41 evacuated from sightseeing schooner that ran aground in Maine during heavy fog

Visibility was less than 100 yards when the schooner ran aground in Maine’s Passamaquoddy Bay. (Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard)

The U.S. Coast Guard cited dense fog and the ebbing tide as contributing factors after a sightseeing schooner ran aground in Passamaquoddy Bay near Eastport, Maine, prompting the evacuation of the 41 passengers on board.

The 84-foot Sylvina W. Beal was a half-hour into an evening cruise June 23, 2008 when Coast Guard Station Eastport received a distress call at 1830 that the schooner was “hard aground and in need of assistance" in Canadian waters off Indian Island, New Brunswick. Visibility was 50 to 100 yards at the time of the accident, with calm seas and winds of 5 to 10 knots, according to Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Cameron McCabe.

“There was heavy, dense fog, and I believe he just got disoriented," McCabe said, referring to the schooner’s captain. “He said he felt two bumps, then gave it some (reverse) power, but it became lodged on the ledges."

The Coast Guard responded to the call by sending a 41-foot utility boat with four crewmembers to evacuate the passengers. Beal was listing to starboard and was becoming unstable as the tide receded, McCabe said, but the Coast Guard crew was able to bring its boat alongside the schooner to safely pick up the sightseers. No injuries were reported.

After taking the group ashore, the Coast Guard boat returned to the schooner to bring the captain and his two crewmembers, who had stayed with the vessel to conduct safety checks, to the Eastport Police Department for alcohol and drug testing. All of the results were negative.

With the testing completed, both crews returned to the schooner to await the rising tide. At about 2400, the vessel began to break free of the ledges. The crew then discovered the boat had taken on water — about 1,000 gallons in the center compartment and 500 gallons in the aft compartment and engine room.

A crewman from the Coast Guard boat, which had remained alongside Beal to render assistance, boarded the schooner with a pump to control the flooding. High Maintenance, a 40-foot lobster boat from Eastport, brought two more pumps to the scene. The crew from a second local fishing boat, the 45-foot Soldier Boy, tied a line to one of Beal‘s masts to help stabilize the schooner. It floated free about 40 minutes later and was towed into Eastport by the Coast Guard.

An inspection of the schooner later that morning revealed no structural problems and minimal damage, McCabe said.

The 50-passenger schooner was fully inspected and certified by the Coast Guard for the 2008 cruising season, McCabe said. No equipment problems were reported before or after the accident. According to an online listing by Midcoast Yacht Brokerage in Spruce Head, Maine, the vessel is equipped with VHF radio, a Raytheon radar system and a Garmin global positioning system (GPS).

The captain “is in charge of the navigation of the boat, and all three (crewmembers) serve as lookouts when they are not busy with other duties," McCabe said. “The captain had a hand-held GPS that he used to give us his coordinates."

The captain, an Eastport native with more than 20 years of experience as a captain, told the Bangor Daily News that the hull breach was “not a big deal." He could not be reached for comment by Professional Mariner.

“It was just an error," Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class Jana Miller told The Ellsworth American, a weekly newspaper that covers Downeast Maine. “The area up here is very intense for navigation. If you can navigate up here, I’m pretty sure you can navigate anywhere."

Rich Miller

By Professional Mariner Staff