The steamer Sabino, built in 1908, has been a popular attraction at the Mystic Seaport Museum since 1974, offering boat rides on the Mystic River to an estimated 33,000 passengers yearly. The steamboat; which the museum bills as the oldest wooden, coal-fired steamboat in regular operation in the U.S.; will not, however, be in operation this summer and it is unclear as to whether she will be put back in service in the foreseeable future.
During a major restoration in the Museum’s Henry B. duPont Preservation Shipyard, it was determined that the boat’s boiler was beyond repair and would need to be replaced. What is happening next is unclear.
In the short term, the Sabino will be put back into the water in the early summer and according to the museum website, “the vessel will operate as a dockside exhibit for the foreseeable future until her boiler is replaced.”
Funding seems to be part of the problem. The Questions and Comments section of the museum shipyard blog, Tom Daniels replied to a question about the steamers future: We’re all hoping that the funding for a new boiler will come through so that Sabino can continue to operate as she always has. At this point, our focus is on getting her as complete as possible to make the installation of a new boiler in the future possible.
Questions have been raised over Mystic Seaport’s stewardship of the historic steamer. Dick Lotz, the senior captain on the Sabino from 1979–2009, wrote an op-ed in January 24th, The Day, saying that the boiler issues were not a surprise.
The need for a new boiler was known by all involved with Sabino and seriously discussed for almost 10 years. It was known before the new exhibit building contract was signed. It was known before The Charles Morgan sailed. It was known on April 28, 2015, when The Day reported on a $2 million grant from The National Park Service for Sabino restoration. It was known on Sept. 14, 2015, when The Day reported a $149,000 grant from The Institute of Museum and Library Services for Sabino.
At that time, Steve White, Mystic Seaport president, stated, “This project will maintain the vessel’s historical integrity and perpetuate skills and professional licensing necessary to operate a unique technological artifact of maritime history and culture.
The first plan was to replace the boiler over one winter so Sabino would not miss an operating season. The next plan was to replace the boiler and Sabino would miss only one operating season.
The new plan is to make Sabino an indefinite static dockside exhibit.
Thus, its slide begins.
Licensed engineers will be let go after engine installation. Next, Sabino’s Coast Guard Certificate of Inspection will expire. Then, continuity in skills and licensing will be lost. After 40-plus years on The Mystic River as the country’s last and only wood, coal-fired certified passenger steamer in regular service, Sabino will now sit dockside, venerated perhaps, but greatly diminished in capacity as the last and only of her kind.
My intent is not to criticize, rather to draw attention to this great loss. Fortunately, over 1,500,000 passengers had the experience of riding Sabino since she came to Mystic in 1973.
Sadly, Sabino is no longer a real steamer.
The next plan appears to be to have creative exhibits in the new building serve as a substitute for the real thing.