If you live on the coast of Maine, you might have raised an eyebrow when you saw the news that the 128-foot Victory Chimes will be put up for sale. I raised both eyebrows because, as a salty old Coast Guard veteran, I worked on the three-master in the summer of 1958.

The Victory Chimes during the 45th Annual Great Schooner Race in July. Though “a salty old Coast Guard veteran” when he worked aboard the three-master, the young humble Farmer knew nothing of sailboats when he was hired. Photo by Ken Waltz

Perhaps because I seldom got more than four hours sleep any night that I was aboard the Chimes, I remember it as being the best job I ever had, and now jump at the chance to tell you about it.

In the minds of many, sailboats conjure up images of freedom, exciting danger, unforgettable sunsets and romance. Here in St. George, it has always been so. My grandfather was rescued when his ship, the Gregory, sprung a leak and sank off the coast of Ireland in 1882. One of his father’s cousins, Captain Albion, married Carolina, a German girl. When asked where he got her, he said he reached down into the hold of his ship and pulled her out by the hair.

In the late 1850s, Lillius Gilchrest, niece of Captain Albion and one of my grandfather’s second cousins, found herself on a long voyage with a dashing young William R. Grace, who was building a large company. She married him.

Because you probably have at least two friends who found a soulmate while on a cruise (or, nowadays, a soulmate who might have been strapped immobile next to them on a six-hour flight), you can understand why the opportunity to work on a “skinboat” appealed to a 22-year-old boy.

Should you happen to be from “away,” I’ll point out that the term “skinboat” was applied to the dozen or so good old fishing or freight boats that, after World War II, were refitted to accommodate passengers. Their home port was Camden or Rockland, and the appellation derived from the fact that, once aboard, passengers stripped down to bathing suits. There was always a chance that the sparse Maine sun might shine long enough to give them a painful saltwater burn that they could flaunt when they got back to Boston.


“The office should seek the man and not the man the office” applied to my working on the Chimes. It was not in my nature to look for work. My father’s friend Everett Baum was the cook and probably asked me to fill in when their deckhand quit.

And now, instead of relying on the muddled memories of an aged Maine man, let us copy here the words brave little Robert wrote in his diary.

• Aug. 11, 1958: “Got home at 0100 & packed almost everything I own to get ready for the new job I find myself in possession of as the deck Hand on the Victory Chimes.”

• Aug. 12, 1958: “Got up at 0630. Pumped out the motor boat & ate breakfast. Went up on deck and helped get the sails up. Left Stonington & headed for Bass Harbor Saw Shingle Island for the first time in 18 months. It doesn’t seem that long.” (These islands were intimately familiar to me because for two interminable years I worked this coast on the bridge of the CG Cutter Laurel. Although I knew navigation and how to handle a ship of 180 feet, I knew nothing of sailboats.)

“Held her steady on Bass Hbr Head for awhile. She handled quite easily. I didn’t think I could hold her & I don’t think the captain did either when he asked me so we were both surprised. Lost a sailor hat over the side as I reached to save a girl’s sweater from going overboard. Unfortunately noone [sic] was in it as I grasped it firmly & triumphantly hauled it aboard.” (That was about it for romance for my first day.)

“Went ashore in Bass Harbor. The captain keeps telling me to do things in salty terms & as I don’t know the names of anything aboard I get Mr. King (the mate) to interpret & carry out the order. Went into Bass Harbor to pick up the liberty party. Sprained my ankle as I jumped on the dock. It hurt for awhile & swelled up like a potato.”


• Aug. 13, 1958: “Couldn’t even walk. Tumbled around. Left Bass Harbor and went up Eggemoggin Reach. Anchored in Buck’s Harbor. Went ashore at Grays Wharf, I guess. The doctor from Penobscot happened to be in town so I rode over to the hospital in Castine with him and had an x-ray. It cost [the owner] Mr. Elliot’s insurance co $10 & $6 for taxi fare back… Took my first bath out of a bucket. … Sat up in the fog waiting for the boat to come back. They were listening to a hi fi on the shore.”

• Aug. 14, 1958: “Got underway from Bucks Harbor and went to Belfast. No wind so the boat towed us. Still limping around. Went ashore in Belfast. King [the mate] went along as he wanted to go bowling. Observed Mate get a lot of strikes.”

Joan, one of the passengers, walked about in Belfast with me: “Went to see ‘God’s Little Acre’ which was funny at the beginning but quite poor at the end. $1.50 & .35. Went down to some hotel where the crew were dancing to a two beat piano player. 90 cents.”

• Aug. 15, 1958: “Got out of the dance at 0030 and walked down to where Mr. Elliot was waiting in the small boat. Stayed up until 0550. Just got to bed when mate ripped me out at 0730. Foggy out. Stayed in Belfast all day. Poured rain in the morning. Went for a quick swim around the boat as the sun came out at 1700. Went ashore with Joan and three others in the skiff. Landed behind Perry’s Nut House and went up. Wandered about and then Joan and I took the skiff over to the other side by the tugs. Progressive sunset. Best job I ever had. Landed on a rock and walked around the shore to the road. Went to the dance. $1.90.”

Here we must pause, because although I have forgotten almost everything else about my time on the Chimes, the memory of sitting with a pretty girl in a skiff in the middle of Belfast Harbor watching the sun go down is forever etched in my mind. It fulfills every young man’s aspirations. For his entire short life he has been told that this is the moment he has been waiting for. It doesn’t get any better than this. Warm, calm evening in a skiff in a lazy Maine harbor watching the sun go down with a pretty girl who, in three days, would go back to her desk in Boston and never be seen again.

I also remember the mate. He was an old rum-runner from Milbridge. In 1958 he was about 65 years old, had recently had heart surgery and would jump in the air and click his heels together.


As mentioned above, before I was 21 I had lived on Maine salt water for two years. But this man had salt water in his blood. Hear this. When one travels, one’s intestines might not function normally, and it might be worse on a boat. One very foggy night, while anchored off Camden Harbor, a passenger was in such intestinal pain that it was thought best to take her ashore for treatment. It happened to be a young woman who had been seen chatting with me on a regular basis since she came aboard.

As we helped her get into the small boat, the mate said to me in a loud voice, “Haven’t you done enough already?” He had had more than a few and I wondered how he was going to find the dock until he said, “Put out the line.” I couldn’t see a thing but fog. An instant later, we were beside the dock. It was one of the most memorable things I have ever seen in my life. I still have no idea how he did it.

According to my diary of 1958, one day on the Victory Chimes was much like any other. Four hours was the most sleep I could expect to get on any day. Although I now get more sleep, my life then seemed to approximate my life now, as my only goal in life was trying to get through the day. Then as now, Maine businesses seem to have trouble finding qualified help.

Many are concerned about the future of the Victory Chimes. Will a buyer be found with deep enough pockets to get her through the Coast Guard inspections? We hope so. She has given so many of us pleasant, life-long memories.

If not, there are other options. Tie her up by Route 1 in Wiscasset, run out the gangplank and sell $40 lobster rolls.

The humble Farmer can be heard Friday nights at 7 on WHPW (97.3 FM) and visited at:

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