A fall foliage cruise aboard the historic schooner S/V GRACE BAILEY turned into a deadly tragedy when, without warning, the vessel’s main mast snapped and dropped to the deck. The mast collapse killed one person and seriously injured three others.
Although the cause of the break is still under investigation, speculation suggests that more frequent inspections and maintenance of the mast could potentially have prevented damage that led to the collapse of the mast and averted the injuries. This heart-breaking incident calls attention to risks passengers can face during pleasure cruises and the need for diligent maintenance on every inch of a sailing vessel.
Head and Spinal Injuries to Passengers
The incident occurred off the coast of Rockland, Maine on Monday, October 9. S/V GRACE BAILEY, with 33 people aboard, was returning from a four-day cruise designed to explore the coastline and view fall foliage. At about 10 in the morning, when the vessel was approximately one mile from the harbor, the rear mast of the vessel suddenly split about 2/3 of the way up. The solid wood mast was approximately 75 feet in length, so the weight of the piece that broke off along with the lines and sail would have carried tremendous force as it crashed down onto the passengers and crew on deck below.
A 40-year-old passenger was struck on the head. Rescuers who arrived on the scene reported that crew were performing CPR on her, and she was quickly transported to shore by Coast Guard boat but pronounced dead on arrival. The Coast Guard then returned to rescue three other passengers suffering from head and spinal injuries.
Historic Schooner Gets New Life as a Cruise Vessel
S/V GRACE BAILEY was built in 1882 in Patchogue, New York. Designed to carry lumber, the two-masted vessel made regular trips up and down the east coast for years. She was named for the owner’s daughter, born earlier that same year. In 1906, the vessel was refitted and renamed S/V MATTIE. For decades, the vessel carried a variety of cargo between ports around Maine. Then in 1940, a new owner started using S/V MATTIE for windjammer passenger tours.
During WWII, the vessel was used for training with the Maine Maritime Academy, but then it returned to passenger service at the end of the war as part of the Maine Windjammer Cruises fleet. The ship’s current owners claim that the vessel has carried more passengers and been in service longer than any other windjammer.
In 1990, the vessel underwent over 20,000 hours of restoration work and returned to the original name S/V GRACE BAILEY. However, the goal of the restoration was to keep the vessel as close to the original as possible. The biggest change was the creation of cabins to accommodate 29 passengers. The vessel had no engines for propulsion but continued to rely on wind power.
Luxury cruises on the S/V GRACE BAILEY featured no set itinerary. Instead, the crew charted a course each day based on prevailing winds and tides.
Even Seemingly Simple Vessels Require Intensive Maintenance
At the time the mast snapped, a passenger reported that they were experiencing only light winds and the vessel had not undertaken any sharp turns. The ship was under sail power and operating normally when a beautiful day turned into disaster.
Experts say it is unusual for a mast to fail in a situation where there is no collision or bad weather. Some speculate that failure of the mast was likely to have been caused by rot due to rain water seeping into the wood at points along the mast. This includes points where support wires are attached. Any areas like this that were vulnerable to the entry of water should have been inspected and sealed regularly.
At this time, the United States Coast Guard has opened a formal investigation to determine the cause of the dismasting. The investigation will encompass interviewing crew members, reviewing repair and maintenance records to examining, inspecting and testing the mast. Hopefully, a cause can be determined to help prevent a tragedy like this occuring in the future.
Was This Tragedy Preventable?
The team at Latti & Anderson extends our deepest sympathy to the families of those caught in the collapse of the mast on schooner S/V GRACE BAILEY. As a firm that focuses on helping those injured in maritime accidents, we have seen more than our fair share of tragedies over the years, and it never gets any easier to witness. We know that all too often, if the owner or operator of a vessel had only taken the right precautions, serious injuries could have been averted.
It is too early to know the full story of the causes that led to the break in the mast on the S/V GRACE BAILEY. However, if standard maintenance on the mast could have prevented the damage and the resulting break, it is possible that the owners of the vessel could be liable for the injuries suffered by passengers.
As in so many other tragedies at sea, the victims and their families would be wise to consult a maritime attorney who can help them protect their rights and obtain justice and compensation for the losses they are suffering. Latti & Anderson has a long history of obtaining compensation for passengers and workers who were injured on the various New England schooners. At Latti & Anderson, we are always ready to put our experience to work to support those injured at sea.