On Saturday, July 14, 2007, the sardine carrier, the Jacob Pike retired from a hard life at sea and returned to Penobscot Bay to take up the rigors of teaching. We picked the boat up in Prospect Harbor, hard by the giant fisherman sign that marks Stinson Canning factory, and drove it down the coast to Rockport Harbor, where it would spend the summer in anticipation of a new career. During our six-hour cruise we were saluted by every lobsterboat and yacht that crossed our path. Despite the visible vestiges of a long working life, the Jacob Pike remains beautiful, distinctive, well-known, and well-loved.
Down through Frenchman’s Bay, across Blue Hill Bay, and through Casco Passage, we, a crew of boat nuts, historians, writers, architects, boatbuilders, and commercial fishermen shared lunches and stories while we powered past whales, lobsterboats (many returning from the Blues Festival in Rockland judging by the number of people and coolers onboard), yachts, and summer homes at an easy 8.5-knot gait, just as smooth as can be. Unlike the arduous voyages of the Pike’s working life, this trip was a picnic. The stories told onboard seemed simple: just tales about this hard-working vessel and its relationship to the people of Maine. But they need to be collected.
Since 1949, the Jacob Pike ranged the whole coast of Maine, from Canada on down to New Hampshire. With decks awash, the 80-foot-long, 90-ton carrier could haul 125,000 pounds of fish. Even fully loaded, the boat ran at an easy 12 knots. That’s a lot of fish, and a lot of miles, over a lot of years. Who knows how many fishermen knew the Pike ; how many factory workers depended upon the sardines the Pike delivered; how many people just knew the Pike because it looked so darn good steaming down the coast.
The Thomaston yard of Newbert and Wallace built the Jacob Pike in 1949. This was but one in a whole series of tough workboats that yard built around that time. The simple yet stout construction combined with the inshore nature of the herring business to ensure the survival of a number of these sardine carriers, but none remained as original as the Jacob Pike. The quality of Newbert and Wallace’s work, the near-original condition of the vessel, and the working heritage that it represents make this the ideal boat for its new job: flagship for a proposed new Center for Maine Boatbuilding, currently in development at the Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport.
This transformation story began in the spring, when Martha White and Taylor Allen, of Rockport Marine, bought the Jacob Pike from Dana Rice of Prospect Harbor. Rice was the last in a distinguished line of captains who kept the Pike earning its keep delivering herring from fisherman to factory. White and Allen, boatbuilders, and Pike, a commecial fisherman, recognized the unique power the Jacob Pike has to symbolize and represent both industries. A 90-ton fishboat as an icon. That is thinking big.
The proposed new center is also a big idea. This addition to Penobscot Marine Museum’s campus will be dedicated to preserving and displaying boats built in Maine; boats like the Pike that made Maine’s coast what it is, and what it should continue to be. These boats will also be teaching tools that will help tell the stories of the communities they represent. Those communities are geographical – downeast, midcoast, mainland, islands -- as well as human – boatbuilders, fishermen, fish packers, and the related industries of the coast. These are the stories to protect and tell to future generations, the stories of the coast of Maine.
There are other collections of Maine-built boats in various museums around the northeast, but very few of those boats are actually on display. The proposed Penobscot Marine Museum’s Center for Maine Boatbuilding will put its vessels—workboats and yachts, large and small—front and center for the world to see, enjoy, and learn about. The Jacob Pike will lead the way, a fitting retirement for a grand old boat.