The Portland Gale of 1898
The Portland Gale on Thanksgiving weekend of 1898 left 475 dead and 155 vessels sunk, including the loss of the side-wheel steamer Portland with no survivors.
Richard Cornelia will give an illustrated slide talk on The Portland Gale at the Camden Public Library Thursday, April 25, at 7 p.m., as part of the library’s Maritime Month.
Cornelia said, “Forget the ‘Perfect Storm’ of 1991. The Portland Gale of 1898 was New England’s greatest maritime tragedy. The convergence of two low systems off Norfolk, Va., produced a raging Nor’easter with hurricane force winds that roared up the New England coast leaving incredible destruction on ship and shore. The queen of the East Coast passenger steamers, the Portland, was lost with no survivors.”
The steamer left Boston on schedule for the 10-hour trip to Portland even though there were signs of an impending storm. The fare for a one-way ticket was $1. The Portland was built by New England Shipbuilding Company of Bath for $240,000. It was a side-wheel wooden passenger vessel weighing 2,283 tons, measuring 68-feet by 291-feet.
“Because of her side-wheel architecture,” said Cornelia, “she was unstable in ocean waters, particularly stormy, high seas.”
In 2002, the Portland wreck was confirmed, found in the deep water of Stellwagen Bank east of Boston.
“She lies 460 feet deep and is upright and surprisingly intact considering the storm she experienced. Cups, saucers, mugs, twisted steam pipes, and assorted debris lie on the deck and about the doomed ship,” narrates Cornelia.
The library will also have on display a ship model of the Portland, built by Camden modeler Gil Carlson.