Zac McDorrJune 29, 1941, was a beautiful summer day, just right for a clambake on Monhegan Island. Thirty-four people showed up at Dyer’s Cove in East Harpswell to do just that. They boarded a boat called the Don, and headed six miles across the bay to West Point, where they shopped at Reed’s General Store.

Later, a Seguin lighthouse keeper saw the Don headed off course toward Boothbay Harbor. The boat disappeared into the haze near Tom’s Rocks, a series of shallow shoals.

The Don never made Monhegan. Local fishermen did not doubt Capt. Paul Johnson, who was an expert navigator and boatman. They were leery, however, of the top-heavy Don, which rolled easily and had already sunk more than once.

A thorough search began on Tuesday when heavy fog finally lifted. Sadly, the 40 life jackets aboard the Don were not enough to save the lives of the passengers. Bodies were found throughout Casco Bay over the next two weeks, from Orr’s Island to Cape Elizabeth.

Mysteriously, the captain’s body was found lashed to a tuna barrel with three fathoms of rope. Only 14 victims were found.

The wreckage of the Don showed signs of burning. Many theories were put forth about how the boat sank, including far-fetched ones about insurance scams and German U-boats. It was determined that the Don had been simply overloaded with passengers on the top deck and rolled over in a swell. It never should have left the dock, but at the time there were no regulations or inspections on boats under 65 feet long.

The Motorboat Act was amended due to this tragedy. All small boats for hire would now be inspected, and a series of safety regulations were passed.

Funeral services were held in Rumford, where many victims were from, and at Bailey Island, where 500 people attended.

Source: “Tragedy in Casco Bay,” by Stacy L. Welner, 2006.