Anyone with a love of old sailing vessels will enjoy this interesting and informative book, published by the Mystic Seaport. What makes Fly Rails and Flying Jibs unusual is that it combines a series of superb photographs with interpretive captions that read like a text.

The dedication page identifies Robert Goddard as a Financier, Philanthropist, Yachtsman, Photographer, Naturalist and Devoted Father and Friend. Goddard died in 2003 and this book, a collaborative effort by his sons and granddaughter, is a wonderful tribute to his memory.

The book is organized into three sections. Goddard’s family have selected 165 photos that represent a range of schooners starting with two-masters and running through the giant five-masters that plied the east coast for much of the twentieth century. Much as I enjoyed his photographs, I found the interpretive captions, culled from Robert Goddard’s extensive notes and written by Captains Douglas and Linda Lee, to be equally fascinating.

The schooners Goddard photographed carried cargo from New Brunswick to the West Indies and beyond. Their hulls were most often filled with lumber, coal, granite and bricks. Every vessel has its own story and the history of each is examined by the Captains Lee, who have something significant to say about every schooner.

There was the two-masted schooner Alice S. Wentworth, that sank in a storm in 1974, more than 111 years after her launching. (The Lees remind us that the average life span of a schooner was fifteen years.) Others like the Canadian three-master Mary B. Brooks had an inboard auxiliary engine that allowed her to “get around quicker on short coastal trips.”

I learned that the reason for the white streak that ran down the port bow of many schooners was the result of sailors washing lime and seawater through the waste pipe from the crew’s head. The Lees added, “It must have been an interesting trick to use this facility during the night as the vessel drove into a head sea when deeply loaded, thus driving seawater back up the waste pipe”.

I discovered that a “turned-stanchion fly rail” was a railing that extended along the sides and around the stern of many vessels. However, the book never made it clear why it was called a “fly rail.”

In a photograph of the four-master Anna R. Heidritter, we see her open bow ports, located below the anchor. The caption notes, “As awkward as it may appear, this was the best way to load and unload cargoes of long lengths of timber. The bow ports were then well caulked and the seams cemented.”
Many of the schooners spent their final years rotting in the mud. Others foundered in a gale, collided with another ship, caught fire or just vanished like Peaceland in 1943. Perhaps the most unusual demise was that of the four-master Alvena. She was sold to the Canadian Navy and used as a floating target before being blown up on the beach.

In Chapter Five, The Passing of the Five Masters, we learn their size was a major reason for the disappearance of the larger schooners. Another reason was that steamers, “with their lower rates were given the regular charters to larger ports.” And finally, many of the large schooners were single-purpose vessels, meaning they were not suitable for general cargo.

Robert Goddard also left a substantial collection of images and material on square-riggers. At the end of the Foreword his son Thomas Goddard writes, “I look forward to the challenge of a second volume,” a book we should eagerly await.

Harry Gratwick is a retired history teacher and a summer resident of Vinalhaven. His latest book Mainers in the Civil War was released in April. For more information, visit