Photo by Quinton Donleavy.

Saving Victory

Will music and memories be enough to save the Victory Chimes? That’s the concern facing its current owner Captain Sam Sikkema.

Sikkema is urgently trying to find a new owner—be it an individual or an entity—to buy the 128-foot three-masted schooner, currently docked in Rockland, Maine. He hopes a new owner will bring a new vision to the beleaguered ship and perhaps return her home to the Chesapeake Bay.

Victory Chimes, formerly known as Edwin and Maud and Domino Effect, is the last surviving Chesapeake ram schooner and she’s now on the auction block. The ship’s U.S. Coast Guard certification has expired and the extensive—and expensive—work that will be required for her to return to passenger service is forcing the owner and the lender to sell the vessel at public auction.

Built in Bethel, Delaware, at the head of the Nanticoke River in 1900 by the George K. Phillips Co., she was originally named for the children of her first captain Robert Riggen. She was designed to carry general cargo on the Chesapeake Bay. She sailed the Bay with sister ship the Levin J. Marvel, a 125-foot ram schooner also built in Bethel.

Photo by Jeremy T. Grant.

This ship is the last of its kind on the East Coast. “The Victory Chimes is very special because of the significance of this vessel,” says Pete Lesher, chief curator of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels. “This is a specialized type of schooner because of the requirements of shoal water and fitting through canal locks. If you look at the history of vessels like this, three-masted schooners were once common and there were thousands of these going down the East Coast because they had a lot of cargo capacity… The insides were essentially a large open warehouse—like a railroad car on a boat.”

“A boat like this gives us a window into our past,” Lesher added. “We can gain a certain appreciation of history with photos, documents, and stories, but there is something else to be gained with the real thing—stepping on board and getting a sense of the scale of this vessel.”

Lesher says the only other wooden three-masted schooner in existence is at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, the C.A. Thayer.

The Victory Chimes was eventually converted to a passenger ship with 21 cabins.  In the 1940s and 50s, the vessel operated out of Annapolis promoting weeklong cruises on the Chesapeake Bay. In 1954 she was brought to the Maine coast to serve as a windjammer.

Lesher has experienced the Victory Chimes firsthand. “I was up in Maine for the wooden boat show in 1988 and there were over 100 beautiful wooden boats of all descriptions sailing around the harbor. Captain Kip Files had the Victory Chimes under full sail, tacking her way out through the narrow entrance to the harbor … He didn’t usually do that but because there were cameras rolling and he was one skillful sailor he did it,” recalls Lesher. “He knew sailing and he knew that vessel and he knew how to keep her out of trouble.”

The Victory Chimes is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and has been designated a National Historic Landmark. In 2003, the ship became the inspiration for the image on the Maine state quarter.

She also inspired many guests.

Mike and Amy Aiken are a singer-songwriter duo performing folk and Americana music all over the world. The Norfolk couple are also licensed captains and draw artistic inspiration from the ocean and ships. Their latest single “Timber She’s Hauled” is an ode to the Victory Chimes and the music video (which debuts next week) features archival footage of the boat. The Aikens hosted private performances onboard the ship for passengers cruising out of her homeport in Maine. But Mike Aiken says his intrigue with the Victory Chimes started over a dozen years ago when he kept crossing paths with the boat along the eastern seaboard and the Great Lakes.  

“I first saw the boat on Lake Erie near Buffalo, New York, in the late ‘80s… and she sort of struck me. Even then, somebody was trying to bring her back to the East Coast. She’s a boat that seems to fall on hard times and then someone comes along to bring her back again,” says Aiken. 

Amy and Mike Aiken on the Victory Chimes. Photo courtesy of the Aikens.

“Captain Sam contacted us in 2021 about using the Victory as a performance platform and we began performing on deck three nights a week totally unplugged, and it was such a real intimate thing. The fans were right up front and we got to personally talk to them about music and sailing.”

Aiken says they were on the boat one night, talking by candlelight when they were inspired to write a song about the Victory Chimes. “Sometimes it just comes all at once,” says Aiken. “The chords, the music, the scene was just so idyllic and beautiful. You step onto that boat and you just feel the history.”

It’s the history that matters the most to Captain Sam Sikkema. “I estimate I’m the ninth owner in her 123-year history,” Sikkema says. “But it’s certainly not the first time that a bank has stepped in—it’s not the first time she has been in this exact situation. She was repossessed before, went to auction and there were no bids. So this isn’t new ground for the ship.”

Sikkema says he needs about $250,000 just to clear the liens on the vessel and he can facilitate a private sale between now and May 8. After that date, what happens to the boat, “is in the hands of Camden National Bank and they have yet to tip their hand on what they will do with it.” Sikkema continues to lead cruises on another windjammer in Maine, but he hopes that someone comes to Victory’s rescue. “I’m hopeful that somebody will come along—or some entity—to become her next custodian. Culturally, she’s important. These rams help build the entirety of the mid-Atlantic.”

Ideas have been floated to use the boat as a dockside museum, restaurant or other venue where it can be safely kept. “At this point I have lost hope that somebody is going to put up the money to keep the boat together and restore it to sailing condition.”

U.S. Coast Guard compliance requirements, the cost and availability of materials for maintenance, the lack of ability to haul the ship in Maine and the losses of the 2020 season due to Covid have “all become a hill too big to climb,” stated Sikkema.

Learn more about the Victory Chimes here. Watch the music video for Timber She’s Hauled and see the Aikens in concert at the Deltaville Museum June 24. To bid on the Victory Chimes click here.