Inside a Historic Schooner's Capsizing in Maine, and the Quick Rescue of 18 on Board

"It's heartbreaking to me. I hate for the boat to take a knock to its reputation," said the Mary E's previous owner

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First responders, a company called SeaTow and others are being credited with making a miraculous recovery of over a dozen people after a 115-year-old schooner capsized in Maine's Kennebec River off of Bath on Friday.

The Mary E was built in 1906 in Bath and is now owned by the Maine Maritime Museum.

Once a cargo vessel, it had sunk during a storm in Lynn, Massachusetts, in the 1960s but has since been restored multiple times and carried many passengers aboard. It eventually joined the National Register of Historic Places.

On Friday evening, 18 people were on board the Mary E during a Maine Maritime Museum tour when the vessel capsized.

Dr. Peter Nordlander, of Houston, Texas, and his wife were both passengers. He suddenly found himself handing out life jackets to passengers in the water who were clinging to the ship's masts.

"I was on the dry side," he explained during a Monday interview.

"The boat tilted, probably 10 seconds. It's difficult to tell," he recalled of the moment Mary E hit the water.

"It tilted more and more, very slowly, and you first saw water in the railing ... eventually it was lying flat," Nordlander added.

Rescue crews were immediately dispatched from Bath police, Bath fire, Bath harbor patrol, SeaTow and the Coast Guard, and all 18 people were rescued relatively quickly, with three taken to area medical facilities, according to the Coast Guard.

Whether or not they were still receiving care was not immediately clear on Monday.

As for how the ship capsized, the Maine Maritime Museum's chief curator, Chris Timm, declined to comment, saying in an email that, "until the Coast Guard completes their investigation into Friday's incident we want to be respectful of their process, which we are assisting in."

However, Timm did say that the ship has been turned back upright and was brought to the museum's dock on Sunday afternoon.

"We are so grateful for the multiple organizations and individuals that ensured the safety of our passengers --our first priority--these include SeaTow, Bath Iron Works, Bath Police/Fire, Bath Harbor Patrol, and the Coast Guard. We are also appreciative of the team of professionals who helped supervise the vessel's return, including SeaTow and the Coast Guard. We are in the process of fully assessing the vessel's condition, and any needed work, over the next few days," Timm said.

The Coast Guard also did not comment on a cause for the ship having capsized. But a representative said its investigation is being conducted in conjunction with the National Transportation Safety Board and that the Mary E "is an inspected passenger vessel."

"It's been inspected in the past year and is up to date," Coast Guard Petty Officer Emma Fliszar said.

Reached by phone on Monday, Matt Culen, the most recent owner of the Mary E prior to the museum taking it, said he did not have any major issues with the boat and would not speculate on what caused it to roll over.

"It's heartbreaking to me. I hate for the boat to take a knock to its reputation," he said.

While Nordlander has not heard back from officials on the cause of the ship capsizing, he did recall a strong gust of wind blowing Mary E shortly before it capsized.

"The wind picked up really dramatically. The sailboat always tilts a little bit when the wind comes, we were prepared, but this time the wind got stronger and stronger and it tilted more and more," he said.

Nordlander has since received a refund for his tour, but he said he wants to donate that money back to the museum so the ship can be restored.

"This is a legacy to the ships we had 100 years ago. It's very important to keep this," he said, vowing to return to the museum and adding, "the crew handled this very professionally."

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