with many off-shore islands was a natural setting for the development of small steam powered vessels that were completely independent of wind and tide in narrow waterways or in trips with cargo to the islands. The G. W. Blunt White Library at the Seaport has shelves bulging with books and monographs on this era.