Sailing Ships and Sailor Men

Frederick William Wa11ace September 15 1921

Sailing Ships and Sailor Men

Frederick William Wa11ace September 15 1921

Sailing Ships and Sailor Men

Frederick William Wa11ace


SAILORS? grumbles an old salt, casting back to ancient days, “Why, there ain’t no sailors now—nor ships either. Steamboats and deckhands—that’s all. And ye talk about the Aquitannier? Why, Mister, she ain’t a patch on the old clipper ship Polaris wot I made three round v’yges in. Sixty-five days to Melb’un, Mister, and the Old Man crackin’ on like the devil, out and home, and breakin’ stuns’l booms so’s we had none left and had to use long-boat oars. Split his fore’n main to ’gans’ls ten times in one week, he

did, s’help me, and we never made canvas fast afore it was blowin’ a gale o’ wind. Runnin’ her eastern down she logged sixteen knots steady for three days on end, and, at times, there wasn’t knots enough on the log-line to reckon her speed—she was goin’ so fast.

“She was a ship—not a steam kittle, and she had a crowd aboard that was sailorsnot deck-hands. Every man of us, in those days, would bet all his pay on the ship agin all comers and it wasn’t earned easy. Aye, aye. . . a ship, b’gaw’d. . . . and sailors.” And he trailed off into mumblings of ships and things which no seaman of the old sailing days ever forgets.

The engineer will dispute it with sarcastic jibes, but, nevertheless, all the romance of seafaring is invested in sail. Derricks and funnels have displaced tall spars and canvas-draped yards; steam defies the winds of the world which the old seamen knew and used, and the “sailor.of the sail, breed of the oaken heart” is fast becoming a vanished type. The propulsion created by boiling water gradually drove the wind-blown square-rigged clippers into

the discard, and when they began to pass away, the “dyedin-the-wool” wind-jammer shell-back “reckoned he’d give up goin’ to sea and voyage in a steamer” for the wherewithal to live. That’s how they put it, and there was a heart-throb in the voicing of such a valediction.

It was a tremendously inspiring age when seamen had to spread canvas to carry cargo-laden hulls across the waters of the world. It was an age when seamanship was a high art; when physical hardihood and nerve were invaluable and necessary assets, and the right to call oneself an “Able Bodied Seaman” had to be earned in a hard school, for the rating was jealously guarded from incompetents. To steer a plunging racing ship in wild seas when a false turn of the wheel meant instant destruction; to clamber aloft and lay out on a yard and handle flogging canvas in a black, roaring night of storm; to haul and manipulate braces and sheets when decks are flooded with frigid brine; to heave the lead and log and be master of a hundred knots, bends and hitches and cunning fashionings of rope and canvas; to know every part of a sailing ship’s fabric, its place and use, and to toil twentyfour hours a day if necessary—these are but a few of the accomplishments expected of Able Seamen in the age when wind and canvas reigned supreme in ocean propulsion, and to them might be added the stoicism which permitted the old time seaman to live in wretched forecastles and eat miserable food for the mere pittance of from ten to twenty dollars a month.

“Just think of gran’pa and gran’ma coming across to Canada in a slow old thing like that!” ejaculated a fair Canadian on viewing a timber-laden sailing barque from the lofty deck of a twenty-knot liner. “Six weeks it

took them to cross when they came over in eighteen fiftyfive. Goodness, but travelling in those sail boats must have been deadly dull!”

The Really Stirring Sea Days of Yore

WAS it though? In grand-father’s day, the sailing ship was bucking the steamer on the principal trade routes of the world; the swift American clippers were causing John Bull to lie awake nights worrying over Britannia’s right to call herself “Mistress of the Seas,” and British and American ship-owners were feverishly rivalling one another in the building and sailing of smart canvas-driven craft. Skilled and successful ship captains were accorded the homage and praise of potentates; the

news-sheets devoted columns to the account of a fast passage or a race between rival ships, while the launch, or sailing of a new clipper brought spectators in thousands to view the sight.

