Category Archives: History

Charlottetown Regatta Day 1935

A tight start. A variety of rigs and sail types were evident in the racing fleets before the formation of the Yacht Racing Association of Northumberland Straits. Irwin Photo album

Long before there was a Race Week at the Charlottetown Yacht Club the organization was hosting events which attracted sailors from across the region. In fact, the 1935 regatta had entries from a number of ports along Northumberland Strait – but only one entry from the host club!  In preparation for the mid-August competition boats arrived in Charlottetown from Pictou, Shediac, Montague, Summerside, and Borden. Shediac, which was the hot spot for sail races in the mid-1930s, sent fourteen boats to the Charlottetown races.  Pictou was represented by five and another three yachts came down the shore from Summerside and Borden. Some of these small boats sailed on their own or were towed by yacht club members with powerboats. Others may have been carried by the C.G.S. Brant which assisted many of the yacht clubs during the period.

The sole Charlottetown boat was the P-No sailed by Jack King, a yacht that had raced in Charlottetown for at least ten years.  This sloop was designed by Walter Pinaud who went on to be a yacht designer of significance in Cape Breton.  The Charlottetown Yacht Club did not have a clubhouse or ownership their own wharf at the time.

Commodore Fred Morris’ power yacht Elizabeth served as a viewing platform for spectators and officials. This photo shows both modern Marconi rigs as well as a variety of gaff and sprit rigs in earlier boats still part of the racing fleet. Irwin Photo Album.

Saturday was race day with two races scheduled with the possibility of a third depending on wind conditions and the timing of the other races. The course was one which was often used by Charlottetown yachtsmen; start off Carvell’s wharf, Government Point black buoy (now Middleground), Rosebank Buoy, a mark boat anchored off the Railway Wharf and the finish line at Carvell’s.  To make sure that visiting boats were not mistakenly off-course the fleet was preceded to each mark by Joe MacDonald  in his powerboat.

Light winds were the order of the day for the 1935 regatta. Irwin photo album.

As it turned out the winds failed to cooperate with the race organizers and only two races were held. A very slow first race was followed by a second only marginally faster and boats seemed to drift over the finish line.  A third race was cancelled after the start as the winds fell to a whisper and none of the nineteen boats completed the course. However race officials were able to declare a regatta winner on the basis of the first two races.  Onawa, sailed by Gordon and Eric Coffin sailing out of Montage was the winner with Charlottetown’s P-No in second place. Third position went to a Shediac boat, Vestra helmed by Charles Fawcett and in fourth place was another Montague boat , Dr. L.A. Johnson’s Ghost.

Although there was little participation from Charlottetown yachts the 1935 regatta was one of the factors  leading to increased interest in yacht racing in the Island capital and was a precursor to the formation of the Yacht Racing Association of Northumberland Straits and its successful series of inter-club races in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

Launch and Retrive

At the Charlottetown Yacht Club today there is a 10 tonne crane and a concrete launch slip. These together with commercial crane services for some of the heavier boats are enough to easily launch and retrieve yachts from the harbour.

It was not always so. In the 19th century it was possible to haul large boats at one or more of the waterfront ship yards but many commercial vessels were simply left in the water over the winter, hauled into the shallows to rest on the bottom or frozen into the ice.

Wooden sail boats with deep keels were more of a problem.  In the 1920s and 30s there were still a few hand powered cranes on some of the commercial wharves and it was possible to hoist a boat .

Bottom painting, probably on the Plant Wharf. Note the hand-powered winch and wooden derrick.  Photo from the Irwin Albums.

Once out of the water the boats could be loaded onto cradles or even loaded onto waggons and moved from the wharf for storage or simply left on the wharf over the winter. This method could only be used for lighter vessels which did not exceed the modest load limits for the dock-based cranes.

Getting a small sloop ready for launch on the Pownal Wharf. The boat is leaning up against the salt shed which was removed in the late 1940s. Another sloop can be seen in its cradle in the background. Photo from the Irwin Albums

More commonly boats were launched and retrieved on their cradles using the tides. Several large boats, including Hal Bourke’s Restless and Mac Irwin’s Roamer used the beach below the Bourke house on Water Street as their storage yard. Both were on heavy wooden cradles that could be skidded or levered onto rollers to get them up on the beach above the tide line using what ever power was available.  Later, other large power cruisers were able to use the launch slip on the west side of Pownal wharf.  Initially most of the work was done with horse teams and block and tackle but in later years truck power was applied to the problem.

Getting ready to haul ca. 1930

The staff of the City Garage behind the Yacht Club could sometimes be persuaded to turn a blind eye to the use of the equipment and a close relationship developed between the club and its neighbours – especially after the city acquired a small bulldozer. In the spring the cradles bearing the yachts would simply be pushed out on the beach at low tide and when the tide rose the boats would be hauled off and at next low tide the cradles would be pulled to shore. An essential element in the operation was the presence of a number of heavy rails surplus to requirements of the Prince Edward Island Railway.  Without the weight on the wooden cradles they would simply float up as the tide rose and it could be difficult to extract the boats. In the fall the process would be reversed. The empty, weighted cradles would be placed at low tide. At high tide the boat would be maneuvered into position until the water level dropped placing it on the cradle. The cradle would then be dragged to the beach.

Hauling a small sloop at Bourkes shore. This could be a cold wet exercise especially, as may be the case here, weather is threatening. Photo from the Irwin Albums.

If this seems time-consuming it certainly was. Placing a cradle, positioning a boat and retrieving it took an entire tide cycle. Hauling a boat for minor repairs or painting could be a major operation.  It was far easier to let the tide work for you and instead of hauling the boat out you could let the boat go aground and dry out at the wharf. Timing was more critical in the case of bad weather. With less sophisticated forecasting hauling at the last-minute was a real problem.  Boats that drew less were often sent up river to more sheltered areas such as Red Gap but deep keel boats had little choice but to either try to shelter between the wharves or ride it out on a mooring.

Like so many other things getting a boat in and out of the water at the Charlottetown Yacht Club was not included in the category of things that were always “better in the good old days.”