Cape Elizabeth, ME Cargo Ship OAKEY L ALEXANDER Wreck, Mar 1947
On this date the cargo ship Oakey L Alexander, built in 1915 at Camden, NJ, was working its way slowly northward about 22 miles off the Maine coast, heavily laden with a cargo of coal. The ship was making slow progress admist a raging storm, known locally along the Maine coast as a "no'theaster". Winds gusting to 80 mph, high seas and snow were ongoing.
The Alexander, an American registered cargo ship of 5,284 gross reg tons, owned by the Pocahontas Steamship Co., and skippered by Captain Raymond Lewis, was having slow going in it's fight against the raging seas. The large ship was on top of a huge wave when a sudden lurch was felt throughout. Capt Lewis and the men on the bridge watched in horror as a 130 ft long section of the bow broke clear off and almost immediately sank from sight.
The Alexander had recently had a new bulkhead installed just aft of the place where the hull had torn in two. This bulkhead, fortunately, kept the rest of the ship from flooding. Capt Lewis, realizing his good luck for the moment, yet still cognizant of his peril called for "slow ahead" on the engine. He immediately steered his vessel towards the shore realizing that was the only real hope for saving his men and himself.
The Alexander eventually reached the rock and boulder strewn shore of Cape Elizabeth. The ship grounded some distance from dry land admist jagged rocks on all sides. The sea immediately began to pound the huge steel vessel to pieces on the rocks. People on shore realized the situation and the life-saving crew from Cape Elizabeth arrived on the scene shortly and proceeded to deploy their gear for the rescue.
A small cannon known as a "Lyle gun" fired a projectile with a small rope messenger line. This was fired seaward until it landed on the ship. The ships crew pulled in the light line until the heavy reacue line was aboard the ship and secured high on the superstructure. The life-savers tighted their end of the line on the shore. A device known as a "breeches buoy", a sling capable of carrying one man at a time, was run out to the ship and officers and crew were saved from a would-be watery grave.
This incident goes down in the pages of history as one of the few times that great seamanship on the part of captain and crew, and heroic, valiant efforts by those on shore, manage to cheat the sea of its victims at the last moment.
Compiled from news accounts and the Maine Historical Society.