Great Britain got her tea from China in sailing ships as late as the year 1881, and the China tea trade is a record of thirty years of ocean racing between fast clippers. What yacht race ever compared with the marvellous contest between the British tea clippers Ariel, Taeping, Serica, Fiery Cross, and^Taitsing in 1866? All five ships left Foochow, China, within a few hours of one another, and, spurred on by the prize of an extra ten shillings per ton on the first cargo of tea landed in London, they stormed down the China seas, threaded the dangerous Java Straits, rushed across the great expanse of the desolate Indian Ocean, rounded

the Cape of Good Hope and forged up the two Atlantics, finally racing up the English Channel and reaching London —the last of the racers arriving in dock within 48 hours of the leading ship after passages of 99 and 101 days

duration, over 16,000 miles of sea.

When it is con-

sidered that these vessels were sailing ships solely de-

pendent upon the wind to carry them over thousands of miles of ocean, and that

they were only small craft of less than a thousand tons, and that

three of them arrived in London s i m u 11 a neously, one must admit that the seamanship exhibited was little short of wonderful.

But such contests went with the glorious age of sail. American clippers raced a-

round the Horn

to and from San Francisco, and for

many years, ships were designed and built and placed

in command of determined and daring captains in an effort to excel the record of 89 days from New York to San Francisco established by the ships Andrew Jackson and Flying Cloud in the ’fifties. Americans and Britishers raced from English ports to Melbourne, Australia, endeavouring to beat the 63 days passage accomplished by the Aberdeen clipper Thermopylae and the American ships Lightning and James Baines, while the North Atlantic staged forty years of sailing ship races to equal the voyage made by the Maine ship Red Jacket, which, in 1854, arrived in the Mersey after a run of 13 days, 1 hour, from Sandy Hook.

These times of passage may seem futile when compared with the runs of modern steamers, but the sailor of the sail can vision the days of strenuous action attendant upon such speeds under canvas. He can picture the bending of upper masts, the splitting of sails, the constant pulling and hauling on ropes and the curseful exhortations and threats of mates and boatswains impelled to drive the men through the desire for swift voyaging. Fourteen knots an hour in a wind-jammer in a breeze is something to excite a thrill, a rare and exhilarating sensation worth recalling with pleasure many years after. And remember, in the wind-jammer, it was the skilful seamanship of the master and mates and the hardihood and ability of the men before the mast which made the old ships leap to the urge of the wind. They were hounded along by men who carried on until sails burst, spars cracked and ropes snapped, and seamen replaced canvas and splintered gear while the wind howled and the clipper stormed along.

Record Day’s Run Under Canvas

' I 'HEY often made better than fourteen knots an hour, and fourteen knots in a steamer today is rated as good steaming. Nautical history records the wonderful day’s run of the American clipper Lightning during a passage from Boston to Liverpool in the winter of 1854 when she logged 436 miles in 24 hours—a record which stands today as the fastest day’s run ever made by a canvas-driven ship. The clipper Donald McKay in 1855, on the same route, logged 421 miles in the 24 hours; the Great Republic

in 1858 made a 24 hour run of 413 miles, and old seamen still yarn of the famous packet ship Dreadnought, known as the “Wild Boat of the Atlantic,” which, in the ’fifties’, made passages between New York and Liverpool with almost steamboat regularity, and which often was seen storming along in a gale of wind under a big spread of canvas and “leaping from wave to wave and showing her keel.”

This voyaging was not done by the pulling of a lever and the turning of a propeller. Headon gales and calms often hindered the sailing craft and devious courses had to be steered in order to pick up the favorable winds, but the wind-jammer captain was a seaman par excellence. He was a determined fellow with abundant nerve and energy who saw to it that his sails were set and trimmed to every wind that could be used to coax the ship along. Their voyages

were a continual round of activity, day and night, and it is recorded that China clipper captains seldom slept in their bunks during a three months’ passage but snatched fitful naps on a chart-room sofa or in a deck-chair. Luck played but little part in their voyaging. Unceasing vigilance and splendid seamanship, quickness to take advantage of the changing winds and the nerve to carry canvas in hard weather made of the master mariners of the clipper ship era a breed of nautical heroes in an age when the art of seamanship was inspiring and profound.

