by John Wedin
from material submitted by Evelyn Ryder Prior
Transcribed by Pauline Bickford-Duane 6/27/2017
The advent of World War I brought about a tremendous demand for American shipping tonnage. Many large ships were constructed on the Penobscot and one of the largest was built at the South Orrington shipyard.
The location of the shipyard in South Orrington was ideal – direct access to the river, good oak and pine available, and most important in any enterprise – excellent skilled labor available in the immediate area. The yard was leased from Captain C.W. Wentworth of South Orrington.
In 1918 the Boston and Penobscot Shipbuilding Company was incorporated with offices in Boston, Mass. Mr. Don Sargent of South Brewer was made General Manager and in that year it was decided to begin construction on a four-masted general cargo schooner.
In July, 1918, work started on the four-masted “James E. Coburn” in South Orrington. About 90 men were working on the “Coburn” with about 40 men supplying oak and pine planking from the nearby sawmill supervised by Roy Clark.
Ruel Dodge was the Master Builder, Daniel DeCourcey of Bucksport, scientific blacksmith; George Getchell of Brewer, liner; Edward Snowman of Bucksport, master caulker; Herbert Hoxie, South Orrington, boss painter; Henry Gardner of Castine, rigger; S. L. Treat of Bar Harbor did the lettering; Amos Simpson of Searsport did the joiner work and spars were made by Sidney Hathorn of Bangor.
The “Coburn’s” frame was of native oak, and her planking and ceilings were made of hard pine. The spars were of Oregon pine and the fore and aft houses were finished in natural sycamore, oak, and cypress.
She had four staterooms, a chart room, pantry, engine room, and the captain’s room. The “Coburn” had two anchors weighing 4100 and 3600 pounds supported by 180 fathoms of 1 ⅞” chain. She was 228’ over all, with a 39’6” beam, a 175’ keel, and 19’ depth of hold. The “Coburn” weighed 987 gross tons and had a capacity of 1700 tons.
She was painted white with a red stripe and blue waterways. The lettering on the stearn and bow were all done in gold leaf. The “Coburn” flew the flag of Rogers and Webb of Boston and was commanded by Captain James F. Chase of Machias who stayed at the yard from January through July, 1919 during construction.
It was quite a day on July 15, 1919 when the “Coburn” was launched. Many people from Bucksport, Bangor, Brewer, and Orrington were on hand. As the “Coburn” started to slide down the ways she stuck half way, to the surprise of the crowd. Many seafarers present predicted a terrible end for the ship after such a bad omen at launching. Several days later she was launched successfully and was towed to bangor for final fitting and chartering.
Days later the “Coburn,” with full sails set, eased her way down the Penobscot River and out to sea.
On April 1, 1929 she cleared Baltimore with a cargo of coal bound for Port de France, Martinique, and Port au Prince, Haiti. Twelve days later she passed Cape Henry and on April 17, the “Coburn” was battling for her life in a terrible storm. Later during the day she floundered beneath the waves.
Nine of the crew were saved after being adrift for over a week without food or water. One crewman was lost. So was the end of the “James E. Coburn.”