Barkentine Profile

Sinking Of The Barkentine Abeona

By James Donahue

The tall ship Abeona foundered in the open Atlantic, off the Canadian coast, while sailing from Perth Ambuy to Halifax in September, 1877, with a cargo of coal.

The barkentine, under command of Capt. Charles E. Byrnes, got caught in a severe Atlantic gale and began taking on water.

A story in the Boston Globe told how during the height of the storm the Abeona came upon the fishing schooner Goodluck, which was hove to and waiting for better weather. Captain Goodwin, master of the schooner, said she was sailing under reefed lower topsail, her decks awash, and was obviously in a sinking condition.

Goodwin said he saw through the gloom that men were laboring at the hand-operated pump, and the traditional distress signal flag was snapping in the rigging. The Abeona’s life boats were either smashed in their chocks or washing away by the angry seas.

As the two vessels got within earshot, Goodwin said he heard Byrnes shout through a megaphone: "We’re sinking! Take us off!" He said he ordered his crew to weigh anchor and set sail and an attempt was made to catch up with the foundering ship and carry out what every man knew was going to be a dangerous rescue attempt.

Within the hour the Goodluck "shot up under the barkentine’s lee as she wallowed, helpless and unmanageable, her pumps still clanking," the story said. But the high seas driven by strong winds made it impossible for the schooner to draw alongside the ill-fated Abeona, and no man dared to launch a boat in that sea.

Goodwin promised that he would stand by until the storm abated enough to follow through with a rescue. In the meantime, he asked the barkentine to set a signal so he did not lose sight of her during the looming night.

The gale continued to blow relentlessly all that night. The crew of the Goodluck battled the storm and kept an eye on that bobbing lantern hung in the rigging of the Abeona. But then, at about 9 p.m. that night, Goodwin said the light made a sudden lurch, then swept back slowly, then shot upward and descended quickly into the sea. It was obvious that the barkentine had foundered in the darkness before their eyes.

The ship sank with all hands within a few hundred feet of the fishing schooner. All that night the Goodluck cruised the area, the crew watching for any survivors who might be in the water. None were found.

A second fishing vessel, the schooner Jubilee, also was close enough to see the light disappear into the sea, and came to help in the search.

The Abeona was built at Mahone Bay in 1893. She was owned by Captain Byrnes, who went down with his ship. Her gross tonnage was 592.

The Mind of James Donahue

Great And Lost Ships Of The World