One of my recent postings was the four hundredth in what can only with a great deal of imagination be called a series. In the ten years that Sailstrait has been published the site has gone through several iterations reflecting my changing interests and enthusiasms.
In the beginning it was about the several small dinghys that I had built or intended to build. I was interested in sharing my real-life experience in boat building complete with errors and omissions that occurred along the way. I had always been frustrated by the perfection that most boat-building blogs exhibited because what I read in screen only slightly mirrored what I was experiencing in my own building efforts.
Then, inspired by by Dylan WInter’s spectacularly interesting “Keep Turning Left” series which documented his many year’s long (and still not completed) circumnavigation of Great Britain in a series of small sailing craft not much bigger that the one in which I sail. The “middle aged, middle class bloke from middle England” has produced a marvelous series of videos under the title “Keep Turning Left” referencing the sailing directions for his voyages. Dylan is a skilled and experienced videographer and there is no way I could emulate his productions but I could, and did, write a series of posts about my largely unadventurous adventures sailing in Northumberland Strait.
My efforts then shifted to those who had proceeded me in sailing the waters of Prince Edward Island and I was moved to pen a series of postings of the history of sailing in Charlottetown and area and, more latterly, the pre-history and history of the Charlottetown Yacht Club (currently celebrating its 100th year of operation).
Like ripples from a tossed stone my research now broke against the shoreline of the harbour and became chapters in the nautical history of the town, river, and bay. I developed a particular interest in the history of the steamers which connected the Island to the Mainland. The research in these areas led to more detailed research projects such as that on the Hochalega (The Island Magazine 2014), the icebreaker Northern Light (The Northern Mariner 2019), The P.E.I. Steam Navigation Company (The Northern Mariner 2020), the Westmorland (Argonauta 2020) and the paddle steamer Cape Breton (Argonauta 2021). This research is on-going and many half-completed studies and piles of research notes litter my desk.
Although some early posts were fairly short, more recent writings have been more detailed. In some cases information supplied by readers has resulted in additional material and the most recent posting on the survey ships named Gulnare has been almost doubled in length as a result of feedback and additional dimensions to the story. The word count for the ten years now approaches 400,000 words. The postings have been visited a quarter of a million times with more than 100,000 visitors, although many of these are return visits from a faithful few. While the average site visitor looks at about 2.5 pages per visit it is always refreshing to see the site discovered by a new visitor, some who look at upwards of fifty pages at one sitting.
It is not surprising that the vast majority of visitors are from Canada but in the roster of visitors 160 different jurisdictions appear. I am a little suspicious that the odd “bot” may have stumbled on the page – the 1600 visits in the past 12 months from Indonesia seem a bit out of line but I am confident that, like the flat earth society, I can claim awareness and exposure all around the globe.
Most visits, more than 50,000, started with whatever page is the most recent at the time of the visit but the listing of specific page visits tells an interesting story of where visitor’s interests lie. The most popular posting, by far, is the story on the Man inside the Hillsborough Bridge. I was shocked to find 10,000 visits in December 2016, the month it was first posted. All most all of them were from the United States. My suspicion is that the page was noted and re-blogged several times by popular sites in Tampa Florida which, unknown by me at the time, also has a Hillsborough River and many bridges – none of which to my knowledge have men buried inside. The page keeps being re-discovered and shared.
More orthodox interests show most readers are entertained by postings concerning the S.S. Prince Edward Island, the Charlottetown Harbour Ferries, local excursions to Governor’s Island, St. Peters Island, Holland Cove, Keppoch, and Rocky Point, and the flying boat service at Shediac, all of which have thousands of visits.
One of my delights is being able to find new illustrations for the postings and mostly thanks to the wonderful world wide web I have been able to ransack collections all over the world to illustrate Prince Edward Island stories. A recent find, in an English repository, was a series of sketches by a well-known war artist of a PEI-built sailing ship which faced down a U-Boat. The richest source of images by far is the P.E.I. Public Archives and Records Office but following P.E.I. stories can lead to interesting places. I found, for example, lots of images of the icebreaker Earl Grey in Russian repositories, and construction photos of the rail scow Scotia in northern England.
As I write Sailstrait primarily for myself, it reflects my own somewhat unfocused approach to research. Most topics are stumbled upon rather than being the results of a research strategy. I delight in the little stories that emerge from the pages of forgotten books and newspapers such as the ghost of Lady Holland at Holland Cove, the human side of the Island’s brick industry, or the Brighton Bridge that never was.
Throughout the more than 400 posts I have been encouraged by both faithful and occasional readers – some of whom have saved me from major qaffes. Others have been corrective of infelicities of spelling and punctuation and have enabled me to correct what I could not find through self-editing. This group has also suggested research topics, found illustrations and asked questions well-worth the ensuing search for answers. Amongst this group are Ian Scott, Gary Carroll, and Reg Porter, all intrepid researchers and bloggers in their own right (or should that be write?) .
Blog posting holds one major advantage over print presentation. The writer is able to return to the text to include additional information as it is discovered or, as is alluded to above, to make corrections which might otherwise be graven in stone to great embarrassment on the part of the writer. As research topics are frequently intertwined a new post may result in cross-references, expansion and alteration of related posts. A blog is dynamic and my itinerant research style is constantly turning over new details. I am glad I can quietly expand the knowledge base. The down side is that the stories are never finished and can always be added to.
As I noted above I write this primarily for my own amusement but if you are reading this my hope is that you enjoy my attempts to shine a little light on the more obscure aspects of the area’s maritime history. While I leave it to the professional historians to supply the answers to the “why” questions, I hope I can help with the other niggling bits – who and how and where and when. Thank you for looking over my shoulder as I explore the seas and shores of Prince Edward Island.