What flecks the outer gray beyond
The sundown's golden trail?
The white flash of a sea-bird's wing,
Or gleam of slanting sail?
Let young eyes watch from Neck and Point,
And sea-worn elders pray,--
The ghost of what was once a ship
Is sailing up the bay.
From gray sea-fog, from icy drift,
From peril and from pain,
The home-bound fisher greets thy lights,
O hundred-harbored Maine!
But many a keel shall seaward turn,
And many a sail outstand,
When, tall and white, the Dead Ship looms
Against the dusk of land.
The legendary privateer "Dash" was built for Samuel and Seward Porter by master shipwright James Brewer, and was launched at Porter's Landing in 1813. She was originally rigged as a topsail schooner designed to outrun the British blockade, but her rig was soon changed to that of a hermaphrodite brig to increase her sail area and speed, making her one of the fastest ships of her day.
At 222 tons and of marvelous speed, she began by running blockades, but privateering was more lucrative. From 1813 onward, she captured fifteen vessels and brought home valuable cargoes without the loss of a man. She soon became known as a lucky ship and men who served on the Dash held a special place among Portlanders; every man wanted to serve aboard her.
After peace had been signed, but before the news reached Portland, the Dash set out again. The Champlain departed with her, and they raced. The Dash took the lead, and carried it out into a gale. The Chamberlain changed course and survived, but the Dash was doomed never to make port.
Only months later some fishermen in Casco Bay swore to hearing a vessel bearing down on them out of the mists and suddenly seeing a phantom ship glide by them through the fog, bound for Freeport. On her bow were inscribed the words ‘Dash – Freeport.’
Sightings increased over the years, seemingly at random, but always in a windless fog, and always sailing fast. Some claim to have seen her crew onboard, their eyes gazing toward home. A legend grew that whenever a family member of the one of the lost crew of sixty died the phantom vessel would appear to bear the loved one away. The Dash even made an appearance during world war two, as unlikely as it seems. She was picked up on radar, and several navy ships were scrambled to discover the nature of the unknown intruder. The Dash was spotted, only to dissolve before the eyes of the seamen on the pursuing ships.
She rounds the headland's bristling pines;
She threads the isle-set bay;
No spur of breeze can speed her on,
Nor ebb of tide delay.
Old men still walk the Isle of Orr
Who tell her date and name,
Old shipwrights sit in Freeport yards
Who hewed her oaken frame.
What weary doom of baffled quest,
Thou sad sea-ghost, is thine?
What makes thee in the haunts of home
A wonder and a sign?
This old letterbox has returned, and is located on Wolfe’s Neck. Begin where the Harraseeket trail crosses Wolfe’s Neck Road. The trail winds through large, old trees and descends to the Harraseeket river. The salt smell of the ocean mingles with the scent of pine. The trees open up as the inlet appears. The trail takes a sharp left near the water and passes a rocky perch high over the tide. Just past this, a faint path (camouflaged with downed branches) leads to the base of this outcropping. The Dash lies here, carefully placed under stones and forest debris.
Returning to the perch to stamp up, you can look upriver to Porter’s Landing and the shipyard where The Dash was built. If you visit in the dusk, or during a fog, keep your eyes peeled and listen carefully and you too may catch a fleeting glimpse of the dead ship.
No foot is on thy silent deck,
Upon thy helm no hand;
No ripple hath the soundless wind
That smites thee from the land!
From Wolf Neck and from Flying Point,
From island and from main,
From sheltered cove and tided creek,
Shall glide the funeral train.
The dead-boat with the bearers four,
The mourners at her stern,
And one shall go the silent way
Who shall no more return!
And men shall sigh, and women weep,
Whose dear ones pale and pine,
And sadly over sunset seas
Await the ghostly sign.
They know not that its sails are filled
By pity’s tender breath,
Nor see the Angel at the helm
Who steers the Ship of Death!
-- The Dead Ship of Harpswell by John Greenleaf Whittier