The Merry Maiden sinks, will rise again

by John MacBeath Watkins

Update, Aug. 30, 2015: I ran into Seton yesterday at the post office, and he tells me people still ask him about this. He wished me to convey that Merry Maiden is fine, he's finished rebuilding the aft cabin, and he showed me pictures of the boat looking quite good. So, be of good cheer, the Merry Maiden did rise again, and although she is not yet sailing, the restoration goes on apace.

The Merry Maiden sank Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2011.  She now rests on the bottom of Lake Union, an unknown number of planks stove in by the pipes and logs she settled on.  She'll rise from the deep (well, not that deep, the mast is still visible, rising at an angle from the water) hopefully no later than Thursday.

The 52-foot Rhodes-designed ketch was built in 1946 by Palmer Scott Boat Co.

Seton Gras has been restoring her for some years in a quiet berth at the Center for Wooden Boats.  CWB was doing some work, and he had to move the boat to an outside berth with the stern facing the full length of the lake.  Usually, that's not a problem. The bad weather almost always comes from the south.  This time, a sudden squall (something also seldom seen in these parts) whipped up whitecaps and set them pounding against the dry planks of the stern overhang and sides.  Those planks had been out of the water for years.  Once the water aboard started getting ahead of the pumps, more dry planks went under.  Had this happened more slowly, perhaps the planks could have swelled and closed the seams while the pumps stayed ahead, but the water came in so fast, she went down in about two hours.

Seton's whole life was on that boat.  When he was a kid, in 1969, his family started a voyage together around the world, a trip that lasted five years and eight months. In 1976, a year after that voyage ended, Seton, then 22, borrowed the family boat and set out from Salem, Mass., for a cruise to Seattle via Australia.  He financed the voyage by carrying paying guests as crew and even managed to send money home.

Seton's life went on after that adventure, but a few years ago he started restoring the boat.  It's a big job, and it's been proceeding as finances and time permit, but he's made impressive progress with it.

Now the boat is under water.  When I spoke to him Sunday, Seton was of course devastated. He'll raise it, get it to a boatyard, and start again.  He told me he'll feel better once he gets to work on it again.  At that point, it will be a project instead of a tragedy.

For more on the Merry Maiden, visit Seton's web page:

 Oops, re-edited the link so it goes to the site instead of the image.

 Update here:


  1. Oh, I feel for Seton! I hope it has risen by now, and Seton had begun work.

  2. Merry Maiden had a fixed-keel sistership named Jane Dore III, built in 1946 for Hobart Ford, ex-Commodore of the NYYC. She was then sold and named Morosteja, then Trumpeter, when I bought her, renamed her Jeanne d'Arc. Last seen in Jamaica in 1974. LOA 52'4"; BMax 13:3"; Draft 7'2"; disp (est) 60,000 lbs. Any sightings? Bob Hamrick

    1. have details for JANE DORE lll from 1978-1981 call 305-731-7615

  3. Bob, I had Jane Dore lll in key west, fl. 1978-1981.
    story is long. If you are interested in hearing her exploites I can be reached at 305-731-6715.

  4. Bob, call 305-731-6715 for info on JANE DORElll


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