Beginning in the 1870s, coal shipped from the Delaware River and the Hampton Roads area of the Chesapeake Bay encouraged the building of larger and larger schooners. Three-masted schooners had long been the primary means of transporting coal to Boston and Maine, but, by the 1880s, the four-masted schooner had become more popular. The late 1890s saw five-masted schooners, and the first six-masted schooner, George W. Wells, was built in Camden, Maine in 1900.
By 1910, 45 five-masted schooners and 10 six-masted schooners, each the length of a football field, had been built, mostly by Maine shipyards. Bath was their primary builder, but many were built in Rockland, Camden, Belfast, and other Penobscot Bay towns.
These very large schooners were awkward to handle, although"donkey" engines provided power for hoisting sails, running the windlass, capstan and pumps and handling other heavy gear. With this early automation, the large coasters were able to get along with relatively small crews.
These vessels were designed for carrying capacity. The ships were long and narrow, which gave them great potential for speed when there was good wind, but were unwieldy in light air. The difficulty in steering the vessels, their pointed bows and their great weight of cargo were probably all contributing factors in a large amount of these ships being wreck around Nantucket in the early twentieth century.
Penobscot Marine Museum: "The Great Coal Schooners,"
Stackpole, Edouard: "Life Saving Nantucket," Stern-Majestic Press; 1972.
Studds, Gerry: "The Great Coal Schooners of New England," NOAA, Stellwagon Bank National Marine Sanctuary;
Music and Narration: Performed, Produced and Edited by Evan Schwanfelder.
Special Thanks to Katie Schwanfelder for all your help and for joining the discussion