Tag Archives: history

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.”


“A Friendly Invasion from the Sea” The Challenge Labatt Canada 1984

It seems like not so very long ago but already the newspaper clippings have yellowed and begun to fade. Not so the light in the eyes of those who participated in what was, at the time, an amazing event. They reminisce about the month of days and nights afloat in one of the biggest sailing events in the history of Northumberland Strait – the Challenge Labatt Canada of 1984.

The event was astoundingly audacious. Take ten of the most modern tracing yachts being built in North America, give them to ten crews representing each of the provinces and race from Toronto, down the Saint Lawrence, through the Gulf and Northumberland Strait to a finish line in Charlottetown. Ostensibly the event was to celebrate the 350th anniversary of Jacques Cartier’s voyage but in reality to was just one helluva great excuse for a race.

Such an event could only have been dreamed up by a brewery – in this case Labatts. This at a time when “Labatt 50” was one of the best-selling beers in the country. The sailing partner was C&C Yachts who furnished 10 new fully equipped one-design 35-foot boats as sailing billboards for Labatts.  The month-long race which began on 23 June 1984 consisted of six legs – Toronto to Kingston, Quebec City to Rimouski, Rimouski to Riviere au Renard (on the north shore of the Gaspe), Riviere au Renard to Gaspe (Ile Bonaventure Race), Gaspe to Shediac, Shediac to Charlottetown. The longest leg was the 350 mile Gaspe to Shediac section. The Shediac-Charlottetown leg followed the traditional night-race route down the Strait and was one of the shortest legs. The series was scheduled to end in Charlottetown on 21 July 1984 .

While some crews were the same for the entire race the P.E.I. contingent rotated through the race with seven to nine members joining for specific legs.  The fact that the individuals had not always sailed together as a team was offset by there being fresh crew to combat the fatigue experienced over the long race.  The P.E.I. crew was almost all from the Charlottetown Yacht Club and drew from a pool of experienced racers who had participated in local, regional and national competitions in boats of all sizes. Many were veterans of the Round the Island Races. They included Gordie Beck, David Stewart, Terry McKenna, Peter Mellish, David Mosher, Hugh Paton, Bob Pinkham, John Rankin, Donald Scott, Percy Simmonds, Robert Midgley, Ron Stewart and Peter Williams.

The P.E.I. crew made a tactical error in the first leg and had an eighth place finish in the first leg but in the next two legs managed fourth and fifth placements. They finished eighth in the Ile Bonaventure leg.  They had a great race in the Gaspe-Shediac leg and grabbed a second place finish as over 200 spectators turned out 2 a.m. to watch the boats cross. For the final leg coming home to Charlottetown skipper Peter Williams had the following crew: Dave Mosher, Dave Stewart, Ron Stewart, Bob Pinkham, Hugh Paton, Percy Simmonds, and Peter Mellish.

Charlottetown Patriot 21 July 1984 p.1

Boats rafted up after the race. Charlottetown Patriot 21 July 1984 p.1

Because the event built on a number of local races many legs had additional yachts participating. The last leg incorporated the Shediac to Charlottetown race, then in its 20th year.  In addition to the 10 Labatt boats, an astonishing one hundred and four local and regional yachts participated in the final leg!

The start from Shediac was at 6 in the evening and the record for the passage was about 12 hours. Spectators were told they could expect the first boats at sunrise in Charlottetown. However brisk south-west winds and a clear night saw the speedy C&C yachts smash the record and begin arriving a full three hours ahead of time. The Quebec boat was first to finish and was followed closely by Nova Scotia. The first six boats finished within minutes of each other.  The Island boat was only four minutes back of the leader but was the fifth boat to finish. For the series overall the Islanders were awarded fourth place behind Nova Scotia, British Columbia, and Quebec. They had been tied in points with Ontario but were given the win as they had beaten Ontario in the last leg of the series. Through the day the rest of the one hundred plus boat fleet sailed through the harbour narrows and finished off the Charlottetown Yacht Club .

