The Mary E, a schooner built in Bath in 1906, lies on its side as crews work to stabilize the vessel and get all the passengers off safely. Photo courtesy of Paul Kalkstein

A passenger who was on board the Maine Maritime Museum’s Mary E schooner when the vessel tipped over in the Kennebec River in July is suing the museum, claiming the Bath museum is liable for injuries and damages.

According to court documents filed Oct. 19, the passenger, Karen Baldwin, alleges the museum was “grossly negligent in its reckless disregard for the safety of its passengers” because the schooner wasn’t seaworthy and was steered by untrained staff who failed to conduct safety procedures.

Baldwin also claimed passengers were given a safety briefing, which included where to find and how to put on life jackets, prior to leaving the museum. Passengers, however, were not required to wear them during the cruise. She said the Mary E’s crew sailed through inclement weather, and that the crew did not avoid or warn passengers of dangerous conditions.

On July 30, the Mary E capsized while on a cruise with 15 passengers and three crew members on board. The 73-foot vessel capsized around 5:30 p.m. near Doubling Point Lighthouse in Arrowsic, according to Bath Chief of Police Andrew Booth.

The schooner was scheduled for a river cruise from 4-6:30 p.m. that would take passengers past Bath Iron Works, Doubling Point Lighthouse and the Kennebec Range Lights, according to the museum’s website.

According to court documents, Baldwin stated when the vessel started to tip to one side and water poured into the boat, her companion “assisted her from falling overboard and into the river for a few seconds until the vessel finally toppled port-side and laid down.”

“When the vessel laid down, the passengers, including (Baldwin), went into the water,” the document states. “In the process of trying to brace herself on the vessel, something heavy and hard struck the back of the (Baldwin’s) head and she fell into the water. When (Baldwin) surfaced, she was in the area of the wires, ropes and sail that had not been raised during the voyage.”

Baldwin and her companion put on life jackets floating nearby. They treaded water until they were able to board one of the boats that came to bring passengers ashore, according to the documents.

All passengers were rescued by Bath Iron Works security, Sea Tow and Bath Police. Two people were taken to Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick, Coast Guard Lt. James McDonough said.

The newly renovated schooner Mary E sails the Kennebec River in 2019, slightly downriver from where she was launched in 1906. Photo courtesy of Maine Maritime Museum.

According to Joseph Orlando Jr., one of Baldwin’s attorneys, she was taken to the hospital because she sustained a “severe head injury” that she’s still receiving treatment for. Orlando declined to provide further details of the injury.

Orlando also declined to specify what Baldwin is seeking for compensation, but will “likely be more than the (museum’s) insurance policy has available.”

“The question of how much we will demand remains open because my client is still receiving medical treatment, so it would be premature to say,” the attorney said.

Orlando said he believes the Mary E is “wildly underinsured” and may not be enough to compensate Baldwin, let alone other passengers who may file similar claims.

The Mary E has a $150,000 post-incident value, according to the museum’s complaint.

“I think this was a really scary event for the passengers and was definitely avoidable if the crew was trained properly,” said Orlando. “There should be no question that the vessel and the crew are at fault.”

Maine Maritime Museum spokesperson Katie Spiridakis declined to comment on the suit, but wrote: “The safety of the passengers on the Mary E, as well as all of our museum guests, is of utmost importance.”

Baldwin’s lawsuit comes about two months after the museum filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in Portland in an effort to avoid any potential liability in connection to the incident.

According to court documents filed Aug. 20, the Bath museum claims it is not responsible for any “loss, damage, injury and destruction” sustained during the capsize because it “used due diligence to make the subject vessel seaworthy and safe” before and during the July 30 cruise.

The museum maintains the Mary E was also “properly equipped and supplied, and in all respects seaworthy and fit for the services for which she was engaged,” according to the complaint.

In the filing, the museum states the historic schooner “sustained a knock-down,” meaning the boat tipped sideways to the point where its masts were at or below the water. Spiridakis said the museum is still waiting on the results of the Coast Guard’s investigation of what caused the capsize.

The Coast Guard didn’t immediately return requests for comment Thursday.

In Baldwin’s suit, she disputes the museum’s complaint stating the museum is “in whole or in part, individually, jointly and/or severally, caused or contributed to causing the casualty of the vessel and other losses, damages, etc., including the personal injuries to Karen Baldwin by its own negligence,” and “is liable and not entitled to exoneration nor limitation as a result of inadequate maintenance and repair procedures, as well as an improperly trained and equipped crew.”

Spiridakis previously told The Times Record the museum hopes to make the necessary repairs and continue using it for passenger cruises but declines to comment on the extent of the damage.

The two-masted schooner was built by Thomas Hagan in 1906 at a Houghton shipyard, where Bath Iron Works now stands. For 38 years the schooner operated as a fishing and trade vessel before it was sold in 1944 to become a dragger. The ship was abandoned in 1960 and sank three years later in Lynn Harbor, Massachusetts, after a Thanksgiving Day hurricane.

In 1965, William Donnell of Bath – whose great-grandfather was a shipbuilder associated with Hagan — bought the schooner for $200 after seeing an advertisement in a commercial fishing magazine.

Donnell brought the vessel home for restoration where it was used it as a passenger schooner in the Maine Windjammer Fleet before being sold to the Maine Maritime Museum in 2017 for $140,000.


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