“A Sea-cook is a Peculiar Character …”

Anyone who sails will tell you of the importance of having someone aboard who can cook. Food achieves an importance aboard that is barely contemplated on land – especially on a long voyage.   This was perhaps more true in the 19th century that it is in the 21st.

In 1884 Samuel Greene Wheeler Benjamin, an American author, took an extended cruise of the Gulf of St. Lawrence which began in Charlottetown. A year later his book, The Cruise of the Alice May was published in New York and contains an account of his experiences and observations on the region. Benjamin was a prolific writer who had  a varied experience as a diplomat to Persia, an art historian, a marine artist and a travel writer. His work was published in several of magazines and he produced a number of books on varying topics including two which contain early descriptions of Prince Edward Island 

Benjamin and his three companions arrived in Charlottetown without having secured a ship for their cruise in advance of their arrival. Rather than embarking on a sleek yacht (of which there were few in Charlottetown)  for the two-month exploration they instead engaged the captain and crew of the Alice May, a trading schooner out of Miminegash. The ship was a fifty-six ton vessel, fifty-nine feet long and sixteen wide. Lacking passenger accommodations the travellers took over the hold of the vessel to make a snug cabin. The crew, however, lacked a cook and Benjamin in the course of describing the preparations for the adventure detailed the void that this left in the arrangements and the steps taken to correct the omission:

It is needless to go into the details of the provisions stored in the schooner for a cruise of two months. Everything was ready, the rigging overhauled, the last nail pounded in: the winds were favorable and yet we were detained at Charlottetown day after day, unable to sail. It was a cook that we waited for: What was the use of having provisions, fuel, or galley, without a cook? A sea-cook is a peculiar character, requiring a special training. He must know how to prepare a sea hash out of salt horse flavored with onions, incrusted with the variegated browns of polished mahogany, and savory enough to create an appetite in a stomach that the tossing waves have rendered as sensitive as the needle of a compass. He must also understand how to make eatable bread, and take his duff out of the kettle on Sunday as light as cotton and as delicate as sponge-cake. Besides this, he must know how to economize in the use of water and provisions; and, more difficult yet, he must contrive to keep the crew satisfied with the mess he cooks for them, while at the same time he looks out sharply for the interests of his employer and the captain. He must also be proof against the worst weather, and undeviatingly punctual to the hours of meals. It goes without saying that it is not an easy thing to find such a paragon in the galley; but when he is there, he is, next to the captain, by far the most important character on board. We had made up our minds that it would be difficult to find a cook in Charlottetown, combining such exalted qualifications, who would be willing to go for such a brief cruise, and were prepared to take up almost any one that offered. But we were not prepared to meet such a gang of shiftless, shuffling, vacillating, prevaricating, self-complacent, exorbitant, and utterly good-for-nothing varlets as those who applied for the position, or whom we discovered after chasing through the lanes, sailors’ boarding-houses, and purlieus of Charlottetown. Over and over again we thought we had engaged a man; but when the time came to sail, he was not to be found. At last, out of all patience with the whole business, we telegraphed to a friend in St. John, New Brunswick, to send us a cook, and that we would pick him up at Point du Chéne. No reply had arrived to the telegram when we sailed, and thus we started without a cook, in a sort of vain hope of stumbling across one at some port.

While the self-catered trip to Shediac was not without its adventures, including a grounding at the entrance to the harbour, there was a delay at the port.  The cook arrived in Shediac from Saint John before the Alice May arrived. He then took the steamer for Charlottetown to meet the sailboat. Meanwhile the schooner was bound for Summerside (described by Benjamin as “mere naked cluster of warehouses and uninteresting, cheaply-constructed dwellings”) and then, failing to find the cook which they had been told to expect, across the Strait. They were forced to wait in Shediac, which Benjamin noted “offers few attractions to the tourist,”  for several days until the cook retraced his steps and joined the crew to Benjamin’s great relief;

With no end of inventive culinary resources; he was indefatigable in the discharge of his duties, sober and faithful to the interests of his employers. Happy the ship that sails with such a cook, and happy the diners who batten on his beefsteak and onions, hash, roly-poly and tea.

An on-line text of the full Voyage of the Alice May, including line-drawings by one of the crew, is available through Google Books and can be found here

 

 

 

 

 

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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.