100-year-old ship sees new life during Portland sunset cruises

Posted Aug. 16, 2012, at 12:22 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — Amber Donahue of Limington, in a sheer blue dress, hauled on the line with a smile, helping sailor Nathan Pablo raise the foresail aboard the Portland Schooner Company’s ship, the Wendemeen on Monday night, Aug. 13, 2012.

Donahue was dressed up to celebrate her first anniversary with husband Brian on the 6 p.m. sunset sail around Casco Bay. Built at the Frank Adams Shipyard in East Boothbay in 1912, this year marks the 100th anniversary of the Wendemeen’s first sail.

Designed by John Alden, it was meant to have the running speed of a racing yacht and the stability of a Gloucester fishing schooner. Its first owner was Col. Chester W. Bliss of Springfield, Massachusetts. In 1915 it was sold to the Schlitz Brewing heirs Robert and Erwin Uihlein of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It was transported to the Great Lakes via the Erie Canal.

During Prohibition, the Wendemeen was used by owner Paul L’Amoreaux to race over the lakes to Canada to pick up illegal booze. When L’Amoreaux died in 1933, the ship was moved to New York and bought by G.W. Ford. And there it sat, through the Great Depression, WWII, the moon landing — 53 years in all. Ford never once sailed the Wendemeen.

In 1986, Neal Parker discovered the boat and managed to motor it to Rockland two years later. Over the next two years, he oversaw a major restoration, reversing years of neglect. On July 1, 1990, with the paint still wet, Parker sailed the ship into Penobscot Bay; its first trip under sail in almost 60 years.

Owned by the Portland Schooner Company since 2005, the 88-foot Wendameen now plies the waters of Casco Bay with her sister ship, the Bagheera, also designed by John Alden, from May through October.