The Hampton Boat of Casco Bay

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Its History and Development: -- The Change from Sail to Motor

By Warren Watson

Motor Boat, January 25, 1909

The Motor-equipped Hampton of To-day [1909]

EVERY locality develops a boat suited to the conditions of that part of the coast. The shoal waters of Buzzard's Bay made necessary the use of a boat of shoal draft and broad beam such as we have in the Cape Cat, while the deep waters of Casco Bay have developed a type of sailing craft known as the Hampton boat.

The early settlers did their fishing in small whaleboats. These, however, being clumsy, poor sailers and hard to handle, did not meet the wants of the fishermen. They felt the need of a more convenient, a safer and faster boat. This want was fulfilled in part by the ingenuity of the coast fishermen, who in those days were forced to be their own mechanics, by what is called the Reach boat.

These boats came into use in 1785, and were first built in Eggmoggen Reach, from which the name was derived. They were fourteen or fifteen feet over all; four feet, six inches beam; high freeboard, clinker built, with a wooden keel, and were fitted with two sprit sails; ticking was used instead of duck. Rudders were then unknown on small boats, the substitute being a long ash oar held in the stern by a becket. They proved to be a very able boat and well filled the needs of the fishermen at that time for inside fishing. As boat moorings were unknown in the early days, the fishermen pulled their boats up the beach each night on their return from fishing, launching them in the morning; for this reason the size of the Reach boat was restricted to sixteen feet. None of the whale boats are known to exist, while a few of the Reach boats may still be found about Casco Bay, the fishermen now using them as lobster boats.

As the fishermen began to work farther offshore to deep sea fishing, a larger and more powerful boat was necessary. Enoch Chase, in 1805, at his shipyard in Seabrook, N. H., near Hampton, built a boat which exactly suited the needs of the Maine fishermen. She was clinker built, twenty-two feet over all ; six and one-half feet beam; two and one-fourth feet deep; had a moderately sharp bow with a pinkie stern and a wooden keel a foot deep running nearly her whole length, and carried about fifteen hundred pounds of iron as inside ballast, and half a dozen sand bags. The first of these had no wash boards and the rig was similar to that of the Reach boat — large foresail and small mainsail. Occasionally a jib was used in going to and from the fishing grounds, with a detachable bowsprit. These boats met speedy favor among the fishermen on account of their greater power and speed, and were called Hampton boats after the place where they were built. Enoch Chase was succeeded by Locke Bros., who for years built Hampton boats.

All of the original Hampton boats were built with a keel, and so continued until an ingenious Yankee named David Doughty, who lived on Great Island, after twice losing his keel while entering harbor at night, conceived the idea of having a movable keel or centerboard. Not being certain of the success of his new device on the wind, he kept his plans secret, carried out his idea with his own hands and in 1868 launched the first centerboard boat built in Maine. Knowing that he would have ample opportunity to test his boat going to the fishing grounds, he approached his test with some doubts and fears.

The fishing grounds were ten miles out, and that morning the wind was southwest, making it a dead beat to windward. Most of the fishermen got away before he started, and when he commenced beating down the Sound, to his great astonishment and delight he found he was overhauling them rapidly. He could not only foot as fast as the others, but could out-point them. He soon passed the fleet, beating them a half-hour to the grounds. He also out-sailed them on the return trip before the wind, as he could pull up the centerboard when running free.

Mr. Doughty soon took up boat building, and as the fishermen were not long in finding out the secret and merits of his Hampton boats with centerboards, these soon superseded the keel type and were built at Great Island and later at Long and Crotch Islands. Only one original Hampton boat is in commission at present. She is owned by Capt. John Alexander of South Harpswell. She has been timbered out four times and her planking still remains sound. There are three or four pinkies with centerboard in Casco Bay, such as were built by David Doughty. Only one pinkie has been built in late years. She, the Mohegan, was built in Yarmouth, and is owned by a Mr. Ingerham of that place.

The pinkies were in turn succeeded by what is now commonly known as the Hampton boat, which is similar, with the exception of the stern, which is now square; the pinkie stern being obsolete. David Doughty was the originator and builder of the square stern, the first one being built in 1878. He also added the wash board and foremast iron clamp. This model was generally liked and without any change has continued to be built up to the present date.

Methods of construction have changed, all of the boats now being "built up" of inch pine strips with white lead between, instead of clinker construction. This makes a tighter and stronger boat with a longer life than the old clinker built. David Sennet built the first of this type in 1880, at Bailey's Island.

