When storm winds blew and the seas grew large during the age of sail, schooners and fishing boats would often run for the nearest harbor of refuge to ride out the tempest. One such sought-after place was Cutler Harbor in Downeast Maine, whose entrance has been marked by the guiding gleams of Little River Lighthouse since 1847.
According to the 1891 Coast Pilot, “This harbor is 14 miles to the westward of West Quoddy Head and about 9 ½ miles to the eastward of Libby Islands; it is marked by Little River Light, which is situated at the western side of the entrance on Little River Island.”
The publication goes on to say, “It is an excellent harbor of refuge, sheltered from all winds, has 12 to 30 feet of water with good holding ground, and is used by all classes of coasters and fishermen.”
In most situations, when a vessel arrived at a harbor of refuge, the anxieties of the captain and crew would decrease. But as the following account from the 1892 Annual Report of the United States Life-Saving Service points out, this was not always the case.
During the early morning hours of March 23, 1892, the light of keeper Lucius Davis was shining bright at Little River and pointing the way to Cutler Harbor for schooner Augusta E. Herrick. Under the circumstances, all must have seemed good to the schooner’s crew.
But evidently, upon arrival at the harbor, the schooner was unable to find any remaining safe anchorage areas. The report indicated that Cutler Harbor was crowded with other vessels seeking similar shelter from the prevailing weather conditions.
This dilemma prevented the Augusta E. Herrick from securing a spot in the harbor, which ultimately led to the schooner foundering at the island – at the very door step of a safe refuge.
From: 1892 Annual Report of the United States Life-Saving Service
“Early in the morning of the 23rd (March 1892), at 1 o’clock, the schooner Augusta E. Herrick, of Boston, Massachusetts, in attempting to make the harbor of Cutler, Maine, was crowded out of the channel by other vessels and went ashore on the north side of Little River Island, where she remained hard and fast.
The accident occurred about five miles east by north from the Cross Island Station (First District) but, being out of view from that point, was not known there until the morning of the 25th, when the lighthouse keeper reported it.
The life-savers proceeded at once to the scene of the wreck in their surfboat. They found the schooner stripped of sails and gear, and with much of her cargo of scrap tin discharged. There were a number of holes in her bottom.
The surfmen threw overboard the remainder of her freight (some sixty tons), ran a chain cable to the island, and carried a kedge off shore. Assisted by a tug, the station men hauled the schooner afloat at high water. She soon rolled over on her beam ends, but was safely towed to Cutler for repairs.
The Herrick was on a voyage from Eastport, Maine, to her home port when the mishap occurred, and was manned by a crew of six. The damage to the vessel amounted to one-sixth of her value, and her entire cargo was lost.”