Schooner ‘Nathaniel Bowditch’ going to public auction Feb. 14 at Camden’s Sharp’s Wharf

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Thursday, February 13, 2014 - 7:15am
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The schooner “Nathaniel Bowditch” under tow Jan. 9 in Camden Harbor after it was seized by U.S. Marshals in a foreclosure action in December. (Photo by Holly S. Edwards)

ROCKLAND — It's a sad day when a storied local business ends up in financial trouble and goes on the auction block, but when it's a schooner that dates back to 1922 and a business that continues to ply the tourist trade off Maine's Midcoast, there is much reason to mourn.

The schooner Nathaniel Bowditch will be auctioned to the highest bidder Friday, Feb. 14, at 1 p.m. at Sharp's Wharf (Bay View Landing) in Camden. The Nathaniel Bowditch, owned by Owen and Cathie Dorr of Rockland, was seized Dec. 23, 2013, at its Rockland Harbor berth in Lermond Cove by U.S. Marshals and towed to Camden Harbor. A civil foreclosure case against the Dorrs has been working its way through the U.S. District Court's Admiralty Division in the weeks leading up to and following the seizure.

Owen Dorr said Wednesday that while he and his wife don't have the ability to bail themselves out financially and save the boat, they want to remain in the windjamming trade.

"My wife and I still want to be part of the windjamming world," said Dorr. "We feel that although this is not the direction we wanted this to go, we wanted to do something to benefit all parties and right now, we just have no idea what the outcome of the sale will be."

According to court documents, the Dorrs are accused of defaulting on a $375,000 Promissory Note secured through a First Preferred Ship Mortgage of the Vessel. The historic schooner, built in East Boothbay in 1922, was agreed to as security for the mortgage, along with all of its masts, boilers, machinery, bowsprits, sails, rigging, boats, anchors, lifejackets and more.

The Dorrs entered into the First Ship Mortgage and accompanying Promissory Note with The First N.A. Jan. 27, 2010, according to court documents.

The First Ship Mortgage includes a principal sum of $375,000 plus interest at a rate of 7 percent annually for the first three years (36 months) of the term followed by a variable market rate plus 3 percent annually for the remainder of the term. The term of the mortgage was 15 years (180 months) with no penalty for prepayment.

On March 4, 2011, court documents show that the bank and the Dorrs entered into a change of terms agreement showing a remaining principal balance of $375,000 with payments of $8,112.82 due monthly from June 27, 2011 through Oct. 27, 2011. The final payment of all unpaid principal plus accrued interest was due Oct. 31, 2011.

According to court documents, on March 4, 2011, the bank assigned the First Preferred Mortgage to Thomas B. Federle of Yarmouth with no changes in the terms. Federle filed a Preferred Mortgage Lien against the Nathaniel Bowditch and the Dorrs Nov. 25, 2013.

Federle is represented by Twain Braden of Portland and the case of breach of contract, default and foreclosure was filed in U.S. District Court in Portland.

That same day, Braden requested that Capt. Ray Williamson of Camden, operator of Maine Windjammer Cruises and the schooners Grace Bailey, Mercantile and Mistress, be assigned as substitute custodian.

According to Williamson's affidavit filed with the case, he agreed to accept custody of the Nathaniel Bowditch from the U.S. Marshals for an initial fee of $500 and a daily fee of $185. The judge in the case granted the motion and appointed Williamson to serve as substitute custodian Nov. 26, 2013, and on that day summonses were issued to the Dorrs.

During the next five weeks there were court filings and attempts to serve warrants, and after all legal notices had been served, the U.S. Marshal's seized the vessel and on Jan. 9 Williamson towed the Nathaniel Bowditch from its berth at Lermond Cove to Sharp's Wharf in Camden Harbor.

The schooner, wrapped in plastic for the winter with its masts and all riggings removed and stored on land, could be seen under tow at the entrance to harbor Jan. 9, just off Wayfarer Marine. It appeared stalled, heading into the harbor, and then eventually it was slowly spun around and towed back to the outer harbor, where it waited for the incoming tide. The Nathaniel Bowditch has an 11-foot 6-inch draft. One the day and time the schooner was moved, low tide was between 11:24 a.m. and 12:54 p.m.

Standing on shore, at Steamboat Landing, watching and videotaping the maneuvers that Thursday around noon, was Owen Dorr.

"I kind of know boats, and she was dead in the water, and sat there for a little bit," said Dorr that day, getting emotional. "They gave command to somebody that shouldn't have took command of that boat and we told them not to move the boat, they had no reason to move that boat. It wasn't costing them any money to keep that boat in Lermond Cove and not only are they moving it but they put it at a dock that costs money."

Dorr said he was there watching the move because he wanted to protect whatever assets he still had in the boat. He also said that at that point, he was still responsible for paying expenses incurred, including insurance on the boat.

Jump forward a month to Feb. 12, two days before the foreclosure sale, and Dorr seemed resigned to the boat’s fate. He said that given all they have been through he's proud of the fact that they had been maintaining the value of the boat and improving it over the years,.

"We feel we were being as good a stewards as we could be," said Dorr. "We certainly understand the business world and how that goes and we'll wait to see what happens next."

As for what happened to bring the Dorrs to the place they are this week, about to lose their boat, which is their livelihood, Owen said it's been a financial struggle since 2008, when the economy took a downward dive and affected them in many ways.

When the local schooner and windjammer fleet was 14 strong, Dorr said in order for all the boats to be full for the entire season, it took between 5,000 and 6,000 people.

"That's just 5,000 or 6,000 or 7,000," said Dorr. "It's not an astronomical amount of people to fill all the boats. The issue has been trying to get the word out there. We have people that have lived in Rockland their whole life and I have said to them that we have a windjammer and they say, 'what's that.'"

The Maine Windjammer Association, to which the Nathaniel Bowditch has belonged, today has eight members, according to its website, including American Eagle, Angelique, Heritage, Isaac H. Evans, Lewis R. French, Mary Day, Stephen Taber and Victory Chimes.

Dorr said it's not a big industry, so it's hard to do enough advertising to keep all the boats filled. And when a vessel drops out of the fleet and the association, that's one less business to help pay for advertising for the small group.

"I've done carpentry throughout the years, and that's been difficult to find work for too with this economy. I get some work here and some work there. And then there's work to be done on the boat, and I have done 99 percent of the boat's maintenance work and that takes me away from being able to make money on the side, and during the off season. It all adds up."

But Dorr said no matter what happens with the Nathaniel Bowditch Friday, and further along, he and Cathie plan to stay involved in the windjammer business.

"I'll be on the water, one way or another. It runs too deep in my blood. My parents worked on windjammers and my grandfather worked on windjammers. Cathie and I, we are sitting on the edge of our seats, with our feet dangling, ready to leap off the dock onto the deck of the boat if need be, if that's the opportunity that presents itself," said Dorr. "There's not a lot of people out there kicking tires right now, and I have no idea who or what might show up to the buy the Bowditch, but we're ready to help, if they'll have us. The ball is not in our court so we're keeping all avenues open."

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Editorial Director Holly S. Edwards can be reached at hollyedwards@penbaypilot.com or 706-6655.