Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Mary E

The Mary E is a 73 foot long, two-masted clipper schooner that was built in Bath, Maine, in 1906 by shipbuilder Thomas E. Hagan. Originally the Mary E was a fishing vessel, carrying four or five dories; her hold, later redesigned as a passenger cabin, once stored up to five tons of mackerel. In 1968 the Mary E was rebuilt stem to stern by W.T. Donnel.

Influential jazz musician Capt. Teddy Charles (1928-2012) bought the schooner in 1974 as a passenger windjammer.

Mary E, courtesy Maine Maritime Museum

As part of the 1976 Bicentennial Sail jointly sponsored by the National Park Service and "Sea Ventures," a New Jersey-based educational organization, the Mary E was being used as learning motivation for students in schools near various East Coast Parks. In April of that year, bound for Manteo, the Mary E made a stop at Ocracoke and was detained by bad weather for several days.

While on Ocracoke Meryl Silverstein, the onboard educator, first mate, cook and deckhand made arrangements for Ocracoke students to inspect the ship. But instead of giving them the usual 20-minute program, Capt. Charles invited them to sail to Manteo, 70 miles north. Within two hours, 13 Ocracoke high school students, three adult supervisors, Silverstein and the skipper were sailing out of the harbor with excited and anxious mothers, friends and teachers waving.

As with any wooden sailboat, moisture, ship worms and time have taken their toll on this 111 year old schooner.  The Mary E was delivered to the Maine Maritime Museum this spring, and restoration work is being done by her current owner, Matt Culen of Pelham, N.Y. The work will be completed on the museum’s campus, giving the public the opportunity to witness historic shipbuilding techniques first hand. You can read more details about this project here.

You can read Philip Howard's article (first published in the Washington Post, April 29, 1976) about sailing with the Ocracoke students here:

This month's Ocracoke Newsletter is a recording of Rex O'Neal telling about the time he fell overboard when he was gigging for flounder. The story was recorded for Coastal Voices, an oral history project about the maritime heritage of the Outer Banks and Down East region of coastal North Carolina. Click here to listen to Rex telling his story:  


  1. Great blog post this morning and... I couldn't help, but be impressed that you had the article that was linked above, in the Washington Post! Very cool!!!

  2. Anonymous8:39 AM

    What !!! where was the bureaucracy of permission slips back then? On a Whim, a sea Captain sails off with 13 high school students --did the parent permission slip get cast to the wind? There were no cell phones back then --how were the parents contacted at such last minute planning?? Wait, I skipped over the "anxious mothers waving" ( I guess everyone ran home to ask ) -- but still with the Turn of events how was this possible in a Union held organization? Were the teachers paid Overtime, where were the insurance forms, Liability waivers. In 2017 would happenstance exist with so many rules and advance planning and Union Seniority. Yes, it was a Chapter of reality -how things happen in the real world, one learns how to deal with Stuff that Happens. But I am agog that it was Possible. In 1976 a mere forty years ago, America was Great back Then....... kinda sorta in the middle of a big city not so much...smuggling was gaining a foot hold.... Published in the Washington Post... I wonder if there were and letters to the Editor commenting on the story??

    1. Yes, "everyone ran home to ask." It was a great mini-adventure for the students. I don't remember any letters to the editor about the story.

  3. Anonymous1:05 PM

    Wow, what an adventure! I am sure it is something those kids never forgot! Thank you for sharing.
    NJ Reader

  4. Anonymous8:44 AM

    Catching up on old posts, I just came upon this one. What a fantastic adventure and learning opportunity you and those long-ago students had, Philip. If you're still in touch with any of them (I'd presume some still live on the island), I wonder whether your shared voyage remains a topic of conversation or made any particular lasting impressions (i.e., career choices or leisure pursuits) on them. Appreciate your posts, as always. :-)


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