2007 - Grace Bailey History - 125th Birthday - Part I

It's hard to say exactly what makes the schooner Grace Bailey so special. When famed Long Island boat builder Oliver Perry Smith pinned the last plank to the ship's white oak frame in 1882, she was one of ten's of thousands of coasting schooners that ran passengers and freight along the westernmost waves of the Atlantic. With an 80-foot deck of long-leaf yellow pine and 58 tons beneath it, Grace Bailey was a two-masted work horse of the sea, hauling cargo and hopping ports as the winds of commerce swept down from New England to the West Indies and back again. Quick, sturdy and dependable, she was the typical transport of the day, hauling everything from oysters to coal between the coastal towns of early America.

Schooner Grace Bailey carrying Cargo
The Grace Bailey heads out to sea. The Grace Bailey sailed under the name Mattie for more than 80 years. (Image courtesy of Penobscot Marine Museum)


While countless coasting schooners sailed along the shores of North America, there was something special about the Grace Bailey - something that has held fast through the rebuilds and repairs, the gales, the ice storms and the insistence of time. For her passengers, captain and crew, it's an emotion felt in the rise and fall of the deck and the shudder of the billowing sail - a feeling of being in the presence of history.

Grace Bailey is a survivor. Like her fleetmate the Mercantile, she is one of only four surviving coastal schooners in the world, having sailed uninterrupted for 125 years. When Smith launched the ship from his boatyard in Patchogue, Long Island, New York, she began an ongoing voyage that would lead her up and down the Atlantic coast, reaching ports from Canada to the West Indies.

Smith built nearly 600 vessels during the latter half of the 19th century, from small island sloops to the 490-ton brig John Shay, one of the largest sailing ships ever built on Long Island.




Designer and Builder of Schooner Grace Bailey, Oliver Perry Smith
Famed Long Island boat builder Oliver Perry Smith designed and built the Grace Bailey for his friend and business partner Edwin Bailey.


Despite the broad range of his boat-building abilities, Smith's true specialty was coastal schooners, and he had a reputation for crafting vessels that were both precisely maneuverable and exceptionally quick. His boats often set the standard for speed between ports, with his R.H. Vermilyea making the run from Cuba to New York in only six days. The Grace Bailey represents some of Smith's finest work, and the care that he took in crafting the vessel shines through even today. Built for Smith's friend and business partner Edwin Bailey, the Grace Bailey was crafted from the finest materials available, and the installation of every plank and beam was overseen by Smith himself. Inspired by friendship and guided by a desire to make their shared enterprise a success, Smith poured every ounce of his skill and experience into the creation of the Grace Bailey. His dedication and attention to detail on the project may well be the reason the ship survived while so many of the coasters faded into history.

Smith's carpenters completed the Grace Bailey on November 22, 1882, and she began her career in the coasting trade two days later.

Captain Seymour Ketcham piloted the vessel during its first 15 years of service, making frequent runs up and down the East Coast as well as several voyages to the West Indies. In 1897, Charles Terry took over as captain when Ketcham gave up his position as master and part-owner of the boat.

The ship was originally named after Edwin Bailey's daughter, Grace Bailey, who was born in April of that same year. After 24 years of hauling lumber and other freight, the vessel was rebuilt and renamed Mattie after Bailey's favorite granddaughter, Martha, when the young woman turned eighteen. Martha herself christened the rebuilt schooner, and her grandfather gave her his one-eighth share in the Mattie in 1906.

Read more in the March 2007 MWC Enewsletter, text by Capt. Ray and David Munson.