Category Archives: Yachting history

Mrs. Brassey is not amused by Charlottetown

In spite of a few scurrilous comments from muckraking journalists it is often difficult to get a sense of what 19th century visitors to Charlottetown really thought of the place. By and large the published reports were polite. After all, they would appear in newspapers or books which the population might read.  Exceptions can be found in private accounts such as diaries and personal letters not intended for publication. Another outlet for the uncensored remarks was in private publications not intended for any but a select few of family and friends. Such is the case for an illustrated volume which was privately printed in 1872 by Anna Brassey.

Brassey was the wife of Thomas Brassey whose family had made its fortune in railway construction in England which enabled the family to live a comfortable life of leisure. Although Thomas served as a member of parliament he was also an avid yachtsman and traveller. Anna documented their voyages in a series of volumes, several of which became best-sellers. The best known of these was the A Voyage in the Sunbeam (1878) which described the round the world tour of their private yacht.   An earlier trip to North America is the subject of a volume printed for private distribution titled A Cruise in the Eothen.

Screw Steam Yacht ‘EOTHEN”  Royal Yacht Squadron 1864

The Eothen, a 337 ton steam yacht, had been built for Arthur Anderson in 1864. Anderson was chairman of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, an enterprise which still exists. One of their P&O cruise ships visited Charlottetown in the summer of 2019. Brassey acquired the Eothen in 1872 and set off for North America. The Eothen was the first steam yacht to cross from England to Canada but Anna was not aboard for the Altantic crossing as she came to Canada on one of the Allen Line Steamers to Montreal and joined the yacht there.  The family toured Quebec and Ontario and then took the Eothen to New York. Anna’s brief sojourn in Charlottetown was one of a number of stops. The Eothen came down Northumberland Strait and anchored inside Point Prim owing to strong winds. The next day the yacht approached Charlottetown.  While the residents of Charlottetown may have been impressed by the vessel the feeling was not reciprocated. If Anna was underwhelmed by Charlottetown (a second-rate country town) she was appalled by the people (their ugliness is extreme).  All in  all it was not a happy visit, or perhaps Anna was not a person easily amused. The residents of the town remained blissfully unaware of her comments as her book was likely not circulated in the colony.

Anna Brassey 1839 – 1887

Tuesday, October 8th.—The fires were only banked up for the night, and at daylight we started again, and steamed up Hillsborough Bay, a distance of ten miles, to Charlottetown, the capital of Prince Edward’s Island, where we dropped anchor at nine a.m. Here we found H.M.S. the “Niobe,” which divides with the “Lapwing” the task of looking after and protecting our fisheries on this coast. At the present moment, owing to some absurd local dispute between the officials of Prince Edward’s Island and those of America, the fishing vessels from the United States are not allowed to take fish within three miles of the shore, where all the best fish are to be found. This seems very greedy, as the waters are quite wide enough, and there is fish in plenty and to spare for all.

