BELFAST, Maine — It was a familiar sight, the two-deck, narrow-beamed, blue, white and red vessel cruising up Penobscot Bay on Sunday and finally docking in Belfast Harbor. Except it wasn’t what it appeared to be.
The Prudence looks very much like the Patience, which has operated as a passenger excursion and charter boat during the summer in both Bangor and Belfast. But the Patience, built in 1982 at Billings Marine in Stonington, is a mere copy of the Prudence.
The Prudence returned to Maine waters last weekend for the first time in at least 50 years. The vessel was purchased by Steve Pagels, who also operated the Patience in Bangor and Belfast and operates the Margaret Todd schooner in Bar Harbor.
The Prudence was built in 1911 in East Boothbay. Hundreds of such vessels were built in Maine in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Pagels said Monday. They operated much the way buses operate today, shuttling people from harbor town to harbor town. Most, like the Prudence, were coal-fired and steam-powered; in later years, the boat was converted to diesel fuel.
“She’s the quintessential Maine steam-powered passenger vessel,” Pagels said Monday afternoon at one of the Front Street Shipyard’s docks, beaming with pride at his acquisition. The boat will be hauled out for maintenance later this week, though Pagels said it has been painstakingly cared for over the years.
The Prudence is one of just three Maine-built, steam-powered ferry vessels that remain in operation, he said. The others are the Katahdin, which operates on Moosehead Lake; and the Sabino, owned by Mystic Seaport in Connecticut.
Pagels and Belfast’s John Worth, who used to captain the local tugboats and later Maine Maritime Academy’s schooner Bowdoin, piloted the Prudence north from Hyannis, Mass. They left Cape Cod early Saturday morning.
Pagels said the men, assisted by another crew member, were prepared for a journey of several days, but completed the voyage in two days, steaming nonstop except for a 20-minute layover to top off the fuel tanks. The boat is 62 feet long, with an 18-foot beam, and is listed at 44 gross tons.
Built with steam-bent oak frames and plank-on-plank construction, the Prudence handled well on the sometimes choppy seas, he said. In the wheelhouse, a large, old-fashioned ship’s wheel, its oak gleaming in the sunlight, is connected by rope to the rudder, a very antique steering system. There’s even a brass speaking tube that would allow the captain to communicate with the engine room.
Built to ferry passengers from the mainland to Prudence Island in Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island, the then-50-year-old boat was purchased by the Scutter family in 1962 to give harbor tours out of Hyannis to Hyannisport, home of the famed Kennedy family compound. To this day, the Kennedy compound, clearly visible from the water, remains a draw for tourists.
The Scutter family, founders of the Hy-Line company that now provides ferry service from Cape Cod to Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, celebrated the Prudence’s centennial last year before selling it. The company is leasing the Patience from Pagels for this summer for the Hyannis harbor tours.
The Prudence is licensed for 100 passengers, some of whom can sit on the benches that line the cabin area to escape the often-chilly air, while others will relish sitting on the top-deck benches in the sun. Pagels said Worth will skipper the boat on excursions and charters out of Bangor and Belfast.
Pagels, who lives in Cherryfield, also will operate the Fish Hawk, a 42-foot wooden vessel, for excursions out of Belfast.