The following story appeared in the Sanford Tribune on July 28, 1911. The incident and subsequent rescue occurred on July 22, 1911, about a half-mile east of Whaleback Lighthouse on White Island Reef. If not for the vigilance and quick response of Whaleback lightkeeper Walter Amee, the two occupants aboard the wrecked motor boat would have more than likely lost their lives.
Keeper Walter S. Amee served admirably at Whaleback Lighthouse from 1893 to 1921- an amazing twenty-eight years at this isolated, wave-swept location.
Ephraim S. Hall, who is referred to as “Captain Hall” in the news story, was keeper of the nearby Wood Island Life-Saving Station from 1903 to 1919. Overall, Keeper Hall served thirty years in the United States Life-Saving Service and was a surfmen at Wood Island when the entire crew was awarded a gold medal for their rescue efforts involving the shipwrecked schooner Oliver Dwyer on November 26, 1888.
The story reads…
Two Men from Motor Boat Rescued by Lightkeeper Amee
Clifton Armstrong, aged 30, and Charles Putnam, 23, both of Qgunquit, while on their way from Portsmouth to York in a motor boat, came very near being drowned Saturday night, when their boat struck Gunning Rock, to the east of Whaleback Light. They were rescued by Keeper Walter Amee of the Whaleback Light, just a few seconds before their boat sank.
There was a good sea running when the motor boat rounded Whaleback Light and started east shortly before 9 o’clock. Armstrong was steering and Putnam had crawled in forward to sleep.
With the engine at full speed the craft struck the rock, and with such force that Armstrong, who was standing up near the engine, was thrown overboard and Putnam thrown about.
Fortunately Armstrong was a good swimmer and he managed to get back to the boat and was hauled in by Putnam. The boat was badly stove up forward and making water very fast, so both men set up a shout for help.
Lightkeeper Amee heard the cries and immediately lowered a boat and rowed to their assistance, reaching the boat just in time to take Armstrong and Putnam off before the boat sank.
In the meantime, the cries for help were heard by Miss McClure, who has a cottage on Gerrish Island, and she telephoned Captain Hall at Wood Island Life-Saving Station, and he launched a boat and rowed in the direction she stated, off the Hotel Pocahontas, but he was unable to locate anyone in distress. He met a party of young people in a rowboat and they were unable to give any information. He then rowed outside, and in the meantime Keeper Amee had taken the men back to the lighthouse, and here Captain Hall found them.
Armstrong stated that he must have fallen asleep for a minute, for he knew the course and would have avoided the rock. It was a narrow escape as, with the sea running as it was at the time, neither of the men would have had a chance after the boat sank.
The men stayed at the lifesaving station during the night and Sunday morning. With Captain Hall’s assistance the motor boat was raised and towed to Wood Island, where it will have to be repaired before it can continue to York.
At the lifesaving station there is no crew at the present time, the men being obliged to loaf during June and July, and Captain Hall was alone at the time of the accident.
Whaleback Light Station Logbook Entry
Lightkeeper Walter S. Amee recorded the following modest entry in the station’s log book in summing up his heroic actions…
“W. S. Amee rescued two men 9:30 pm. They got on White Island ledges. Their boat filled but got it up next day.”
Alan S. ells says
Interesting story and amazing photos of a unique lighthouse. How he endured soltude for 28 years is beyond me and I like solitude.