Steam, slowly but surely, thrust the wind-driven ships into obscurity. It no longer paid to build and sail clippers against steamers. The Suez Canal shortened the China and Australian run and excluded the sailer from the highclass freights; railroads crossed America and brought the Pacific to the Atlantic in eight or nine days, and modern progress left but a few humble trades for the sailing vessel to engage in. Steam contemptuously observed, “We’ll let you carry coal, deals, timber and low-grade bulk cargoes” and, disdaining to take care of this business, the flying clippers with their lofty spars and great sailspread, their splendid gear and big crews, their sharp hulls and small cargo capacity, vanished, and the sailer finishes existence as a lubberly warehouse of steel—a “four-posted wind-wagon,” not particularly fast but extremely economical, or else retains a place on the seas in the long-bodied, many-masted schooner.

ft The art of handling canvas shifted, according to the general viewpoint, from the hands of the historical clipper seaman to the yachtsman. Sailing held sway only in the contests of pleasure boats, and the lovers of wind-driven craft gradually grew to regard the America’s Cup race as the last existing reminder of the heroic days of sail. Years ago, before the naval architects began pitting science in design and construction against seamanlike skill, the America’s Cup contests were worth while, but latterly, even the old shellbacks lost interest in the racing freaks which were evolved and wrote “finis” to the days of sail. “It’s all gone,” they sighed. “No more sailormen, no more ships!” And they yarned and contented themselves with memories.

Happily, for the lovers of the sea and wind-driven ships, the sailing age is not altogether dead. It has been flourishing for many years in an obscure and little known industry, and within its confines is bred a class of seaman who retains all the skill, hardihood and daring ascribed to the clipper ship sailors, and who has evolved a type of sailing vessel as handsome, as able, and as fast as its wonderful squarerigged predecessor. This survival has had few chronicles; no metropolitan dailies feature their' passages or proclaim to the world the unique place they occupy in seafaring. Their actions are shrouded in the mists of an isolation as dense as the fogs in which they toil.

These modern sailing seamen are the Banksmen—the Canadians, Newfoundlanders and Americans who man the deep-sea fishing fleets of Lunenburg, Gloucester, Boston, Provincetown and other ports, and who range the shoal water “Banks” of the Western North Atlantic, winter and summer, in swift-sailing schooners, for the cod, haddock, halibut and other species which they catch and market.

At first impression, the uninformed may consider it somewhat of a drop in his ideals to pass from the glorious clipper ship and the hardy “marlinespike” seamen to the unassuming Bank fishermen and their schooners.

Freightings of China teas, Australian wools, spices, sandalwood and gold, savor of the romantic and inspire the imagination more than a hold full of iced fish or salted cod, but the man who is familiar with life in the merchant square-rigged clipper and who knows the Bank fishermen and their craft will find that comparisons favor the fisherman for maintaining tradition in their skill in seamanship and hardihood in carrying on their arduous existence at sea in all weathers.

The big American clipper of 2,000 tons has its modern representative in the Bank fishing schooner of 100 to 150 tons. The clipper ship master, with his Olympian air of unchallenged authority, confident mien, and high social position, loses nothing when reincarnated in the oilskinclad and rubber-booted fishing skipper who twirls the wheel of his lithe, tail-sparred schooner and shows no concern when a screaming squall rolls his vessel down until half her deck is under water. Captain Richard Van Schuyler of the big clipper, in similar circumstances, might permit himself to cast a warning glance at the quartermaster struggling at his ship’s wheel and, mayhap, observe coldly to his chief mate, “I trust, Mister Whittaker, that your gear is in sufficiently good condition to permit of our carrying those fore and main topgallants Is

in these violent squalls”; but Skipper Wesley McDonald of the “Fisherman”—the modern embodiment of Van Schuyler—would probably laugh cheerfully and remark to one of his crew, “Cripes! but that was a [ C hot one, Jim. Another one like that and that ruddy old stays’l will ! -

be takin’ a flier. But there’s a power o’ speed in them puffs. I cal’late she’s makin’ fourteen knots right naow.” And he might conclude his observation by borrowing a chew of tobacco.

