High and Dry
A liner’s captain underestimated Frenchman’s Bay in 1936.
- By: Joshua F. Moore
Photo Credit: Courtesy Bar Harbor Historical Society
Visitors to Bar Harbor are used to seeing passenger liners, whether it’s the stately Queen Victoria, which will visit this fall, or one of the less glitzy cruise ships that drop by each summer. But rarely do people get as up-close a look at a big boat as when the Eastern Steamship Company’s 408-foot-long Iroquois ran aground on Bald Porcupine Island early on the morning of July 13, 1936. Everything had been going like clockwork for Captain Walter Hammond when he weighed anchor at 3:30 a.m., believing his ten thousand-ton ship could handle the strong ebb tide that would whisk it out of Frenchman’s Bay and on its way back to New York. But amid a thick fog Iroquois ran hard aground before it could gain momentum. Soon the rapidly falling tide put the ship high and dry just a half-mile from downtown Bar Harbor, despite Hammond’s desperate blasts for help on his foghorn.
Among the many locals who ventured out to see the stranded steamer was local photographer Sewall Wesley Brown. By the time Brown had set up his camera the navy sailors from the minesweeper USS Owl had already begun building a wooden cribwork, at left, to help the ship float free when the tide rose. (They also constructed a wooden patch for the eight-foot-long gash that the grounding had created in the bow.) A local skipper’s launch, Narmada, sits tied to the ship’s gangplank, having removed Iroquois’ 144 passengers, most of whom slept through the accident and awoke to this surprising spectacle.
For those who remained aboard and for the spectators on the shore, however, the liner’s predicament was great fun. In addition to the crewmen (one of whom appears to be quaffing a drink) gathered just below Iroquois’ painted load lines are several children and a couple of well-dressed rusticators. A rope dangles from the bow, probably used to lower tools to the crew below. Above them, nearly two-dozen people lean over the railing, among them a bonneted woman, third from the bow, and a uniformed gent who might be Captain Hammond himself. We will never know the nature of their conversation, though it might well have involved the need to take somewhat better care when driving.