WILTON – Dayl Kaulback could be a character in an adventure movie. Hunched over a back room table strewn with old newspaper clippings, photographs and investigation transcripts from the 1940s, the co-owner of Mainely Scuba is doing detective work which he hopes will result in solving a Maine mystery more than a half-century old.
Sixty-five years ago this June, Kaulback’s mother’s cousin Mary and 33 others, mostly from Rumford and Mexico, boarded the 44-foot cabin cruiser the Don in Dyers Cove, East Harpswell, for an excursion to Monhegan Island. They went ashore near Cape Small and headed to Reed’s General Store where, according to newspaper accounts, some posted letters to loved ones. The day-trippers boarded the Don once again around 11 a.m., heading out to sea toward Monhegan Island into a thickening fog.
They were never seen again.
When the boat failed to return to port that evening, worried friends and relatives alerted the Coast Guard, but a 10-hour search turned up nothing. Then bodies began to be discovered, just off Bailey Island in Casco Bay.
The exact location of the Don’s wreckage has remained a mystery. But this summer Kaulback hopes to change that. He’s heading out to Casco Bay to find it.
He says he won’t dive until he has found the wreckage, dropping an underwater video camera alongside his boat as he haunts the various shoals and ledges where people say the Don went down. The problem is where to look, Kaulback says.
Though some of the Don’s victims were found, the pleasure cruiser itself was never definitively located, and in the intervening years there has been intense speculation about what caused the accident.
Some in Rumford assumed the vessel had been hit by a German U-Boat. The Don disappeared in 1941, after all, only months before the United States entered World War Two. U-Boats would be spotted in Maine waters just months later – and on June 22, 1942, a German submarine was struck by a depth charge off Bailey Island, with German bodies washing up remarkably close to where the victims of the Don were discovered.
Others suspected a much less glamorous cause: Some newspaper accounts suggest the pleasure boat was unseaworthy – it was moored in the ice in Casco Bay for the entire previous winter – and just could not withstand the stress of running aground in a soupy fog. A ruling by the Maine State Board of Inquiry and the “A” Marine Investigation Board, handed down on Oct. 29, 1941, states “it is our opinion that the motorboat DON was lost by capsizing, due to inherent instability and the added weight of the passengers when the vessel rolled in the ground swell which was prevailing.”
The report goes on to say “it is quite possible the vessel may have struck a submerged object, but not the bottom, as the water in this vicinity is quite deep.”
By all accounts, Kaulback says, what remains of the Don – its propellers, engine, and anchors – is probably somewhere near Seguin Island, or near Round Rock or the Three Sisters. He says he will check all three, and when he finds it, dive down with companions to look at the wreck. He will not touch anything, he says, just take photographs of what he considers a grave.