- by Carol Standish
One of the best among the recent crop of local histories is Four Short Blasts - The Gale of 1898 and the Loss of the Steamer Portland, by Peter Dow Bachelder and Mason Philip Smith (The Provincial Press; 127pp; $17.50). Cleanly written with no wasted words, the book reports the mysterious disappearance of the state of the art steamer, Portland, in November of 1898, Since there were no survivors, sources are newspaper articles of the day and interviews with survivors of the gale in other craft.
Although the loss of the steamer and 140 passengers and crew is the primary subject, Four Short Blasts contains fascinating tangential stories, about the U. S. Life-Saving Service (long defunct) which at the time of the storm had 13 stations along the shore of Cape Cod. Originally, a volunteer body called the Massachusetts Humane Society patrolled the beaches. The federal government slowly evolved the Life-Saving Service from their example and the two search and rescue services worked side by side into the early 20th century.
Four Short Blasts is extremely well organized, covering the storm itself, the tragic foundering of the Portland, the storm's effect ashore, the official investigation of the sinking and ongoing legends which exist to this day. Illustrations and photographs are plentiful and poignant. In addition to a helpful index and biblography the authors have provided appendicesólists of victims as well as vessels lost or damaged in the gale, an amazing 3000 or more schooners, yachts, steamers and barges between New Jersey and Nova Scotia. Bachelder and Smith do more than justice to one heck of a storm. They've produced a non-ficition page turneróas informative as it is entertaining.
As always, we encourage you to visit your local bookstore. However, if you find locating this book difficult it can be purchased directly from The Provincial Press, 98 Chestnut St., Portland, ME 04101 - 207-772-8900.