Police & Fire

Steamboat Katahdin returns safely to dock after engines fail

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GREENVILLE — The captain and crew of the steamboat Katahdin steered the smoking, drifting vessel carrying 66 people safely back to the dock after its two engines failed at the start of a pleasure cruise Friday on Moosehead Lake.

Minutes after the Katahdin embarked on the cruise, Captain Bob Harvey learned there was a problem. “I was told we only had one engine and that we better turn around so that’s what I did,” he said. “It was before we got in the thoroughfare,” Harvey said. He reversed direction and began nursing her back to port. “I was about to make my last turn coming in and then that other engine quit. I’d put it out of gear cause it was going fast enough, and all of a sudden the engine ran away. That means it’s burning oil instead of fuel and so you need to stop the air. The other engine had blown a rod out both sides.”

These two diesel engines are similar to the ones used by the paper companies during her time as a towboat for great rafts of logs she hauled down the lake. When she was sold to the Moosehead Marine Museum in the late 1970s for the sum of $1, the boat was extensively overhauled in ensuing years. The engines that broke down had been the replacements, making them approximately 40 years old.

George Edmondson, President of the Board of Directors of the Marine Museum, said that the engines are thoroughly inspected each year. “I believe those engines could have been about 40 years old. People need to know that we have two shakedown cruises with no one aboard but staff,” Edmondson said Saturday. “Everything is checked and monitored closely from stem to stern, and we practice emergency drills. The crew is well trained in procedure and I am proud to say that things couldn’t have been handled better during this emergency,” he said. “We always have an engineer in the engine room to monitor everything for every cruise – he was able to alert the captain right away.”

It was touch and go for a few minutes. There was smoke. “The engineer at the time turned on the fire extinguisher and got out of there,” said Harvey. Without engine power Harvey was just steering the big boat as best he could. “When we stopped moving forward we started drifting with the wind. This was a light north wind, easy to come around and head up into her,” he said. “Everyone got safely off on public dock right behind us.”

The Greenville Fire Department was alerted the minute the problem was detected and was waiting at the dock when the Katahdin drifted in. By 4 p.m., the firemen were finishing up their work. Two of them were hosing a smoking air intake that they’d brought up from below decks. “That intake probably had a lot of oil in it and that was probably what was causing all that smoke,” Harvey observed. “The fire people all did a great job and they were here right when we needed them and they stayed as long as we needed them.”

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Observer photo/Shelagh Talbot
A SAFE RETURN TO SHORE — Members of the Moosehead Lake fire department inspect the aft area of the steamboat Katahdin Friday afternoon in Greenville. The vessel returned to its berth after both its engines broke down just after embarking on a cruise. All 66 people on board safely got off the vessel.

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In regards to upcoming cruises, Harvey said, “There probably won’t be a cruise for at least a few weeks. The Saturday cruise will go on as scheduled but it’s happening at the dock.” He paused. “Unless I’m mistaken they’ll have to replace both engines or at least rebuild one and replace the other one. There’s a lot around and they’re old but they’re good.”

The Katahdin, or Kate, as she is affectionately known, has done well over the years. Built by Bath Iron Works in 1914, this venerable boat is the crown jewel of the Moosehead Marine Museum.

“Well,” Harvey mused, thinking of all the passengers Friday, “They didn’t get the trip like they wanted but they got something to tell their grandchildren or whoever they like.” Harvey was pleased with all involved and that the emergency went as well as it did.

The R&B Dance Cruise from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday, July 21 will be happening as scheduled, but the boat will not leave the dock. For information about the Kate, the cruising schedule and special events this season go to www.katahdincruises.com. or call the Moosehead Marine Marine Museum – 207/695-2716. Email: info@katahdincruises.com.

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