Tragic news broke in Rockland, Maine, on Monday morning Oct. 9, when word began spread of a fatal accident aboard one of Maine’s iconic windjammers, the Grace Bailey. The 75-foot main mast, the aft mast on a schooner, broke about two thirds of the way up and came crashing down on deck with the heavy gaff that supports the mainsail.

A 40-year-old woman, Emily Mecklenburg, was killed, and three other passengers suffered head and spine injuries. Mecklenburg was a doctor at Pen Bay Medical Center in nearby Rockport, where the three other victims were taken.

The 118-foot Grace Bailey was a mile east of Rockland with 33 passengers aboard at around 10 a.m., returning from a 5-day fall foliage cruise that had offered 40 percent discounts to Maine residents, when vessel personnel notified the Coast Guard of the accident. The Coast Guard removed Meckleburg from the schooner and transferred her to shore, where she was pronounced dead.

The Coast Guard then returned to remove the other injured and a salvage company towed the de-masted schooner into Rockland. The Coast Guard reports that it is investigating the accident, which is said to have occurred in mild wind while the vessel was underway, but not experiencing any undue stress. 

Numerous old schooners, some of them former fishing vessels, operate along the Maine coast offering one-day to one-week cruises for tourists. The Grace Baily was one of the oldest, though the mast was not the original. Built in New York in 1882 and launched as the Grace Bailey, the vessel operated in the coastal cargo trade under the name Mattie from 1906 to 1990, when it was restored and renamed the Grace Bailey.

According to the Portland Press Herald, Jim Sharp, former captain of the retired fishing schooner, Adventure, said he had never heard of a mast breaking like that in his more than 40 years of sailing. Sharp speculated that water had somehow gotten into the mast and caused it to have some localized rot that led to the failure.

The owners, skipper, and crew of the Grace Baily have expressed their grief over the incident, but declined to comment at length due to the ongoing Coast Guard investigation.

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Paul Molyneaux is the Boats & Gear editor for National Fisherman.

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