A day of fishing on Gardiners Bay

Nov/Dec 2001

Rising and falling on the tide of Peconic Bay in Greenport, N.Y., the proud old fishing schooner Mary E. waited for her next trip. Not fishing anymore – not for years – Mary E. now carries passengers for cruises back and forth into Gardiners Bay. Owned and operated by Capt. Ted Charles, Mary E. is one of the last – if not the last – remaining clipper schooners still working in the United States.

Built in 1906 in Bath, Maine, by Thomas Hagen, of oak planking over oak frames, Mary E.’s crew swordfished in Block Island Sound, hauled freight and carried mail around eastern Long Island Sound. In 1944 she was converted to a motorized dragger and continued fishing in the Sound and off Nomans Land and Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., under a variety of owners.

She foundered in Lynn Harbor, Mass., during the Thanksgiving hurricane of 1963, was sold again, taken back to Maine and restored as a schooner. She worked out of Boothbay into the 1970s, carrying passengers, until she was sold to Charles, who has since operated the old schooner from City Island, N.Y., Key West, Fla., and Greenport, which is now her homeport.

It was while fishing, under the command of Capt. Bill Dunn, that the following story took place. Mary E. was working for swordfish in February of 1920 when harpooner Bill Parker fell overboard. Despite the weather and the lack of sophisticated navigational equipment Dunn managed to maneuver Mary E. back to the approximate position and began searching for Parker. By this time it was already dark, and visibility was near zero. It is said, though, that Parker always kept a waxed match behind his ear. When he saw the ship approaching he struck the match, which was seen by the crew, and he was found. I leave the veracity of the tale to the judgment of the reader.

A few years later, in May 1930, Mary E. departed the railroad docks at Greenport, heading east into Block Island Sound to go swordfishing. The day was mild and Dunn, having made this trip many times before, knew the course well. After he departed Bug Light at Long Beach, he headed for the seabuoy (now marked on charts as Morse Alpha whistle ‘N’ – ‘MO (A) WHIS’), and from there he set his course to leave the ruins off the north end of Gardiners Island well to starboard. The variation is 14° 45′ west and the deviation is 3° east on the heading that the ship is making. The true course from the MO (A) buoy N in Gardiners Bay to the bell buoy ‘1G1’ is 059°.

A. Using the variation and deviation given, what is the compass course that Mary E. will take?

B. The distance between the MO (A) and the 1G1 is 5.8 nm. With all the lowers set, Mary E. is making 6.5 knots in the northerly breeze. How long will it take for the ship to cover the distance? (Hint: for quick reference, use the logarithmic scale on a radar maneuvering board.)

C. Mary E. is on a port tack and Dunn knows the boat makes considerable leeway. He knows from experience that Mary E. is being set about 1.5 knots in a direction of 165° true. If that is the case, what is the COG that Mary E. is making, and what course does the captain want to make in order to pass the 1G1 buoy to starboard?  

By Ocean Navigator