When a new boat is built and christened, it is generally a happy time for all involved.
But in the case of the Spindrift, no one could have expected it to truly live up to its name! The boat was built in the Machias River in the winter of 1918 with Sullivan to be her home port under Captain Mitchell of Milbridge. Her inaugural trip in March of 1919 was to be a simple one to Halifax to pick up a load of lumber, with a partial crew of 9. The names we know to be on the crew were Clarence, Howard and Leonard Martin, Alfred and Ott Preble, and E.E. and Jessie Bragdon. Years later, Clarence Martin would give a detailed account of what happened on that fateful maiden voyage.
To start, the ship wasn’t loaded with much ballast as it was thought the trip would be short and sweet. On board there was enough bread and coffee for the four days expected. However, after one full day in the Bay of Fundy, a great gale struck and carried the Spindrift with it. The ship, being lightweight and bobbing like a cork over the water, was at the mercy of the wind, and on the high seas, the planks began to loosen. The crew focused on keeping the ship afloat as the gale blew her further and further off course.
Out of food, some of the boys wanted to try their luck on a lifeboat but were persuaded by the others that the rough seas would swallow them up. After a couple of weeks, there was a lull in the weather, and a Patagonian ship passing by gave them some beef and flour, but it wasn’t enough. The drinking water they had on board went bad and sickened all of the men. 32 days later, when the winds finally eased up, the men found themselves in the Azores – on the other side of the Atlantic!
There, they were given enough victuals and a course for Nassau, with the ship barely making the trip. The crew spent a month there while repairs were done, and then were sent to Jacksonville, Florida, where the Spindrift and its crew were sent by train up the East Coast back to Maine. Amazingly, none of the crew perished in their ordeal, but the experience did turn a few of them off to mariner life for good. As for the Spindrift, it made one more trip – to deliver a load of lumber to Puerto Rico – but sprang a leak on the way back and sank off Norfolk, VA, bringing an end to the short career of the ship built in Machias.
Merriam-Webster gives the definition of a spindrift as “spray blown from waves during a gale”; and true to its name, the Spindrift was indeed blown across the tops of the waves during a gale.