Bank Fishermen are Master Sailors.

CLIPPER ship Jack will boast of racing past Cape Horn with the big seas of the Southern Ocean roaring and creaming in mile-long crests behind and the strong westerly wind booming in the distended sails aloft and breaking stout chain sheets in the heft of it, but Trawler Bill is not impressed and will murmur something x

about pounding for harbor over the Banks with a winter’s gale blowing and all the four lowers on her, ice making on the decks and rigging and the snow so thick “a feller might’s well leave his eyes to home.” And he might give vent to a contemptuous snort and voice an odious comparison about a 2,000 ton ship and a 95 ton schooner abroad on a winter’s sea a hundred miles off-shore.

Circumstances made a master sailorman of the Bank fisherman.

All of them work on shares in the fishing and the comfort of himself and family decrees that no time be wasted in loafing. The crowd on a “fisherman” are losing money when not fishing. They are consuming food which they have to pay for out of the catch; they are paying the wages of a cook who must be paid, fish or no fish; they have their own money

tied up in the fishing gear, and some will have a hundred dollars or so invested in the vessel. Who wants to travel easy sailing under such conditions? Fish, too, are highly perishable. Fast sailing gets it to market quicker and in better condition to command a good price; quick passages mean more time on the fishing grounds. So there you are! And above all, fishing is hard, monotonous work with mighty little fun in it. A little bit of sail carrying in a smart and able hooker adds zest to life and, when all is said and done, who wants to go trolloping around the Banks in a square-bowed plug anyway?

Years of experience, keen competition, and the inability to apply steam vessels economically to the Bank fisheries have resulted in the evolution of a fieet of remarkably beautiful and seaworthy fishing schooners capable of being sailed in heavy weather and of making fast speeds at all times. In the Canadian fleet, there are about 150 of these schooner fishing craft, and the United States flotilla numbers as many Newfoundland also owns quite a Reet of the larger type of modern Bankers. In the world s marine today, there are to be found no such speedy and graceful sailing vessels in such numbers employed in com-

mercial activit-

As with the vessels, so with the men who man them. The majority of the Bank fishermen hail from the Maritime Provinces of Canada —Nova S c o tians mainly. N e w f oundlanders rank next, with Scandinavians and native-born Americans and Portu guese in the minority. The very nature of the fishing—in small dories set out from the parent schooner— is so fraught with hazard that the Bank fisherman’s imagination seems dulled to danger, and this quality permits them to drive their schooners all over the Atlantic under all the canvas they can stand in

winds well calculated to make a landsman shiver at their daring.

Winter sees the schooners plying their vocation of hunting and catching fish just the same, though some freight dried fish to the West Indies, Mediterranean and Brazil,

and the hard gales of that season hound many a vessel to and from market port through seas which will inspire awe in the minds of passengers viewing them from lofty Atlantic leviathans, and during weather cold enough to try the endurance of the hardiest.

One can picture the derisive and contemptuous comments which came from these Banksmen when the America’s Cup Racers, Shamrock and Resolute, were deterred from racing owing to a 25-knot an hour breeze proving too much for their frail fabrics to weather. A 25-knot an hour breeze, be it known, is described on Admiral Beaufort’s wind scale as “a moderate wind which will permit a first-class clipper ship to carry all sail.” The fishermen, as sailing men pure and simple, were keenly interested in the yacht races, and this inability to compete in a wnnd which they w'ould class as a fair sailing breeze, brought a howl of contempt from them which found expression in the daily press of Canada and the United States. Out of the obscurity came comments and opinions and strong protests were

voiced from these shell-backs at the idea of the seamanship of Britishers and Americans being represented by the ineffectual playthings of millionaires.

"We’ll give the Yanks a race!” challenged the Canadian deep-sea fishermen. “If someone will put up a cup and a dollar or two to pay for the time we lose racing, we’ll show them yachtsmen what a real honest-to-gawd^ race is, and there’ll be no calling-off for too much wind.

