From New York to Charlottetown – By Canoe

Late in the afternoon of Monday, 24 August 1908 a small craft  moved past Blockhouse Point and across Charlottetown Harbour. Aboard were only two crew members and the vessel carried no cargo. The little boat was the sailing canoe Patsy Green and it had left at 5:30 that morning from Augustine Cove. The passage from there to Charlottetown under clear skies and a light breeze had taken less than eleven hours.  That was an impressive time, even though they were probably able to pass in the shallow waters between St.Peter’s Island and Rice Point. What was more impressive is that the journey had started in New York City, 900 miles to the south.

Aboard the canoe were 36 year old Henry A. Wise Wood and his wife Elizabeth Ogden. They had been canoeing for more than fifteen years but this was their longest journey. Henry was the son of a former mayor of New York City but had made his fortune as the inventor of the high-speed newspaper press and held hundreds of patents. His maritime interests were not limited to canoes and he was a member of the prestigious New York Yacht Club and later became one of the founders of the Cruising Club of America.

In several years of canoeing they had developed a canoe especially fitted for long-distance cruising. The Patsy Green was sixteen feet long, thirty-five inches in beam and she drew about six inches of water when loaded. The canoe was decked much like a kayak with one small cockpit forward for Elizabeth and one at the stern for Henry. Between them was a bulkheaded compartment for camping supplies, provisions and their clothing. Henry boasted that “We are often wet ourselves, but our supplies are dry always.” At the bow was a diminutive mast which could carry two boomed-out sails and was the responsibility of the bow crew. When not in use the mast could be unshipped and strapped to the deck.

The sailing canoe had been popularized in the 1880s by English yachtsman John MacGregor  and his long-distance adventures in his tiny Rob Roy canoe yachts but the English type of sailing canoes were simply small, narrow vessels, usually with a yawl rig. In North America enthusiasts embraced indigenous designs and their vessels were recognizably “indian” canoes, quite different from their English counterparts. What was similar was the frequent long-distance trips completed such as one from Lake George, N.Y. to Florida.

The Wise Wood’s journey to Prince Edward Island had really begun the previous year with a trip from New York to Gloucester on Cape Ann in Massachusetts. The Cape Cod Canal was not to open until more than seven years later and so the first challenge for the pair was to round Cape Cod in the cold swells of the Atlantic Ocean.

Once this was accomplished safely the proposal for the next year was to follow the Maine Coast north up to the Bay of Fundy, across the Chignecto Isthmus and Northumberland Strait to Prince Edward Island.  The pair left Gloucester in mid-July. When the wind favoured they sailed, but they  paddled most of the way, and stopped nights on shore at some house or settlement, or perhaps camped when necessary. Normally they made from thirty to thirty-five miles per day. After nineteen days paddling and sailing and a few days spent with friends at Campobello Island they reached Saint John.  Fog and storm kept them there for almost a week. Stopping at St. Martin’s and again at Alma they crossed the Bay and reached Sackville on the evening of Monday 17 August.

Loading the Patsy Green on the New Brunswick and Price Edward Island Railway train they re-launched at the “rather unattractive seaport of Cape Tormentine” but were again delayed by bad weather for most of the week. Setting off on Friday afternoon they decided to cross, not to the short direct route to Cape Traverse, but bound for Victoria cutting off a few miles by the diagonal. Three-quarters of the way across they were struck by a squall but kept their small sails up even though lobster boats around them were “scudding under bare poles.” They landed safely at the nearest shore, Augustine Cove, where they were “entertained at the hospitable home” of Louis Howatt for several days.

After a few days in Charlottetown at the Victoria Hotel the Wise Woods left for home – by steamer to Pictou then rail to Yarmouth, then by steamship to New York. The Patsy Ann accompanied them as baggage. In mid-September the story of their trip appeared in the magazine section of the New York Herald and was picked up in numerous newspapers across the United States. For most editors the lead feature of the story was not that the trip had been completed but that it had been completed by a woman! For once it was “Mrs. Henry A. Wise Wood and husband” rather than “Mr. and wife.” While only the Herald seems to have developed artwork for the story most of the papers re-printing it did insert a grainy photo of the couple in Charlottetown Harbour, as seen above.  Presumably while underway in stormy waters the straw boaters and neckties were safely below.

Magazine Section New York Herald 18 September 1908

Patsy Green on display in Clayton N.Y. photo from: http://www.sailingobsession.ca/2014/07/mr-mrs-wood-patsy-green.html

The last word of the story, however, is from Henry. When asked why the couple had embarked on the trip he said “When I take my vacation I want to get away from the sound of steam and the chug-chug of the motor boat I like to get out on the sea with only sails and your own hands to help you along.”  Today the Patsy Green is part of the collection of the Antique Boat Museum in the Thousand Islands at Clayton New York, a considerable distance from the salt water where she achieved her fame.

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