Eothen in Montreal 1872. Note that the foremast now carries yards

We landed at Charlottetown with considerable difficulty, as there are no steps anywhere and we were obliged to climb across rafts, and over huge blocks of timber.
This city is very like most others in America. It contains no handsome buildings in particular, but there are numerous shops, and it may be fairly compared with ordinary second-rate English country towns.
The land in Prince Edward’s Island generally, but especially in the vicinity of Charlottetown, is of great fertility, and to its agricultural resources the island owes its activity. The day we arrived was market day, as well as the great annual cattle-fair, and the streets were therefore crowded with a most cadaverous-looking population. There were a great many Micmac Indians selling baskets. These Indians are not unlike gipsies in appearance; their complexions are dusky brown, and they are remarkable for their long, lanky black hair, and very high cheek-bones.
The Market Hall is a fine building, well supplied with fresh provisions, which included all the vegetables and fruits familiar to us in England.
The cattle and horses at the fair were anything but first-rate; there were, however, a few good specimens, which is perhaps as much as we ought to expect, considering it is but a small island.
The Post Office is an enormous structure, but there is not much business going on there, except when the mails arrive and depart, once a fortnight. There is no postal delivery here, so every one has to call for letters.
After lunch we started in two waggons to call on the Governor first, and then to drive round the “royalties,” as part of the island is called. Our horses were good, but the drivers fearfully reckless; and as the roads are very bad, and full of deep ruts, it was a marvel we did not come to grief, as we seemed to be plunging in and out of the most frightful holes, whilst driving at considerable speed; indeed, several times we were nearly thrown from our seats. We must have driven a distance of sixteen miles, making quite a circuit through the country, the scenery of which was pretty and park-like, the land rich and well-cultivated. Towards evening, on our way back to the town, we met all the people driving out in small one-horse carts. There were a few on horseback, but none on foot.
We were much struck with the unhealthy look of the population in general: they are so pale and thin, their ugliness is extreme, and they all seem to have an extraordinary tendency to squint. We looked in vain for the robust and hearty peasantry of the rural districts of the old country, It seems hard to conjecture the cause for this marked deterioration of the descendants of Scotch, Irish, and English settlers. Probably the long winter may be to a great extent the reason. The impossibility of active and out-door operations at that season, and the consequent temptation to spend the day in heated rooms, smoking, and sipping strong liquors, are extremely prejudicial to the health of the population.
Prince Edward’s Island has not yet joined the Canadian Dominion. A railway is, however, being laid down, for which a loan is necessary; and as soon as the increased burden of taxation is more distinctly felt, it is probable that the people will be prepared to unite with the Dominion.
In the numerous crowd at the fair we were surprised to see so few persons bearing traces of superior refinement and culture. We had supposed that the poor gentleman might have found a field for enterprise in the Colony as well as the industrious labourer. But, however, it is not so. The farmers of Prince Edward’s Island are evidently men who, if they had remained at home, would have been earning a scanty living as day-labourers.
When we returned to the yacht in the evening we found it was blowing half a gale of wind.
Wednesday, October 9th.—Our wedding-day, twelve years ago. We started at six a.m., in spite of the gale blowing and the barometer being low; but the wind was fair, though strong, and we had only fifty miles to run in a comparatively sheltered sea.

From Pictou the Eothen visited Halifax and a number of American cities before returning to England. Again Anna took a regular steamer to cross the Atlantic. In 1881 Thomas was knighted and in 1886 became Earl Brassey, making Anna, Lady Brassey. In 1876 Brassey and his whole family took a year-long cruise around the world in a new yacht the Sunbeam which became the first private yacht to make a circumnavigation.  This trip was the subject of Anna’s most popular book.  She died aboard during another extended voyage in 1887.

 

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Ahoy and Be Prepared: The Boy Scout Regatta of 1964

 

Flying Junior passing the stern of the motor yacht “Restless” at the Boy Scout Regatta 1964. Photo: Charlottetown Guardian

The early 1960s was a period of great change for the Charlottetown Yacht Club. The days of wooden yachts was coming to an end and more and more fibreglass hulls were seen on the water. The balance between sail and power, which had seen a surge in the number of outboard runabouts, was being offset by new boats (or at least new-ish boats to new owners) made of fibreglass. Sailboat racing, mostly with a fleet of wooden snipes was on the decline.

It was in the racing that one of the most dramatic changes came about. The large class boats of the Northumberland Strait Yachting Association, mostly older Class Threes had for the most part stopped competing.  The change in racing came from a surprising source.

The Boy Scouts of Prince Edward Island had seen establishment of troops of Rovers and Sea Scouts in the late 1930s but the idea seems not to have caught on and the activities petered out in the early 1950s.  However there was a resurgence of interest at the national level in the early 1960s and a National Boy Scout Regatta was held in Quebec in 1961. The following year Scouts from the Island accepted  an invitation to attend and three boys from Montague and one from Charlottetown were selected. John Beck, Steve Clarkson and Fraser Inman from the 1st Montague Troop and John Rankin from the Trinity Troop in Charlottetown were given instruction by D.K. Martin of the Charlottetown Yacht Club and Ralph Beck of the Montague Yacht Club and by navy personnel from HMCS Queen Charlotte. The boys had been competing in snipes but the craft selected for the regatta was the newly developed Flying Junior. The four sailors had a single day of familiarization in the fast fibreglass craft at the Shediac Yacht club. A highlight for one participant was the mad dash from Shediac to Moncton in the car driven by the consistently late Don Martin which ended with Martin driving out on the tarmac and right up to the Trans Canada Airways plane to make sure that the boy sailors didn’t miss their Montreal flight.

