How the true story of three lives lost at sea in December 1956 became Maine’s most famous short story.
By Edgar Allen Beem
On December 27, 1956, a hunting party of five set out from Ash Point in South Harpswell to go gunning for ducks between Eagle Island and West Brown Cow Island. Only two made it home alive.
Fisherman Lawrence C. Estes, Jr., known to one and all as Buster, skippered his boat theAmy E. with son Steven, 13, son Maurice, 12, nephew Harry Jewell, 16, and fellow fisherman Everett Gatchell on board. The thirty-seven-foot lobsterboat, named for Estes’ wife, towed a pair of skiffs.
Near Eagle Island, Estes dropped Gatchell and son Maurice off in one rowboat. They intended to row ashore and hunt from Eagle Island, but the rough winter seas made a landing too dangerous, so Gatchell and the boy spent a chilly day shooting from the skiff.
Buster Estes and the other two boys motored on out across Broad Sound, anchored the Amy E. near West Brown Cow, and rowed to the half-tide ledge known as Mink Rock. The seaweed-covered ledge is under four to five feet of water at high tide, but it makes an excellent perch for cormorants, seals, and duck hunters when exposed. After the fact, it became apparent that the Estes’ little skiff must somehow have drifted away, leaving him and the two boys marooned on the ledge as the freezing tide was coming in. All three perished.