The schooner F.C. Pendleton

Interesting research related to maritime Maine
By Charles H. Lagerbom | Sep 03, 2020
Photo by: Charles H. Lagerbom Dive team ready to depart Belfast docks for Seal Harbor, Islesboro.

The wreck of the schooner F.C. Pendleton in Seal Harbor has long been a favorite of local dive clubs here in Midcoast Maine. It is tucked away in a small remote harbor on an island three miles off the mainland, so remains within somewhat easy reach, but also not a very often visited site. Some years back, wreck diving classes used to do their open dives there. Veteran divers in the area have all been there, many consider it almost a rite of passage. It definitely should be on one’s bucket-list of Maine dive sites.

On a crisp New England fall day, four of us decided to make a pilgrimage to the F.C. Pendleton. Some of us were from the Midcoast area, some from Southern Maine. All are members of some local dive clubs. We enlisted a local boat owner named Chris, who agreed to take us over to Islesboro aboard his center console open boat. It was everyone’s first visit, including my own. I found it to be a journey back in time.

The three masted, 480-ton F.C. Pendleton was 145 feet long, 33 feet wide, and drew only 12 feet. She had one deck, a square stern and sported a billet head, a decorative piece of woodwork that adorned her bow, usually a scroll or ornamental carving instead of a figurehead. Launched in Bangor, in September 1882, by the Crosby Brothers shipyard, she went into the lumber trade. One of her first voyages brought pine to Maine from Darien, Ga. Katahdin Ice Company then employed her carrying ice, including a 700-ton shipment to Bermuda. It was a profitable venture and soon F.C. Pendleton regularly shipped ice to Baltimore, usually for Bangor’s E. and I. K. Stetson Ice Company.

Still carrying ice in 1884, the vessel was likely painted that year by prolific marine artist William Pierce Stubbs (1842-1909). His oil on canvas painting was titled “The Three-Masted Schooner F.C. Pendleton at Sea.” Stubbs, from the Boston area, for a time resided in Bucksport and was likely living there when he painted the ship.

By 1885, she brought coal out of Hoboken to Boston and then made a run from New York to Port of Spain, capital of Trinidad and Tobago, with a cargo of white pine. F.C. Pendleton then went to Mobile, Ala., and loaded assorted lumber for New York. By end of 1885, she needed her bottom cleaned, caulked and painted, which was done at Jersey City.

John H. Crosby, along with others, owned her until 1892. Then it is not clear as to actual ownership, but in 1906, she was purchased by her namesake, Fields C. Pendleton. He had been one of her captains until 1886, along with others, such as William J. Fletcher. Captain Pendleton returned as her occasional master between 1887 and 1890, interspersed with Captain Fletcher, who once more took command of her until 1893, oftentimes with trips to American southern ports such as Savannah, Ga.

Between 1893 and the first decade of the 1900s, her masters included a Captain Dodge, Captain Ferguson, Captain Burgess, Captain Barnes and Captain E.J. Hutchinson, as she mostly operated out of New York and the American south, although she did return to Stonington in 1903.

F.C. Pendleton was considered a lucky vessel and a steady earner for her first 25 years of operation as a lumber, coal or ice carrier, oftentimes between American southern ports and Bangor or New York. Another owner at some point was Alonzo Towle of Bangor. But her luck turned, right about the time Pendleton bought her.

On March 30, 1906, F.C. Pendleton anchored in thick fog after losing her way off Cape Henlopen, Del. Too close to the breakers, her captain requested assistance from the life-saving crew at Station Lewes. The surfmen hove up her anchors and a tug towed her to safe anchorage in the harbor. Between 1907 and 1914, the vessel’s service and condition declined. The ship did not pay or was profitable again until the start of WWI. In 1908, her last known master was Captain E.J. Hutchinson. The schooner’s last record of earning a dividend was in September 1917.

On Dec. 11, 1917, F.C. Pendleton sustained extensive damage in a collision with the barge Scully, which was being towed by the North America. The schooner was also taken in tow by North America and they proceeded to Vineyard Haven. Two days later, F.C. Pendleton sustained yet another extensive collision, this time with L.V. Barge No. 786. Over the next few days, temporary repairs were made and North America offered to tow the schooner back to New York, but the offer was refused due to bad weather at the time. F.C. Pendleton was finally towed to Mystic, Conn., and repaired but would not be put into service again until Aug. 27, 1918. A lawsuit for damages commenced, but was not settled until 1928.

It is not clear what then became of the schooner; one source states her later records went missing. On Oct. 18, 1925, while en route from Jacksonville, Fla. to Portland with a cargo of railroad ties, she sent out distress signals and had to be taken in tow by USCG Mohave. By end of 1925, she was anchored in Seal Harbor on Islesboro. That same year, her vessel registration expired. A 1941 source lists her as having been stranded in 1925 at Seal Harbor on Islesboro. How long she sat there is unknown. At some point, she caught fire and sank while at anchor.

Islesboro, a large island located in mid-Penobscot Bay, was called Long Island in colonial times. Seal Harbor is located midway down the island on its west side facing across the bay towards Duck Trap Harbor and Northport, three miles away on the mainland.

The wreck is marked on the NOAA map 13302. Access to the site is primarily by boat. There is no marker or float for the wreck. The hull is partially intact with a profusion of marine growth on it. Over the years, many of the vessel’s dead-eyes (thick round blocks used in the rigging of old sailing ships) have been removed.

On that crisp, spectacular day in September, four of us gathered at the Belfast dock where Captain Chris motored us down the bay and over to the sheltered harbor. For September in Maine, conditions were good with partly sunny skies and a low 60 degree air temperature. We drifted over the site, trying to fix its coordinates, yet still ended up having to do basic search patterns with paired divers until we finally located the wreck. Visibility there is often poor, on our dive not more than 5 to 6 feet. Water temperature was 53 degrees and we were pleased there was little surge and no current.

The highest part of the wreck was about 15 feet below surface, showing remnants of its upper structure. Most of the wreck depth averaged about 40 feet feet of seawater. The wreck sits on a Northeast to Southwest line. The hull was still mostly intact, although extensive deterioration has occurred. Many of F.C. Pendleton’s ribs were exposed, most everything covered in heavy marine life including hundreds of Clonal Plumose Anemone (Metridium senile). Remnants remained of the vessel’s square stern and even less of the bow and billet head.

We surfaced to celebrate our successful visit to the F.C. Pendleton and found the weather had begun to turn, as it often does in fall in northern Maine waters. The wind had picked up, clouds rolled in, and a distinct chop met us as we exited Seal Harbor. It made for a sketchy and exciting return trip for the five of us back across the bay to Belfast in Chris’ boat!

Charles Lagerbom teaches AP US History at Belfast Area High School and lives in Northport. He can be contacted at clagerbom@rsu71.org. He is author of "Whaling in Maine" available through Historypress.com.

The team performs organized searches for the exact location of the wreck. (Photo by: Charles H. Lagerbom)
Pictured are the ship’s keelson and futtocks. (Photo by: Charles H. Lagerbom)
The ship showed profuse marine life including Clonal Plumose Anemone (Metridium senile). (Photo by: Charles H. Lagerbom)
Pictured is the Bow of the FC Pendleton. (Photo by: Rich Obrey)
If you appreciated reading this news story and want to support local journalism, consider subscribing today.
Call (207) 594-4401 or join online at knox.villagesoup.com/join.
Donate directly to keeping quality journalism alive at knox.villagesoup.com/donate.
Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.