Around the turn of the 20th century, Cape Porpoise residents had a front row seat to watch the official United States Battle Cruiser speed trials from Seavy’s lookout up on Crow Hill.
Each trial consisted of 2 trips over a carefully measured course that ran 41.65 knots at sea from Cape Ann, Massachusetts to Cape Porpoise, Maine. The battleships would circle for a few hours at Cape Ann to give their boilers time to build up a head of steam before screaming across the starting line at top speed.
The stakes were high for the first trial in May of 1893. Philadelphia shipbuilder Edwin S. Cramp had a contract to deliver a cruiser that could maintain an average speed of 20 knots per hour for four consecutive hours. Every quarter knot by which the requirement was exceeded was worth another $50,000 from the Government. Members of the Naval Board of Inspection looked over every bolt and rivet from stem to stern and remained on board for performance assessment. Edwin S. Cramp himself supervised the trial and Capt. R A Sargeant took command of the vessel. A ship’s company of no less than 400 men were required for the trip that cost approximately $30,000.
May 22, 1893 was a beautiful calm day. Thousands of giddy spectators decked in Sunday finery turned up at Cape Ann to witness the start of the race. A reporter for the Boston Daily Globe described a carnival atmosphere that spread all the way up the coast to Cape Porpoise. The trial was a triumph. After just under four hours - with a clock stop in off Cape Porpoise to get the massive vessel turned around – the armored cruiser New York averaged 21 knots per hour earning her shipbuilder a $200,000 premium.
Several trials were conducted each year from 1893 through 1907. The Biddeford Journal posted expected times of arrival and no matter the weather, the folks in Cape porpoise were watching from Crow Hill when the battleships came into view.
The October 2, 1895 trial of the Steamer St Paul for a coveted US Mail Carrier contract seemed doomed from the start. She got under way to build steam at 9:45 am but shipbuilder Cramp didn’t like the way her boilers were running. To make matters worse she had been sitting in brackish water in the Delaware River during a long drought and her bottom was foul. At the last minute Cramp decided to put off her official trial and proceed with a preliminary run.
Not far out of Cape Ann the boilers began to “prime” and the boat’s speed perceptibly decreased. “Priming” meant that the water in the boiler was not made into steam rapidly enough. Bubbles containing a large percentage of water were carried into the cylinders with steam.
Eight miles from the finish line in Cape Porpoise the steamer was further delayed when the captain of a local lumber schooner refused to yield right of way. The schooner was directly in the ship’s path. Captain of the St Paul ordered the whistle blown for her to sheer off but the Cape Porpoise lumberman held steadily on. The big racer barely avoided cutting the schooner in halves.
The official trial was run the following day after brackish water was cleaned out of the boilers but even then she beat her 20 knot per hour minimum by only .50 knots. The St Paul was immediately taken to New York and placed in service on the line. Despite a slow start she proved to be a splendid transatlantic mail carrier.
August 20, 1902 spectators at Cape Porpoise were treated to a full scale war game. The Blue Squadron, commanded by Rear Admiral Higginson was charged with defense of the U.S. coast from Cape Cod to Portland against attack from Admiral Pillsbury’s White Squadron.
Higginson’s fleet consisted of nine battleships, seven torpedo boats and a converted yacht, the Mayflower. The White fleet was ordered to attempt to reach Portland, Rockport, Portsmouth, Salem or Provincetown without getting caught by a superior vessel.
The War Games were an exciting spectacle for the people of Cape Porpoise, who this time came down off Crow Hill to get a closer look.
Blue Squadron Cruisers, Brooklyn and Olympia, the Mayflower and the torpedo boat Shubrick arrived off Cape Porpoise just before 3 pm. The larger vessels remained well off shore, but the torpedo boat ran in and anchored near the cape for about a half an hour. The fleet proceeded eastward after that but not before the torpedo boat Shubrick steamed in and put a marine ashore.