Steamer on Ice
Those who champion the benefits of fiberglass or steel ships over wooden ones would have had a tough time arguing with Captain William Roix of the steamship Katahdin, pride of the Bangor-to-Boston run, shown here after surviving a winter gale back in 1886. Though the 241-foot vessel sustained some damage to its bulwarks and name-boards, at far left, shortly after it passed Cape Ann, otherwise the proud steamer fared remarkably well during its ten-hour battle with Mother Nature. Its only shortcoming turned out to be a lack of fuel, an obstacle Roix's crew handled ingeniously by feeding the Katahdin's cargo, furniture, and even non-structural bits of the ship itself into the hungry boilers.Photographer Lafayette Newell recorded the evidence of this commonsense solution when he stood on an ice-covered wharf in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and took this remarkable photograph just moments after the battered ship found shelter. A naked wooden knee, just right of center, still supports the ice-encrusted railing and deck above, the bulkheads and bulwarks that once covered it having been stripped off as fuel. An ice pick, at left, rests beneath the icicles covering the paddle wheel itself, probably abandoned by a crewmember who would have cherished the feel of solid ground after such a night at sea.
Perhaps more remarkable than the damage that the two seamen at far left are studying is what remains intact aboard the Katahdin. The glass in the doors on the second level appears unbroken, and a tiny wind-indicator flag, at upper left, still blows from the flagpole on the ship's bow. The scrollwork covering the paddle wheel looks as striking as it did when the ship slid down the ways in 1863, and the massive square beams that support the paddle wheel are unscathed and probably helped the ship retain its shape during the storm. The most disturbing item rests in the doorway at lower right; though it appears to be a small, frozen dog, it is almost surely just a frozen bit of carpeting or even a chunk of ice.
It would only be days before this proud steamer put to sea again, returning to her regular route up Penobscot Bay and making stops in ports such as Rockland, Camden, and Winterport before finally arriving in the Queen City or, when ice shut down the Penobscot River, in Bucksport. Along with the steamers Cambridge and New Brunswick, the Katahdin helped provide passenger service six days a week in summer, four in winter, between Boston and Bangor. Her reliability would make her, like her namesake on Moosehead Lake, one of the most beloved of all ships ever to ply Maine waters.