Lines drawing, Flying Junior dinghy.  Image: Sailboatdata.com

The Flying Junior originated in 1955 as a training boat for the then-Olympic class Flying Dutchman. By 1960 a class organization had been formed and the dinghy was adopted by many yacht clubs and associations as an ideal boat for introductory sailing and racing.  It was one of the first mass-produced fibreglass dinghies. In the 1970s the “FJ” was accorded status as an international class by the International Yacht Racing Union and is still raced today in many countries with an annual world championship.  The 210 lb Flying Junior is 13 ft 3 in long and 4 ft 11 in wide and carries 100 sq ft of sail as well as a spinnaker of up to 80 sq ft.  The boat was built in a number of countries and in Canada it was produced by Grampian in Ontario and Paceship Yachts in Nova Scotia.

The Third Boy Scout Regatta was also held in Quebec at the SSS Venture, the Sea Scout camp on Lake St. Louis near Montreal. The Island was represented by John Rankin and Percy Simmonds from Charlottetown and Stevie Clarkson and Jock Beck from Montague.  Increasing interest from the Boy Scouts coincided with a decision of the Charlottetown Yacht Club to investigate the possibility of a Junior Sailing Program for 1964. In 1963 Ian Rankin had headed a committee to look at sail training and at a meeting of the Charlottetown Yacht Club late in 1963 the decision was made to proceed.

The club contracted to acquire a fleet of 20 Flying Juniors. Two were owned outright by the Club, another two by the Boy Scouts, and the remainder by club members or organizations and loaned to the club for the junior sailing program. At a recent gathering of club veterans some present could still remember the sail colours and numbers and name the individual boat owners.

With a fleet of boats available the club was able to host the Boy Scout Regatta and by March 1964 invitations had been extended to crews from Canada, Israel, Britain, Bermuda and the United States for the Regatta planned for mid-August.  Percy Simmonds was Regatta Committee chairman and the race committee included Don Hancock commodore of the Armdale Yacht Club in Halifax and Jim Surette from the Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron.

At the beginning of August races were held to decide who would represent Prince Edward Island.  Eight boats, including three from Summerside competed to chose the two, two-man crews to carry the Island colours. After a morning race which turned into a drifter the wind picked up and two additional races were held in the afternoon. John Rankin with crew member David Scott dominated the afternoon racing while Percy Simmonds and David Hume took the honours in the morning race and seconds in the other two races. The final results saw only 1/4 of a point separate first and second place. 12-year old David Stewart skippered the third place boat with Bill Simmonds in fourth and Peter Williams in fifth.

The opening of the national regatta on 11 August was filled with greetings from dignitaries including the Lieutenant Governor, Mayor, Provincial Secretary J. David Stewart and Frank MacKinnon from the Centennial Commission. The Rotary Club hosted a luncheon at the Yacht Club for scouts and officials.  The crews were then transported to Holland Cove where they camped for the regatta week. Every province except Newfoundland and Saskatchewan was represented and there were boats from England and the United States.

In spite of winds which were not always favourable seven races were held. There appears to have been no “home bay” advantage and the winner of the regatta learned to sail on a tide-less, fresh-water reservoir in Calgary.  Allan Strain and Brian Kelvington, both of Calgary captured the trophy for Alberta. Second place went to Nova Scotia, third to Ontario while John Rankin of Charlottetown was fourth and was the first of two Island boats. Eighth in the nineteen boat fleet went to the other Island crew helmed by Percy Simmonds.

