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SABINO: Steamboat

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The Sabino steamboat is the oldest wooden, coal-fired steamboat in regular operation in the U.S. Built in 1908 in East Boothbay, Maine, by W. Irving Adams, she spent most of her career ferrying passengers and cargo between Maine towns and islands. First she operated on the Damariscotta River in midcoast Maine. After sinking during an accident in 1918, she ran on the Kennebec River. From 1927 to 1960 she served the islands of Casco Bay, running out of Portland. For this service her narrow hull was widened with sponsons to make her more stable in the open waters. Although her configuration and passenger capacity changed through the years, her engine did not. The Sabino Steamboat is still powered by the two-cylinder Paine compound steam engine installed in 1908.

From about 1820 to 1940, coastal and riverside residents relied on steamboats as much as we do today on cars and buses for convenient transportation. With poor roads and few bridges, it took far longer to travel on land than it did at eight miles an hour in a comfortable steamboat. But by 1900 railroads had reduced the demand for steamboat service, and with the popularization of the automobile and the development of reliable paved highways in the 1920s, the steamboat became obsolete.

After her career in Casco bay, she was operated by the Corbin family out of Newburyport, Massachusetts. Sabino was purchased by Mystic Seaport in 1974 to serve as a working exhibit. She is operated during the warmer months on regularly scheduled runs for the enjoyment and education of visitors. The Sabino was formally designated a National Historic Landmark in 1992.


Sabino was hauled out in the Museum’s Henry B. duPont Preservation Shipyard in late 2014 for an extensive restoration. Museum shipwrights addressed a number of issues around the vessel, including reframing much of the stern, replacing the keel bolts, installing new planking and decking, and restoring portions of the superstructure. In addition, numerous mechanical and systems upgrades are being carried out and a new boiler will be installed. She returned to service August 2, 2017.

How Does Sabino’s Engine Work?

Steam is produced in a watertube boiler, in which the water circulates through the fire box in a series of tubes to produce high-pressure steam. Valves direct the steam first to the small high-pressure cylinder and from there to the larger low-pressure cylinder to expand against the pistons and drive the cranks that turn the propeller shaft. Her screw propeller — a maritime innovation of the 1840s — is far more efficient than the side wheels that used to drive steamboats. Where does the steam go? After leaving the low-pressure cylinder it passes through a condenser pipe on the outside of the Sabino‘s hull, where it is cooled back to a liquid and pumped back into the boiler to go through the process again.