The First Perilous Voyage of Privateer Lynx
  • Print
Written by J. Dennis Robinson

Privateer Lynx on Goose River Bridge/ SeacoastNH.comHISTORY MATTERS

IIn July 2001 the new tall ship Privateer Lynx was ready to be hauled from Rockport Marine in Maine to the nearby harbor for a triumphant launching ceremony. But getting the $3 million schooner there was risky business. The following is an exclusive SeacoastNH.com excerpt from the book "America’s Privateer" to be published in hardcover in 2011. (Read exceprt below)

 

Two steep hills, two sharp turns, and a towering bridge separated the newborn Lynx from the sea. Cradled just yards away from the harbor, her sleek dark hull was two wide for the hulking travel-lift at Rockport Marine. The problem of moving Privateer Lynx had been on builder Taylor Allen’s mind since the project was proposed in 1998. No boat of her size and weight had ever climbed the incline up Main Street, twisted 90 degrees onto Pascal Avenue, rolled across the Goose River Bridge and down the hairpin turn to the public launch. Allen could trace the entire path from his windows at Rockport Marine, but to pull off the move, he needed outside help. In New England, there was only one man to call.

BUY THE BOOK NOW: Lynx and the War of 1812
READ ALSO: Privateer Lynx Heads East

VISIT LYNX: Privateer Lynx and the tall ship Bounty will be in the port of Portsmouth near Prescott Park on Memorial Day weekend and will be open for tours. CLICK FOR DETAILS

Lynx Hauled in Rockport Maine / Lynx Educational FoundationTom Brownell moves big boats. His father David Brownell literally invented the concept of waterproof hydraulic boat trailers in 1954. Back then Brownell needed a way to get the rugged power boats that he manufactured at Mattapoisett, Massachusetts in and out of the water along Cape Cod. In the process, he also invented the adjustable metal boat stands now seen in boatyards everywhere. Son Tom took the family business down a tricky new road in 1984 when a wealthy Camden man hired him to haul the 90-foot Whitefin. The yacht had been constructed on the tennis court of the owner’s private estate with no way to truck it out. Brownell took on the challenge and hasn’t looked back. His company has since moved trains, gigantic tanks, a 200-foot long pole, and even a 60 x 30-foot wide catamaran along public roads.

"We are very skilled in the gentle application of enormous force," Brownell says today, quoting the family motto. "We have done boats way heavier than Lynx. We have done boats longer. But we usually move them on relatively flat ground and down very gradual ramps so there’s nowhere near the force necessary to overcome gravity."

Before taking on the biggest project of his career, Allen got Brownell’s promise that, once built, Lynx could reach the water. It was, Brownell admits, far from a typical project. To be safe, he brought enough mechanical muscle to pull 200 tons.

"It’s all about fighting gravity," he says. "We overcame it with more winching force. We had four tractors pulling [Lynx] up the hill. All my tractors are automatic transmissions, so I can use them like teams of oxen. I can bring on more and more and they all share the load equally."

CONTINUE LYNX LAUNCH


Privateer Lynx in Rockport Maine July 2001/ Lynx Educational Foundation on SeacoastNH.com

 

The haul up Main Street

Work began at 6 a.m. Drawn from the boathouse on a clear July day, Lynx fired her first two cannon blasts, then began the slow climb. Onlookers gaped as the 80-ton craft, still without her masts, inched up toward the seaside village. Approaching the peak of the hill on Main Street at the intersection of Central Avenue, Brownell’s crew met a snag. There was not quite enough clearance to squeeze the Lynx between a utility pole on the port side and the ancient overhanging porch of the Union Hall to starboard.

ll00David Lyman, founder of the Maine Photographic Workshops, was on that porch in his office as the Lynx crept closer. "As it got nearer," he recalls, "I could see she wasn't going to make it past the porch. Taylor Allen was on her deck and looked at me. I looked at him."

"Got a chainsaw?" Lyman asked.

"I can get one," Taylor replied.

One of the workmen appeared with a roaring saw, Lyman says, and under his direction cut off about three feet of the porch corner. For moments, the great load seemed as if it might defeat the powerful engines. Even the smallest shift in direction required jacking up the trailer to turn, then lowering it again, and then again as the morning wore on. By tilting the 80-foot schooner in its cradle first to the left and then to the right, Brownell’s crew was able to twist it between the objects with an inch to spare on each side.

"Thank God we didn’t put that last coat of paint on her," Rockport crew chief Eric Sewall was heard to say, "or she never would’ve made it." Not long after, David Lyman tore off the rest of the old porch.

SEE ALSO: Pictures of Goose River Bridge

A bridge not too far

Rockport town officials were edgy about the Lynx crossing over Goose River. Rockport, has a thing about bridges. It was, after all, a bridge dispute that caused the town to split away from its scenic sister Camden in 1891. We can see that battle brewing in the town records as early as 1855 when locals squabbled over the cost of building Goose River Bridge. According to local history "the Bridge and anti-Bridge factions were very equally divided and both sides ready to fight". In 1884 the town voted, not without controversy, to replace the wooden bridge with a pre-fabricated iron bridge spanning 159-feet. Early photos show smiling Victorian passengers riding the Rockport Trolley across that metal structure.

Years later that same bridge lay crumpled like a child’s broken Erector Set in the river below. On November 26, 1946, Hubert Craven of Bangor drove his trailer truck into the northwest corner of the Goose River Bridge. The entire structure suddenly collapsed and disappeared into the ravine along with Craven’s rig. Reporters speculated that Craven fell asleep at the wheel and died instantly, but witnesses say that the truck burst into flames trapping the driver inside. The tragedy lives on in the collective memory of longtime residents. A temporary wooden bridge was later replaced by the sturdy steel version that stands today.

Town and state officials double-checked the load-bearing capacity of the bridge in the summer of 2001 and banned spectators from the immediate area on July 26 as Lynx prepared to cross. Hundreds of onlookers watched from a safe distance as Lynx turned off Main Street onto Pascal Avenue and away from the village. Some held their breath as the schooner, half as long as the bridge itself, cruised 50-feet above Goose River. It would be the first time that water passed beneath her hull.

Joel Cox, who had fabricated all the steel work for the reborn privateer could not resist the ride. "If this bridge doesn’t hold up," he told a co-worker as Lynx reached the center of the span, "I’m going down with the ship." Cox stood atop her deck as Brownell’s mechanical oxen dragged its precious cargo forward. When Lynx finally reached the far side of the bridge, the tiny figure raised his arms in triumph. The crowd exhaled en masse, and then cheered.

The last bit was the most dangerous. Wrestling against the powerful pull of gravity, Brownell’s team winched the heavy load down the extreme slope of the narrow road leading to the harbor. With technical perfection they slowly negotiated the hairpin turn, then inched the boat back toward the base of the bridge they had just crossed. After seven hours at turtle-speed, Lynx arrived just 200 yards from her starting point. Though still a fish out of water, by early afternoon Lynx sat securely atop her trailer at Marine Park. As she halted a miniature signal cannon fired a triumphant salute.

 

Copyright © 2010 by J. Dennis Robinson and Lynx Educational Foundation. All rights reserved. This exceprt may not be republished in whole or in part in any form without written permission from the copyright owners. Robinson is editor and owner of the history web site SeacoastNH.com. His book on the history of