Senator Dennis of the Halifax “Herald” took up the challenge on behalf of the Canadian fishermen and donated a Trophy to be raced for by bona-fide fishing schooners of the United States and Canada. This trophy would stand, not only for the sailing supremacy of the North Atlantic, but also for the championship of the commercial sailing craft of the world. . _ . , 1Q1,A

The first contest was staged off Halifax in October 19-0 and the trophy was carried off to Gloucester by Captain “Marty” Welch in the American schooner Esperanto (lost in May 1921 off Sable Island while fishing! which defeated the Lunenburg schooner Delawana. This initial race was a somewhat hurried affair and there was no time

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The two Canadian schooners, Blueto make the event more generally known. The Canadian schooner was not the fastest in the fleet, but she was the best available. The main thing, however, was the establishment of the fishing schooner race. Interest and enthusiasm were aroused and the Canadians felt no great chagrin at losing the Cup to the Americans as they felt confident in getting it back is the 1921 contest. The edge was taken off defeat in the fact that the American schooner’s skipper was Canadian-born as were most of the crew.

The Esperanto had hardly sailed on her triumphant journey to Gloucester before Halifax and Lunenburg fish men commissioned W. J. Roue, a Halifax naval architect, to design a new fishing schooner capable of challenging for the trophy in October, 1921. The keel of this vessel was laid at Lunenburg last winter, and the Bluenose, as she was called, is now carrying on her vocation as a Bank fishing schooner under the command of Captain Angus Walters.

Captain Joseph Conrad of Annapolis, N.S., a retired fishing skipper, became exercised over the defeat of the Delawana and determined to have a schooner built that would trim anything afloat. Amos Pentz of Shelburne, a veteran schooner designer, drafted the plans and Shelburne shipyards constructed the Canadia for

Captain Conrad. Both the skipper and his craft are now at sea qualifying as bona fide challengers for the Cup.

The Americans, realizing that the Canadians would build new and faster challengers for the trophy, carefully scrutinized their existing fleet for possible defenders. A Boston syndicate eventually decided that the cup would more surely be retained in American hands by building a new defender, and, to this end, W. Starling Burgess, a well-known yacht designer, was instructed to create a fishing schooner that would sail past anything flying canvas. An extreme type of | schooner was designed, and the Mayflower, built at Essex, Mass., and commanded by Captain J. Henry Larkin, is now on the Banks engaged in fishing.

The deed of gift accompanying the trophy stipulates that the contestants must be bona fide fishing schooners and must engage in Bank fishing for at least one season ere being eligible. A fishing season is interpreted as extending from April 30 to September 30. Certain other restrictions are embodied to prevent, the possibility of freak craft entering the races and the appointment of Canadian and American committees to pass upon the eligibility of defenders and challengers will further safeguard that only strictly commercial type of craft will be allowed to compete.

nose and Canadia, and the American Mayflower are much in the lime-light as possible challengers and defender, but the elimination races may bring forth a "dark horse”. Lunenburg, La Have, Mahone Bay, Yarmouth, Lockeport, Shelburne and other Nova Scotian ports boast of many clippers—every one of which is a possible challenger, while Gloucester, Portland, Boston, Provincetown and similar fishing ports in the U. S. believe that they can produce vessels to trim the Mayflower and latterly the Canadians.

Controversy is rife and the coming race dominates fo’c’sle conversation on the Banks. The Canadians discuss the merits of Bluenose and Canadia and minutely compare technical variations in their design and gear. The Mayflower is regarded by many with suspicion as being a camouflaged yacht built by a Boston syndicate who care nothing for fishing but who are out to get the Cup away from the present holders at Gloucester. Fishermen hailing from the latter American port side with the Canadians in discussing the Mayflower and a goodly number of both stand on common ground in declaring that the Boston schooner should be barred from entering the race “as she ain t a real fishing vessel but a yacht what s adting the part.”

What is a “Fishing” Vessel?