I have written elsewhere of what a banner year 1964 was in the history of the Charlottetown Yacht Club. Among the Shediac to Charlottetown Race, the beginning the Junior Sailing Program and the overhaul of the Club facilities the Boy Scout Regatta was a major event.  It brought national notice to the Charlottetown Yacht Club and helped build a cadre of young, competitive sailors, many still active today.

 

The Charlotte, the Rogers Cup and the first Charlottetown Yacht Club

Charlottetown Guardian 13 July 1908. P. 1

Even if the only image that seems to have survived is a grainy copy from the page of a newspaper almost a hundred and ten years old it is clear that the Charlotte was a fine-looking craft. She was described in glowing terms by the Guardian:

…a beautiful specimen of a serviceable cruising yacht, being a good sailer, with a comfortable cabin and equipped throughout with a luxuriousness that is calculated to make anyone think that yachting must be an enjoyable occupation.

At just under 40 feet, the Charlotte, with its gaff rig and long jibboom certainly had a striking appearance and was probably the pride of the small fleet in Charlottetown Harbour. It had sailed in Charlottetown since 1905 at least but it is not known when  the yacht was built.   In races the boat carried a crew of four, including a paid sailing master; Charles Moore of Dunedin. She was owned by George J. Rogers, at the time the vice-president of the Rogers Hardware Company. Rogers had also been elected commodore of the Charlottetown Yacht Club at the time of its founding and was still in the same position in 1908.

The first Charlottetown Yacht Club had been organized in August 1904, primarily for the purpose of mounting a challenge for the Coronation Cup. At the time of my blog posting on the Coronation Cup I stated I had been unable to find reference to the continuation of the club. However, further research shows that the previously informal club adopted a constitution and by-laws in June 1906 under the name Charlottetown Yacht Club.  The first Commodore was George J. Rogers. Other officers were A. Ellsworth – Vice-Commodore, J. Vanbuskirk – Rear Commodore and T.T. Black – Secretary-Treasurer.

To stimulate racing Commodore Rogers presented the club with the Rogers Cup which would be awarded to the winner of three races in the racing series.  The first of these races was held in mid-September 1908. Rogers had placed no restrictions on entry and so boats of all sizes and rigs participated; sloops, lobster boats and schooner rigs were seen on the starting line. The entries included the Micmac, Charlotte, Thelma, Onawa, Waterboat, Mayflower, Pigeon, Georgina, and Dreadnought.  According to the Guardian “The start was quite a pretty spectacle the boats getting away in a picturesque bunch and making a rare sight as they became strung out on the run to the first buoy.” The Mayflower led for the fist leg of the race until overtaken at the buoy by Micmac. Micmac held the lead until the finish followed by Charlotte, Mayflower and Pigeon.

HBC trophy. PEIMHF Collection The Rogers Cup does not appear to have survived.

The Rogers Cup was not the first sailing trophy in Charlottetown although it was the first to be under the management of the Charlottetown Yacht Club.  Only a week before the first Rogers Cup match the Hillsborough Boating Club trophy had been taken by the Micmac, which retained the trophy having won the annual race for the third time in four years. The Charlotte was one of only three entries in the final race for the HBC cup and she avoided last place only because Hiawatha had briefly gone aground on the last leg.

The 1908 Guardian feature which included the photo of the Charlotte seen above was not so much about the sloop or George Rogers as it is about the advantages of Charlottetown Harbour as a sailing locale.

There is probably no province in Canada where the people are so well provided with the means of indulging the pastime of yachting as Prince Edward Island. The advantages are general all over the province and here in the capital city of Charlottetown, built at the confluence of three broad rivers, which make its splendid harbor, with the ample Hillsborough Bay just outside the harbor entrance the situation is such as to compel the admiration of all who are interested in aquatic sport.

In no other city in Canada are such desirable yachting waters so conveniently at hand, and those who are fond of the sport and own yachts and sailing boats find means of indulging in the glorious pastime with very little trouble or expense.

Even with the passage of more than a century the sentiments expressed here remain true. Although fibreglass hulls and aluminum masts have replaced oak and fir and dacron has replaced sailcloth,  Charlottetown Harbour and Prince Edward Island waters continue to be fine sailing areas conveniently at hand.