Nobska Studios


 

The Last Coastal Steamer

The S.S. Nobska was launched in 1925 from Bath Ironworks shipyard in Bath, ME. She was the 2nd of 4 steamships of nearly the same design to be built for the New England Steamship Company, forerunner to the current Woods Hole, Martha's Vineyard, and Nantucket Steamship Authority. The Nobska was powered by a single triple-expansion steam engine. She was 210 feet long, had a 50-foot beam, and could reach a speed of 14 knots. In 1928, her name was changed to Nantucket; the name was changed back to Nobska in 1956.

Side view of Ship

Tied up at SSA wharf 1974-1975

Dry Dock#1 Steamship

Baltimore, 1976

Memories

“I first discovered the Nobska in the summer of 1973. She was sailing twice daily between Woods Hole and Nantucket. Her whistle would echo across the island no matter where you were. In September 1973, the Nobska was taken out of service as she became too costly to maintain, thanks in part to the energy crisis in effect then. Her design was not conducive to easily loading an automobile, and freight was easier to ship by tractor trailer truck. Newer double-ended loading ships powered by more-efficient diesel engines were being built.

“From 1974-1975, the Nobska was tied up along the south side of the Nantucket Steamboat Wharf. Because I was nearly living on Old North Wharf, this ship was my daily view across the water until the middle of August 1975, when the Steamship Authority found a buyer who wanted to make her a floating restaurant in Baltimore, MD.

“Within 2 years, the floating restaurant on the Baltimore waterfront failed. So the Nobska was moved, then languished -- hidden away somewhere on the Baltimore waterfront. I found her in 1987 driving by a pier beyond the National Aquarium.

Steamship Docked at Wharf

India Point, Providence, RI, 1991

“In 1991 while working in Newport, RI, I had heard that she was purchased by the New England Steamship Foundation, formerly known as the Friends of the Nobska. The NESF had Nobska towed to India Point in East Providence, RI. This was a place where she could again be seen. Anyone driving into downtown Providence on I-195 would not be able to ignore the ship’s signature funnel and wheel house. But, as I quickly found out, she was a shell of her former self. Nobska was literally rusting away. Members of the NESF invited me to come aboard, and sadly it was like walking on eggshells -- holes here and there, planks covering smaller holes. She was not the ship I knew when I toured her in 1973.

“A few years later, Nobska was moved to a distant pier on the New Bedford waterfront as her welcome at India Point had worn out.

“But Nobska's best chance to survive came when the National Park Service allowed her to be towed to dry dock #1 at the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston. The hope was that, at the very least, the hull could be repaired and waterproofed. I visited her just a couple days after she was brought into dry dock. The ship was a little more ragged. But what was amazing was that, despite the fact that she was in a dryadic, the water was still spilling out of her hull! And, just like her perch off I-195 in East Providence, she could be seen from a highway. If you were on the Mystic-Tobin bridge, that black funnel and white wheelhouse were as plain as day. But, what was most remarkable of all, the S.S. Nobska was now just a stone's throw from the U.S.S. Constitution and the many tourists who visited that classic vessel. I visited Nobska as often as I could. But each time she looked more like a patient on life support who was rapidly approaching that DNR moment.

“Strangely I was attending a gathering at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel in 2004 and met a U.S. Park Ranger at a luncheon. During our conversation, he mentioned the Nobska -- and the frustration about her still sitting in Dry Dock #1. The Constitution was due to go into dry dock by 2007 for a major refit, but Nobska could still be there.

Nobska Steamship
Sitting in Dry dock #1, Charlestown, MA 1996

Sitting in Dry dock #1, Charlestown, MA 1996

Steamship from a far

“The end came in 2006 when the National Park Service evicted Nobska and the New England Steamship Foundation because the NESF had not been able to find funding to restore Nobska, much less pay the Park Service for use of the dry dock for all those years. The S.S. Nobska was broken up for scrap. Fortunately, a part of her survives to this day. The steam whistle was saved by the Steamship Authority's Nantucket board member, Flint Ranney. The whistle was installed on a modern car ferry called the M/V Eagle. Whenever the Eagle blows its whistle, it is the plaintive wail of the Nobska.”

NOBSKA ART & THE STEAMSHIP COLLECTION