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Here, we'll set the scene for the Golden Age of Sail and delve into the history of America's first schooners. 

From 1850 through the beginning of the 20th century, domestic and international trade was dominated by sailing vessels. With no fuel costs, and no engines or fuel taking up valuable cargo space, sailing ships had the flexibility to ply most any port and had no concern for fuel availability on arrival. #IdowhatIwant

We, and all of Maine's Windjammers still have a glint of that swashbuckler attitude on our cruises; by wind and whim we set sail for Secret Maine.

Many of you are fans of VICTORY CHIMES and so know some of her story. We're going to take a step back and then dig deeper to tell you all kinds of ​found facts, and show many contributed treasures.

We've credited kind givings as best we can and we encourage others to keep this project fresh and living, just like the ship herself. To drop us a line, click the anchor below to share stories or images. 

America's First Schooners

Development of the Large American Wooden Cargo Schooner

Both the origins of the schooner and the word "schooner" itself are somewhat obscure. A print engraved after the Dutch artist, Van de Velde, who died in 1707, shows a two-masted vessel with a gaff-rigged sail on each mast. 1 Quentin Snediker and Ann Jensen, in their history of Chesapeake Bay schooners, list the thirty-five ton Sarah as "the first schooner known to have been built in Maryland."2 A painting in the collections of the Maryland Historical Society, dated ca. 1770, clearly shows two Maryland two-masted schooners.3

By 1780 the British lexicographer and poet William Falconer, in his Universal Dictionary of  the Marine defined a schooner as:

"A small vessel with two masts, whose main-sail and fore-sail are suspended from gaffs reaching out below by booms, whose foremost ends are hooked to an iron, which clasps the mast so as to turn therein as upon an axis, when the after-ends are swung from one side of the vessel to the other."4

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There is a Scottish verb to "Scoon," or "skim along the water."   

"Oh, see how she scoons!"

It is likely, then, that the schooner appeared in Colonial America based on European models. Webster's Dictionary calls the term "schooner" of "origin unknown."5 However there is a Scottish verb to "scoon," or "skim along the water."6 According to a Massachusetts legend, the term dates to 1713, when a such a vessel was launched in Gloucester. The ease with which she entered the water caused a witness to inadvertently name the type when he exclaimed: "Oh, see how she scoons!" 7

The early American merchant schooners were generally small and operated mainly in the coasting trade, which had been reserved to American flag vessels by an Act of Congress in 1789. These small vessels were "handy, economical, easily built of readily accessible materials, perfectly suited to their task and their number was legion."8 Although the early coasting trade was carried out in vessels of a number of types, eventually the schooner supplanted square-rigged vessels in the coasting trade for very practical reasons:

The fore-and aft rig came to be preferred for coasting vessels for several reasons. Fewer sailors were required to handle the vessel, and a schooner could be worked into and out of harbors more easily than any square-rigged craft. Her trips could also, as a rule, be made in quicker time, as she could sail close into the wind, and it was hardly necessary for her to sail from Maine to New York by way of the Bermudas, as some square-rigged vessels have done during baffling winds.9

The three-masted schooner almost monopolized the coasting trades,

particularly the lumber business.

click images to enlarge.

The place and date of the "invention" of the three-masted or "tern" schooner is uncertain. There is a reference to a three-masted American schooner, Success, reported at Kingston, Jamaica, bound for San Domingo in March 1801.10 In his History ofAmerican Sailing Ships, Howard I. Chapelle cites the three-masted Baltimore-built Flying Fish, which was in the Royal Navy by 1806. Chapelle feels that it was "reasonable to place the date of the launch of this vessel about 1800."11


David R. MacGregor, in his Schooners in Four Centuries, comments that "three-masted schooners were not built much outside the Chesapeake area until the 1850s, but in that decade they suddenly became popular. . ,"12 After that time, and particularly after the American Civil War, writes Chapelle, "the three-masted schooner almost monopolized the coasting trades, particularly the lumber business.


There were two types of three-master at this time, a rather deep-draft keel model and a shoaler centerboarder." 13 Captain Francis E. ("Biff) Bowker estimates that approximately two thousand three-masted schooners of both types were built on the American east

coast. 14

The deeper draft schooners evolved into large vessels of four, five and six masts

- and even one with seven masts!


click images to enlarge. 

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This is the THOMAS W. LAWSON,  Launched in 1902 it was the world’s largest pure sailing ship at the time and was the only 7 master ever built.

Each mast on the LAWSON was almost as tall as the ‘ CHIMES is long - 125 feet.

Her total sail square footage was 43,000 but, using a donkey engine to raise the sails and anchors kept her crew at 16 -18, versus twice that for a square rigger of the time.

403 feet long, with a 50 ft beam and 35 feet deep, she could carry 11,000 tons of coal.

She would regularly log 14-16 knots, leaving steamships behind whose average was 9 knots.

The deeper draft schooners to which Chapelle refers evolved, in due course of time, into large vessels of four, five and six masts, with one seven-master, principally involved in the trade of carrying coal and lumber along the Atlantic coast. Coal from ports such as Norfolk and Newport News headed northward, as did southern hard pine for building and vessel construction. No examples of this type of schooner remain afloat.

The Last of the Last


On the west coast there developed two distinct large schooner types: multi-masted lumber schooners. A remaining example of which is C.A. Thayer, built in 1895. She is a National Historic Landmark (NHL), now preserved in San Francisco. The other last examples of large American cargo ships  survived precariously until recently.  


One was Wawona (1897) of Seattle, WA dismantled in 2009, but chronicled in a book by J. G. Fallonsbee. Also, here's a link to a video about her during her final decline, when volunteers dreamt of sailing her again and gave tours as she chafed at her mooring. The video shows just how fortunate we are to have our 'CHIMES in bright shape and still sailing. 


The other large American wooden cargo ship remaining was the NHL steam schooner Wapama (1915), dismantled in 2013. 


Victory Chimes is the only operating large American cargo schooner still sailing. In. The. World. #likeaboss

Click images to enlarge and access source links.