The Ghost Ship of Casco Bay

Trick or Treat! Portland is an old city, and today is the day each year (many believe) that the ghosts of the city’s past roam the streets. If you’re a local, you’ve probably heard the legend of Asa Clapp, who is said to haunt the McLellan-Sweat House on the corner of Spring and High Streets. But have you heard the story of Casco Bay’s ghost ship?

The schooner Dash was built in Freeport in 1813 and was one of the fastest and most feared privateering American ships during the War of 1812. The Porter brothers who built her designed her to be fast so that she could evade the British warships that blockaded Portland Harbor.

Her first voyage was a trading mission to Santo Domingo where she traded New England goods for coffee. Dash was set upon by a British man-of-war ship, but she lived up to her name and escaped. Her reputation grew after two more successful smuggling trips and, in 1814, President James Madison sent word that the owners could use the ship to attack British ships and keep the spoils. During her illustrious run as a privateer, it is said that the Dash and her crew captured 15 ships and never lost a man.

On a snowy January day in 1815, having not yet received word from Belgium that the war was over, the Dash and her crew engaged in a playful “race” with fellow privateer, the Champlain. The two ships sped out of Portland Harbor at the same time but the Dash easily outran the other vessel. As she sailed off into the distance a Nor’easter blew in.  And she vanished without a trace.

Or did she? Over the years fishermen have reported seeing her near Pumpkin Nob, Crab Island, and off the coast of Freeport. But most often she is seen sailing straight up Harpswell Sound – sails at full mast – and vanishing before she runs aground.

Spooky, right? Perhaps, if you peer closely into the dense fog the next time you’re cruising Casco Bay at dusk, you may see her pass by.

Here at Casco Bay Lines, we’ve always got a weather eye on the horizon, and we’re wishing you and your family a safe and Happy Halloween!