The inevitable has happened to the Hampton boat, which has so revolutionized other styles of craft — the introduction of mechanical power, the gasoline engine. The first engine was installed about 1905. The advantages were so great and so manifest that in a few years their use has become well-nigh universal.

Previous to the introduction of the motor, the fishermen had to start as early as one o'clock in the morning in order to get their bait and reach the grounds and do a day's fishing, and as the grounds now are twelve to fifteen miles off shore, the trip, under the most favorable conditions, was a long one and on calm days they were obliged to face a fourteen-mile row or forego a day's fishing, and at other times the stay on the ground had to be cut short so as to reach the market before dark. Anyone who has rowed a twenty-two-foot Hampton boat out and back from the grounds well knows the meaning of a white ash breeze. All this strenuous, and oft-times fruitless work, has been relieved by the introduction of the motor, and no one now doubts that the motor is a great saver of time and labor at a very reasonable outlay. The motor has given such general satisfaction that the use of sail is being discarded and all the boats now being built are intended for motor power alone.

The motor has tended to make a transformation in the model of the Hampton. The bows are very high and the freeboard is carried well aft. The most radical change is the new seine stern in place of the old, which tended to squat. This seine boat model makes an ideal motorboat for fishing Winter and Summer, for, with spray hood, these boats may venture out safely in nearly any kind of weather. To-day, the chug-chug of motors can be heard at any hour of the day or night between Portland and Small Point.

To give some idea of the seaworthiness of the old Hampton sailboats, one or two yarns may not be out of place, picked up from the fishermen.

Dan and John Douglass, brothers, who lived at South Harpswell. had one of the first Enoch Chase boats brought to Casco Bay. They used to fish on a ground called Kettle Bottom, which lies thirty-five miles southeast of Seguin Island. They always returned with their boat loaded within one or two planks of the gunnels after two or three days' fishing, spending the nights in the open boat at anchor far out to sea. One day in the middle of October, when they were known to be fishing on Kettle Bottom, there came a northeaster of frightful violence. When two days after the storm they sailed into the harbor with a boat-load of fish, the townsfolk were all astonished, as they thought it impossible for a boat to withstand the violence of wind and sea.

It seems that the storm commenced to come upon them about noon of their second day on the grounds. Realizing its character, they started their long beat for land. During the rest of that day and all the following night they worked their boat right in the teeth of the gale, one man at the pumps and the other at the tiller. They finally made their way into Small Point Harbor in the early hours of the morning. They laid in the harbor that day, and the next day, as it moderated, although still a gale, they came across to Harpswell, much to the joy of their families and friends, with hardly the loss of a fish.

An original Hampton still [1909] in service

The fishermen are experts in handling this type of boat, and some of the boats possess great speed. A yachtsman who was the possessor of a fine new 30-foot sloop, of which he was very proud, chanced to enter in conversation with a group of fishermen, and boasted much of the speed of his new boat. One of the fishermen, John Toothaker, who owned the fastest Hampton in the Bay and who also was very proud of his boat, offered to bet the price of his boat that he could beat the yacht in a race around Half Way Rock Lighthouse. This made a course of twelve miles, and the yachtsman bet one hundred dollars that he couldn't, so the time for the race was set for the next day.

The next day it blew a smoky sou'wester. The fishermen took a crew of picked men to handle sand bags and pile up to windward. The yacht had a regular crew and came to the line with a double-reefed main and jib, which was only reasonable precaution for the day, while the fisherman carried his big foresail and a small mainsail. They beat out west of Flag Island and it was nip and tuck until they stood out clear of Eagle Island into open ocean, where they got the full benefit of the chop which was raised by a strong ebb tide, making it a hard old pound to windward. Right here the ableness and wonderful sea-going qualities of the Hampton boat were demonstrated to the yachtsman in a surprising manner. His yacht pounded and staggered through the sea, making bad weather, while the old haddock choker sliced through the seas and drove to windward like a ship. The yachtsman struck out to Drunkers Ledge, when the long, cruel line of breakers on Drunkers and Eastern Tail took away his courage and he slacked off his sheet and ran for the harbor, arriving there with a broken boom and a mainsail of a few fluttering rags and a story of the terrible sea outside.

The fisherman made and rounded the rock, but broke his foresprit, making the home run under the mainsail set forward.

The Hampton boat of old has served its important place and like the clipper ship developed a class of sailors never to be equaled on their craft. Now where were once the gallant old tea-laden clippers with their skysails high into the heavens, making for port, and the fish-laden Hampton boats returning at sunset with high-peaked sails, are seen the smoky steamer and dashing motorboats. Such is progress.

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