NO SUCH criticism can be directed against Bluenose or Canadia. Both are orthodox fishing schooners in the design of which, good cargo capacity has been embodied in a speedy hull—a shade finer, perhaps, than the usual type of “fisherman”. But the Mayflower is radically different in her hull design from the orthodox “Banker” and the fineness of her underbody is such, that for her length, beam and depth, she cannot pack as big a cargo of fish as the model extant today.

Upon this fact hinges most of the controversy. Critics insist that a vessel cannot be classed as a fishing schooner unless she can pack enough fish in her hold to pay for her operation and a fair interest on the money invested in her. Others declare that her lines are so fine that she would not dare go to sea in the winter months. To these criticisms, Captain Larkin of the Mayflower replies that he will make his schooner pay her way by fishing and, as far as wdnter voyaging is •concerned, he is willing to race the Mayflower at any season of the year if sufficient inducement is offered. To the latter challenge, the Captain of the Bluenose replies with an offer to race next winter from a port in Newfoundland to Brazil with a cargo of dried fish, and back to Newfoundland or Nova Scotia with a lading of salt. With the racing spirit rising to fever heat, there is every indication that the contest between the American and Canadian schooners will develop into ocean races such as raged during the China and California clipper days.

If the Mayflower accomplishes what her skipper believes she can do, then she will become famous as the pioneer in a new era of fishing schooner design. But in addition to being a fast sailer, she must prove that she can stand wdnter weather ind winter seas, as well as show a favorible credit entry in the ledger of her fishing voyages.

In addition to the photographs reproduced, the following principal dimensions of the Bluenose, Canadia, and Mayflower will give the layman an idea of the build of these speedy fishing clippers.

I Bluenose Mayflower Canadia j Feet Feet Feet Total sail area* .. 10,937 10,775 10,300 Length over all ... 141 143 138.6" Beam.......... 27 25.9" 25.2" Depth........ 11.6" 11.9" 12 Bowsprit....... 13% Mainmast........ 93 Mainmast above deck 81 Foremast .. .... .. 71.6" Ma in topmast 53.6" 52 Foretopmast...... 48.6" 43 Main boom..... 81 84 Main gaff...... 46 45 50 Foreboom...... 36.6" 34 32.6" Foregaff........ 82.6' 84 60 Main sail (sq. yds.) . 4,100 4,292 4,075 Main gaff top sail* 756 700 875 Foresail (sq yds.) . 1,640 1,832 1,500 Fore gaff top sail* . 560 520 450 Try sail (gq. yds.) 1,305 1,025 1,350 Jumbo (sq yds.) .... 775 715 500 J9> (sq. yds.) .. .. 835 870 850 Jib top sail (sq. yds.) 750 700 •Square yards.

The Bank fishing schooner is not a “smack”. No fisherman on this side of the Atlantic will tolerate calling his “vessel” such. Tail-sparred, and carrying an immense spread of sail, they are yacht-like in loftiness and general beauty of hull, but the resemblance ends there. Their frames and stanchions are of stout timber; their iron-work is plain and strong and very little brass glitters about them; their masts are well-stayed and all the gear is fashioned for the rough usage and hard weather which they get in plenty. There are no frills, fancy-work or jimcrack gadgets on a “fisherman.”

It should be remembered that the crew of a Banker runs from eighteen to twentysix men. Carrying such an able-bodied crowd permits of the “sail dragging” for which they are famous. Were it not for this fact in conjunction with good gear and plenty of ballast, no fishing skipper would be reckless enough to carry sail the way they do in the stiff breezes of the Western Ocean. But do not let this detract from their daring. Backed by the knowledge that they can take care of their canvas when the time comes they go the limit and it takes all the skill, muscle and tenacity of their big crews to reef or stow a mainsail of 4,000 square yards in area wdth a boom eighty feet long, when the terrific squalls of early March sweep across the Banks.

The second contest of this new era of sailing vessels and sailormen will take place off Halifax Harbor in October, and the eyes of the world will focus upon it as it has upon the America’s Cup races of the past. But this is a combat of men who make their living by sailing vessels and of vessels who make their living also. Let us pray with the fishermen that no calms or summer zephyrs interfere and, like them, in characteristic phrase, request that Boreas “blow his dam’dest!’.’