Side Trips: Tall Ship Replicates Maine's 'Privateering' Past

Jul 14, 2014

The bow of the Lynx, a replica of a so-called privateer, built in Rockport, Maine.
Credit Jay Field

And now, another installment in our summer series, where we take you to museums, attractions and other hidden gems throughout Maine. We're calling it Side Trips. Today's destination: a painstakingly built replica of the The Privateer Lynx, a schooner from the War of 1812. Jay Field paid a visit to the tall ship on a windy day at the waterfront in Belfast.

In the run-up to the War of 1812, the U.S. Navy had a problem. It needed additional ships to defend the nation's interests. But America was still recovering financially from the Revolutionary War and didn't have the money to build a whole bunch of extra vessels as fast as the Navy needed them.

This dilemma gave rise to so-called privateers - private citizens in private vessels, commissioned by the U.S. government, to abduct British merchant ships. One of the most famous privateers was an 1812 Baltimore Clipper schooner called the Lynx.

"She was built in 1812. And she lasted about a year and a half out there on the water, give or take," says Orion Couling.

Couling is one of seven crew members working on board a replica of the Lynx. The ship, completed in 2001, was built at Rockport Marine and was the first square-rigged vessel built in the area since 1885. Couling looks up at the ship's four masts made from laminated Douglas Fir. The Lynx has a total of 11 sails it can use.

A replica of the "Privateer Lynx," a type of ship built to abduct British merchant ships during the war of 1812.
Credit Jay Field

"All the power of a downwind, square rigger," Couling says. "But we are also rigged front to back, or fore to aft. And we can deploy those sails in a very fast fashion. We've got the ability to catch all kinds of winds and really harness those winds."

In Belfast, where the ship is currently moored, Couling says visitors can tour the deck or sign up to go on a cruise.

"So right now is deck tour time and we're hanging out, talking to people, just getting to know our boat, a little about the history," he says. "And then we also do sailaways. So you can go out a couple of hours at a time. And we do a live black powder cannon firing- which, of course, they're not cannons, they're carronades, but who cares? And then we talk about the history of the ship. We usually sing a few shanties, because who doesn't enjoy a good sea song?"

The ship is the brain child of lifelong sailor and maritime history buff Woodson K. Woods. According to the ship's Web site, Woods wanted the Lynx replica to be a training opportunity for kids and adults to learn about sailing in the 18th and 19th centuries, the role of privateers on the seas and how the Revolutionary War affected maritime history.

Erik Lohsey, the boat's chief mate, says a day sail on the Lynx also teaches passengers something that's just as true today as it was 200 years ago.

"They realize that one person can't make anything happen by themselves," Lohsey says. "So, they see that it takes the entire crew, all working in unison, to accomplish pretty much anything we're doing on board here."

The ship, which runs its programs through the Lynx Educational Foundation, has traveled up and down the East Coast, through the Panama Canal, out to the West Coast and back to New England through the Great Lakes.

Jay Field: "What are a few of the things that, sort of - when you look back to the actual time that this vessel sailed on the water - sort of amaze you about what they were able to accomplish back then?

Erik Lohsey: "Back then, they didn't have some of the luxuries that we have on board here, such as a diesel engine, modern navigational aids."

Lohsey says it was amazing that that ships like Lynx actually sailed around in the fog with poor charts and didn't wreck more often on the rocks.

"And able to know where they were at by taking bottom soundings and knowing what the type of bottom was, as to where they were and whether they had good water," he says. "And then, also, being able to maneuver the ship and around, and do all things you have to do, while people are trying to kill you."

The Privateer Lynx will be in Belfast through tomorrow, head to Northeast Harbor for a week and then return to Belfast.