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

The Mattie's career as a passenger vessel began, in a way, with her arrival in Maine. Captain Herbert Black of South Brooksville, Maine, brought her to Belfast in 1919 to replace his former vessel, the Oakwoods, which had been accidentally rammed and sunk by a U.S. Navy submarine. Picking up where the Oakwoods had left off, the Mattie began working the bays from Maine to New York.

Ironically, Black never cashed the compensation check he received from the government for the loss of the Oakwoods. It was later found tucked behind a beam in the Mattie's master cabin.

Schooner Grace Bailey 125 years young
Originally named Grace Bailey, the schooner was renamed and sailed as the Mattie until 1990, when Captain Ray Williamson did a major restoration project and re-launched her under her original name. (Photo by Don Ayotte)

For Black and later for Captain William Shepard, the Mattie hauled pulpwood to Bucksport, hardwood to Boston and coal to the islands along Maine's coast. She also assisted in the building of Grand Central Station and the U.S. Post Office in New York City, hauling granite for projects from Crotch Island to New York Harbor.

Twenty years of hauling general cargo up and down the coast proved the Mattie to be a strong and dependable schooner in Maine waters, and her graceful lines and easy manner made her a popular boat with all who sailed her. In 1939, the Mattie's charm attracted the attention of Captain Frank Swift of Camden, whose love of sailing and entrepreneurial spirit had guided him in the launch of the first windjammer passenger tour just a few years before. After chartering the Mattie from Shepard for two seasons, he purchased the vessel in 1940 and began her career as a passenger schooner.

Shepard, a close friend of Swift, stayed on as captain of the Mattie for several years, becoming one of the most popular skippers in Swift's fleet. At the end of World War II, Swift added the 71-foot schooner Mercantile, now part of the Maine Windjammer Cruises fleet along with the Mattie, to his growing list of vessels as well.



Schooner Grace Bailey Passengers circa 1950
Passengers have been finding adventure and relaxation on the Grace Bailey, for decades. (Image courtesy of the Camden Area History Center: Bex Collection)

Swift's business struggled through the early years, but the popularity of his sailing tours grew as passengers spread the word of their experiences. Camden's reputation as a destination grew as well, and tours aboard the town's growing fleet of windjammers became one of its most exciting attractions.





Schooner Mattie/Grace Bailey at Anchor 1958
Mattie at anchor in 1958. (Image courtesy of the Camden Area History Center: Bex Collection)

In 1961, Swift sold his sailing enterprise to Captain Jim Nisbet, who operated the business through the 1960's. Captain Leslie Bex Jr. purchased the vessel from Nisbet in 1969, sailing her out of Camden through the mid-1980's.





Schooner Grace Bailey rebuild 1990
The Grace Bailey was carefully restored in 1990 according to her original specifications and is maintained using traditional materials and methods.

The schooner Mattie has seen a lot over the last 125 years, and a lot of wonderful people have graced her decks since Captain Ray purchased her from Bex in 1985. After being hauled out for a major restoration project in 1990, she was rechristened as the Grace Bailey and returned to the waters of Maine, where she continues to connect passengers from around the world with the beauty of Maine and the amazing legacy of America's great schooner fleet.

If you missed Part I of the History of the Grace Bailey, you can read it in April's Maine Windjammer Cruise News, which is accessible from the home page of this newsletter.

June 2007 MWC Enewsletter, text by Capt. Ray and David Munson.