Raising the Kate on Moosehead Lake

The SS Katahdin sails past a crane and a group of barges being assembled by Prock Marine Company to raise the Kate out of the waters of Moosehead Lake for needed repairs.

By Shelagh Talbot

GREENVILLE—The SS Katahdin, or Kate as she is known by most, will receive a special Christmas gift this year – an overhaul of her hull and keel. Workers from Prock Marine Company, based in Rockland, have been busy creating a cradle to hold the Kate on a large bed of floating barges. They brought them down the lake from another project they recently completed and are assembling them in East Cove on Moosehead Lake. Once the 10′ by 40′ barges are placed and pinned together, the Kate will rest on a fabricated steel I-beam framework on the barges.

Pipes are being installed on each barge for air or water exchange. With an expected target date of Friday, Oct. 5, the barges will be brought out into East Cove by a small tug belonging to Prock. They require deeper water than available in East Cove, so they have picked a spot off shore from the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife in Greenville. They will sink the barges by pumping water into them allowing the Kate to be maneuvered right on top of them. Once she is secured, pumping out the water will raise the barges and the tug will bring the Kate to her usual docking space for the repair work to be done. It will be quite the sight to see.

Eric Prock, who is in charge of the project, said that his crew will also place steel sheeting along the wharf area to shore up and stabilize the property for years to come. This sheet pole project completes the wharf project stated two years ago. They expect all the work to be finished by mid December. “Right now we’re waiting for more barges to be delivered,” he said. “They are being transported by truck from Toronto, Canada. That’s why we’re not sure when our target date will be. It depends on when the additional barges arrive,” he smiled.

The Katahdin has not been out of the water for nearly 20 years. In 1995 her hull was re-plated with steel, according to Marine Museum President and Captain of the Katahdin, Maynard Russell. “This time we will clean and paint the hull and add a plate of one-inch steel to the keel. The original keel cover is just worn thin.” The Kate was the 63rd boat built at Bath Iron Works (BIW) back in 1914 and she is the oldest still afloat.

“We’ve worked with Bath Iron Works regarding the design,” Russell said. “And are also working with a Naval Architect who rode the Kate this summer and wants to offer his services. He’s intrigued,” he added.

The Kate has had quite a history – the original wood hulled Kate burned and that inspired her owners the Coburn Steamboat Company, to commission a young shipyard, BIW, to build the steel hull. It was brought in 3 sections, first by train and then hauled by teams of oxen to West Cove where the new hull was assembled. Local craftsmen built the wooden superstructure, much like you see today and she was launched in August of 1914. Her sumptuous seating area comfortably transported visitors to hotels and resorts all over Moosehead Lake while supplies and even animals were ferried from one spot to another on her lower decks. During the 100 or so years of steam there were as many as 60 steamboats bustling up and down the lake.

The automobile and the building of roads contributed to the demise of many large resort hotels and train to boat transport on Moosehead Lake. By the late 1930s many families had their own automobiles and of all the steamships that plied the waters, only the Kate was left. Her steam engines were converted to diesel in 1922 and she became a workhorse – towing huge rafts of logs up and down the lake. Her beautiful seating area languished. In 1975 she was a participant in the last log drive in the United States. Conservationists had deemed log drives bad for lakes and rivers so in August of that year, the Kate worked for the last time, towing rafts that were acres and acres of four-foot logs surrounded by chained together log booms. It was quite an event and photographs of the Kate, diminutive in relation to the huge islands of logs, are on display at the Moosehead Marine Museum.

The Moosehead Marine Museum was founded in 1976; a year after the last log drive, and the Katahdin was acquired as the star exhibit. From the start, considerable sums of money had to be raised to repair the Kate and turn her into the cruising vessel she is today. With a maximum capacity for 225 people, the Kate is the perfect venue for a leisurely cruise on Maine’s largest lake.

The website About.com early this year announced that Greenville, Maine, has been selected as the 2012 About.com Readers’ Choice Award winner for Best New England Fall Foliage. Seeing the beautiful autumn leaves from the decks of the Kate is an experience not to be missed. The last cruise this season is slated for Saturday, Sept. 29 to accommodate the repair of the keel. This once-a-year 8-hour cruise takes you to the northern end of the lake at Seboomook, 40 miles from Greenville. Start your cruise with a continental breakfast followed by a home cooked turkey dinner with all the fixings including dessert. For further information, contact the Moosehead Marine Museum and Katahdin Cruises at http://www.katahdincruises.com or call them at 695-2716.