PORTLAND – She’s not sure, but Saturday may have been the first time Deborah Ann Clark Gray stepped foot on the City of Portland III in more than a half-century.

Gray, who christened the fireboat as a 10-year-old in 1959, was back on board on a sparkling February morning to accept a gift of a refurbished barometer before the decommissioned vessel goes up for sale later this year.

Gray was the subject of a mini-mystery this winter after city officials lost contact information for her. Gray’s mother, 92-year-old Dorothy Clark, learned the ship was being replaced and had inquired about getting a memento from the fireboat for her daughter. That sparked the idea of offering the barometer from the boat, but fire officials had no way to contact Gray after information about Clark and Gray was misplaced.

It turned out that the search wasn’t that difficult — Gray, the daughter of the Portland City Council chairman at the time of the christening, lives in Massachusetts and has a house on Long Island in Casco Bay.

Gray said she remembers heading to City Council clambakes with her father, Sumner Clark, in the 1960s and thinks they may have gone on board the fireboat, but isn’t certain.

”This is the first time (on board) I’ll remember,” she said.

Gray said she clearly remembers heading down to an East Boston shipyard with her family and city officials to christen the boat and she brought along a scrapbook of photos to the boat Saturday for fire officials to look over. The scrapbook had shots of her breaking a bottle of champagne across the bow and several others of the boat heading out of Boston Harbor, with the spray of water cannons arcing out from the boat.

”For a 10-year-old, it was the most exciting thing that had happened to me,” she said.

The christening wasn’t simple, however. Red, white and blue ribbons were wrapped around the base of the champagne bottle she was given, Gray remembered, cushioning the blows.

”It took me a couple or three whacks to crack the bottle,” she said.

Gray said she married and moved to Massachusetts with her husband, a native of Scarborough, in 1978, but they spend much of their summers and most holidays at their home on Long Island, where they also hope to retire.

”Our hearts have always been in Maine,” she said, and it gives her a kick to see the City of Portland III bobbing a few feet away whenever she boards the Casco Bay ferry to head to Long Island. Her children have also pointed it out to their friends, she said, and mention that their mother christened the vessel.

Presenting the barometer, which was mounted on a plaque, to Gray was Valerie Pendleton, the daughter of a Portland fire official who headed to Nova Scotia last summer to christen the City of Portland IV, tied up near its predecessor.

Pendleton told Gray that she didn’t have a hard time cracking the champagne bottle because it had been scored — scratched near the base — beforehand to make it easier to break.

Portland Fire Chief Frederick LaMontagne said it was nice to have several circles completed with the ceremony Saturday. Gray was able to come back and board the boat she had christened and got to meet the teenager who christened its successor.

”It’s just really nice to be able to do,” he said before giving Gray a tour of the boat.



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