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Chris Crawford, of Mount Desert Island, films the raging surf near Otter Point in Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor as severe weather pounded the region on Sept. 16. Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

It has sat at the bottom of Maine’s coastal waters for more than 100 years, a simple schooner that transported granite from the state’s quarries until its untimely demise in the 1890s.

And now there’s a warrant out for its arrest.

JJM, an LLC out of Southwest Harbor, filed a maritime claim last week in U.S. District Court in Bangor seeking ownership of “one abandoned and submerged vessel” found about six nautical miles off the coast of Bar Harbor.

It’s not a treasure hunt, according to an attorney involved in the case. But those hoping to explore the wreck won’t say exactly what they’re looking for – or its specific coordinates.

“This is not a sunken World War II submarine, or buried treasure,” said Ben Ford, the attorney representing JJM LLC. “This is granite pavers. … It’s not particularly sexy cargo.”

Nor has JJM said what it plans to do with the salvaged ship, how the company found out about the wreck and why it’s so important.


“It is something that people in the general vicinity have known about for a while,” said Gregory Johnston, a co-manager of JJM.

There are many legendary wrecks around the coast of Maine, said Nathan Lipfert, an expert in Maine’s shipbuilding history and a retired curator for the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath.

“But I’ve never heard of a stone ship that people are hot to find,” Lipfert said.


Adhering to maritime law, JJM lists the vessel as a “defendant” in court records and filed a proposed warrant for her arrest by the United States Marshal for the District of Maine.

The judge signed the warrant Tuesday morning, starting a 14-day clock for anyone claiming an interest to announce themselves. They then have 21 days to respond to JJM’s claim.


That’s not to be confused with a criminal arrest warrant, Ford said. It simply means JJM will turn over the artifacts it seized during a November scuba diving search for the court to keep while it waits to see if anyone responds to a public notice regarding the vessel’s existence and JJM’s request for ownership. 

Maritime laws over salvaging sunken ships were created to help the original and rightful owners, said marine archaeologist Warren Riess, who is a retired professor from the University of Maine’s History Department.

In claims like these, where one party is seeking ownership of a century-old vessel, it’s not unusual for people to come out of the woodwork contesting that claim.

In the 1980s, a famed treasure hunter from Columbus, Ohio, said he had successfully located a steamer off the Carolina coast that sank in the 1850s, carrying tons of gold. Upon that announcement, insurance companies who had paid claims after the ship sank challenged that treasure hunter in court, arguing the gold was theirs. A judge agreed they had some rights to gold, but The Columbus Dispatch reported they were awarded less than 10%.

In 2003, the Historic Aircraft Recovery Corporation filed a maritime claim to get ownership of a set of World War II fighter planes at the bottom of Sebago Lake. A federal judge dismissed the case after the state of Maine said the lake was state property. The court also heard objections from the United Kingdom, which owned the planes and argued that the company was seeking to “exploit” a “military gravesite.”

The fighters were flown by two Canadian pilots stationed at the Brunswick Naval Air Station. They crashed over the lake on May 16, 1944, and the wreckage still sits on the lake bottom at a depth of about 200 feet.


The stone pavers aboard JJM’s mysterious schooner – the same kind of rock used to fill gaps in cobble streets – likely won’t raise the same objections, Riess said.

Riess said the judge’s order will most likely come down to historical significance. If there’s archaeological or public value, sometimes federal law will bar commercial entities from salvaging a boat.

But the boat described by JJM in court records is hardly remarkable, at least according to the people who want to bring it up.

Johnston wrote in a statement to the court that the ship “was not in any way unique or materially distinguishable from other, similar coasting schooners of the 19th century, many of which continue to sail the waters of the Maine coast today.” Johnston doesn’t believe there were any injuries or losses of life in the wreckage, so the company wouldn’t be disturbing a submerged gravesite.


The nameless vessel is believed to be a two-masted ship with a wooden hull, about 100 feet long and 20 to 30 feet high, according to court records.


When JJM sent a diver down to explore, he found the ship sitting about elbow-deep in the mud, but loose enough that he was able to remove artifacts without tools. That included a 28-inch plank of wood with holes drilled into it, a piece of the ship and a stone paver from the ship’s cargo.

There were thousands of schooners like these off the coast of Maine in the 1800s used for cargo, historians say. They weren’t particularly sustainable. Their lifespans were usually about 15 years. They stayed local and didn’t go on long voyages.

“Granite was a major cargo out of Maine, but pavers are kind of the least fancy of all the granite products,” said Kelly Page, curator for the Maine Maritime Museum. She said this particular style of ship was basically the “box truck” of its era.

Neither Page nor Lipfert could imagine why this particular vessel matters to JJM.

Perhaps, based on how well preserved the ship is, Page speculated it would have scholarly value. Most submerged wrecks disintegrate in saltwater. If there were still significant pieces of this boat intact, historians could learn more from the type of wood that was used and its fasteners.

What’s even more mysterious is how the vessel came to JJM’s attention. In court records, Johnston mentions conducting historical research and reviewing records.


Page said there’s no central database for documents like these. To even start looking for a small boat’s enrollment papers or business records, you have to have a few candidates in mind.

A schooner like this one likely didn’t have a lot of shareholders, and therefore would have fewer records, she said.

However, if there was a wreck, it’s possible there would have been local news coverage of the event or records from emergency responders.

“It isn’t easy,” Page said. “It’s not like the information is just compiled somewhere and easy to find. It takes legwork to find out.”


Johnston said in a brief interview last week that the company was formed by himself and several others who have long been interested in this shipwreck. Court records describe JJM as an “exploration venture.”


He declined to describe who else is involved in the business. He said the company’s acronym title was “arbitrary.” He wouldn’t discuss any ultimate endgame for the salvage without knowing what is down there and how the court process will go.

JJM became an LLC around the same time they say they located the wreck’s coordinates via sonar and visited the site with a certified diver in November. An affidavit from the diver detailing what he discovered and the exact whereabouts of the vessel have been sealed from the public.

In court records, Johnston said the company has the equipment and expertise necessary to salvage the vessel.

Ford and Johnston said they look forward to sharing more information about the vessel and its story in time.

“We’re curious to explore further,” Johnston said.

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