It seems like every object in Bill Wasson’s home on Knox Ridge Avenue tells a part of his life story.

Above the fireplace is a painting of his schooner the Dayspring, which now lies at the bottom of the Atlantic. Many of the metal fixtures of his fireplace were made by his hands, recalling his time serving as the resident 17th century blacksmith at Plymouth Plantation. Hanging behind the bar is one of the sea duck decoys he made in his basement workshop. And on his shelf is a book commemorating his time as a Lt. Commander on the USS Hornet, the aircraft carrier that picked up the Apollo 11 astronauts after their mission to the moon in 1969.

Even the house itself has a story to tell. Wasson said it once served as part of the office building for the SeaPro fish meal facility on the Rockland waterfront. Wasson had the building moved to his property in Thomaston and renovated to serve as his house.

Wasson, who just turned 68, said he has lived in Thomaston for about 20 years. He grew up in Indiana, where he developed his love of hunting at an early age.

Much of his life story takes place at sea. He served in the U.S. Navy in the 1960s. He recalls being the officer of the deck on the USS Hornet on July 24, 1969, the day the vessel recovered astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins after the command capsule Columbia splashed down in the Pacific.

Armstrong and Aldrin had made history a few days before as the first human beings to set foot on the moon. They had guided the lander the Eagle to the lunar surface in an area called the Sea of Tranquility while Collins remained in orbit miles above in the Columbia.

President Richard Nixon and Admiral John S. McCain were aboard the Hornet at the time of the recovery mission.

Wasson said that while the captain was attending to other matters, Wasson served as one of the officers of the deck, giving orders on the bridge.

“That was my high point in the Navy,” he said of the mission.

He said he did not have an opportunity to meet the astronauts themselves. At the time, NASA was taking precautions to make sure the astronauts did not expose anyone to potentially deadly unknown space germs. As soon as they came aboard, the astronauts were locked in a Mobile Quarantine Facility. Wasson’s book shows a picture of Nixon greeting the space explorers through a window while they were still in quarantine.

Last summer, Wasson went to Alameda, Calif., for the 40th anniversary of the event on the USS Hornet, which is now a museum.

Wasson said he moved to Maine after he got out of the Navy. For a while he worked in education. In Blue Hill he taught seventh- and eighth-grade math and science, and physical education for kindergarten through eighth grade, and coached basketball, all for one low price, he said, laughing.

He went to graduate school in Northern Michigan, earned a master’s degree in education and taught school for another five years.

While teaching in Freeport, he picked up blacksmithing as a hobby and set up his own forge. People started coming to him for blacksmith work.

“I realized I liked it better than teaching,” he said.

His next career was born. Wasson became a full-time blacksmith and even took on seven employees. His shop was located on Main Street in Freeport near L.L. Bean and his business began doing work for the famous Maine company.

Eventually, as property in that part of Freeport became more and more valuable, the owner of the space Wasson had been renting sold the building.

Wasson once again answered the call of the sea, joining the Merchant Marine. He sailed cargo ships and later windjammers out of Portland and the Midcoast. At one point, he also worked on a Dutch school ship.

When he got the urge to blacksmith, he worked for a time at the Plymouth Plantation historical site in Massachusetts.

When he settled in the Midcoast, he worked for about five years as a ferry service captain out of Rockland. He also taught school in St. George and Thomaston.

His love of hunting and the outdoors led to another business venture. Wasson began leading guided hunts for sea ducks and sold his own handmade decoys as souvenirs for the trips. He still makes the decoys, carving the ducks from cedar or cork. His wife, Judy, helps in painting them.

Again and again, his story goes back to the sea. Wasson said many in the Midcoast sailing community know the story behind the schooner in the painting above his fireplace. The story is also recorded in the archives of The Courier-Gazette.

“In late August 1983, Wasson leased space at the North End Shipyard and began construction of the ill-fated schooner,” it said in one article from 1985.

Wasson said he had a crew of 13 people help build the Dayspring. He described it as a 65-foot square-topsail schooner rig. In both the painting by Douglas Alvord and the picture that appeared in The Courier-Gazette, the sailing vessel flew a flag bearing its name. It was launched April 7, 1984, in Rockland.

He had named it after another schooner of the same name out of Castine that was owned by a William Wasson in the 19th century.

The luxury schooner had the character of older vessels but featured modern amenities including hot running water, showers and electricity. It could carry 11 passengers.

The Dayspring became his family’s livelihood. It was chartered, often by high-end corporate clients, for day or week-long cruises. In the winter of 1984-1985, the Dayspring provided cruises around the Caribbean.

At the beginning of May 1985, Wasson and the Dayspring began the voyage back to Maine, where the schooner was to be berthed in Camden Harbor for the summer. The vessel had an eight-member crew for the trip including Wasson.

On the way back from the U.S. Virgin Islands, the vessel stopped in Bermuda for supplies and to check the weather.

Judy and their 18-month-old son, Ken, who had learned to walk on the Dayspring’s deck, had flown home from the Virgin Islands, and were not on the schooner when it left for Maine.

Despite the weather reports, the Dayspring was caught in a storm on the way back from Bermuda. Wasson recalls seas of more than 20 feet.

Wasson said he wasn’t afraid in the storm.

“I’ve been at sea for years and years and I’ve seen worse,” Wasson said. However, he quickly added that he saw worse while on bigger ships.

In the storm, the Dayspring hit something in the water. Wasson believes it was a container, though other debris including logs can be found floating in the water. The collision caused the schooner to spring a plank and begin taking on water.

“We saw the water coming in, slowly at first and then it increased,” Wasson said.

The Dayspring radioed for help and a three-hour effort to save the vessel began. U.S. Coast Guard jets out of Cape Cod spotted the schooner and two water pumps were dropped to it.

The Coast Guard sent the cutters Tany and Point Francis to help, along with a helicopter. No amount of pumping could save the vessel, however.

The Dayspring sank May 5, 1985, in 11,000 feet of water off the coast of New Jersey. It had been launched just 13 months earlier.

“It’s not a date I celebrate every year,” Wasson said.

Wasson and his crew were not injured and were rescued by the Tany and taken to New York Harbor, where he was reunited with Judy and his infant son. An article in The Courier-Gazette described the reunion as “tearful.”

Wasson said he had everything in the schooner and had to fight with the insurance company for two years to get a settlement.

If Apollo 11 was the high point of his career on the water, the sinking of the Dayspring was his low point.

Twenty-five years later, Wasson describes himself as between jobs. His most recent career was serving as general manager in North America for the Dutch marine equipment importer Stazo.

He remains busy with his many interests, however. He said his grandson inspired him in his most recent creation, highly detailed Victorian-style rocking horses. The horses are made complete with real horse hair and leather and brass fittings.

They are among the many items he has made in his home, each telling another piece of his story.

For more information on Wasson, visit

People Around Us is a regular feature on VillageSoup and in The Herald Gazette that highlights the stories of friends and neighbors in the community. Anyone who knows someone in the community who has an interesting story to tell is asked to please contact Daniel Dunkle at 594-4401, ext. 269 or by e-mail at Please mark the e-mail subject line “Attention Dan Dunkle” to make it stand out.