The land side of the event was an important one for the Charlottetown Yacht Club. It was estimated that the event brought upwards of 1000 sailors to Charlottetown along with many more families, friends and spectators. The waterfront was thick with masts, outnumbering even the busiest 19th century days of wood, wind and water. Gordie Miller was chair of the hosting committee which included liaison with the Canadian Coast Guard, City, Province and the Charlottetown Yacht Club. The Club had re-built the west wharf and put in facilities including building 70 floats to accommodate the more than 100 boats that arrived as part of the race. The awards were presented at a special event a the Confederation Centre of the Arts by federal Minister Charles LaPointe representing the Governor General, PEI premier Jim Lea and Lt. Governor J.D. Doiron.

It was the biggest and most prestigious sailing event ever to take place in Charlottetown and there has been nothing like it since. Those who participated will never forget it.

I was fortunate to be entrusted with a file of news clippings preserved by one member of the Island crew.  Thanks to the efforts of Chris Brittan and others there was lots of local press coverage and the reporting was also carried elsewhere.  The file of clippings with lots more details can be accessed by clicking on Labatt001. This is a large file in pdf format and will take time to load. You will also need a pdf reader such as Adobie.

Prince Edward Island’s Ocean Steamship Company

Patriot 5 September 1878 p.3

Patriot 5 September 1878 p.3

Although after the middle of the 19th century there were a number of Island-owned steamships plying the routes between the Island and the mainland and up and down the Island estuaries only one serious attempt was made to translate the Island sail-borne trading experience to the world of the steamer on an international scale.

In 1871 the Ocean Steamship Company of Prince Edward Island was created following a public meeting where most of the shares were enthusiastically subscribed, many by members of Charlottetown’s Peake family who became the managers for the venture. The meeting agreed that “in these days of progress we should avail ourselves of the advantages of Ocean Steamers, in order to keep pace with the neighboring Provinces, and supply the urgent wants of our enterprising merchants; and also with a view of exporting a larger  amount of produce from this country.”  The new firm placed an order with Napier and Sons of Glasgow for an iron steamer to travel between Liverpool and Charlottetown. The S.S.Prince Edward was launched from the Aitken and Mansel shipyard on the Clyde in October of 1872. At 1365 tons and 253 feet and driven by a  170 horsepower, 2 cylinder steam engine turning a single propeller she was certainly capable of service across the Atlantic.  The final cost of the vessel was £26,865 sterling with another £2095 for fit-out.  This represented about $150,000 at the time and almost $3 million in todays funds and was a serious investment for the merchants of the small colony. British newspapers hinted that there would be additional ships added to the line, presumably dependant on the success of the venture.

The Prince Edward completed its maiden voyage and arrived in Charlottetown on 1 May 1873, taking a respectable 12 days from Liverpool, being delayed by ice only one day. In addition to general cargo and a full complement of passengers the ship carried no fewer than seven locomotives for the Prince Edward Island Railway, then just beginning construction. Several Charlottetown merchants took advantage of the arrival to advertise “new spring goods” per the Prince Edward. The return voyage was to Cardiff Wales and newspapers there noted that this was the first steamer to load at Prince Edward Island. She carried 65,000 bushels of oats, other produce and a few passengers.

As had been the case with the Island’s wooden sailing vessels the Prince Edward was  never intended to simply shuttle between the Island and Liverpool, especially during the winter season when the Island port was closed by ice. It went wherever cargos took it, crisscrossing the Atlantic to several Canadian and American ports, Liverpool, Bristol and even to South America but as an Island-owned ship she was a regular caller at Charlottetown.  As Boyde Beck’s article on the Prince Edward published in The Island Magazine #30 (Fall/Winter 1991) [available here] points out, the vessel may have been profitable initially but over the years it became less so and the initial cost of the ship had to be factored into the owner’s calculations.  Records in the Welsh and Owen shipping papers at the PEI Public Archives and Records Office give a couple of snapshot glimpses of the ship’s later years.

Although not specifically identified as such the steamer at Peake's #2 wharf in Ruger's 1878 birds evy view of Charlottetown is likely the Prince Edward. No photos are known to exist.

Although not specifically identified as such, the steamer at Peake’s #2 wharf in Ruger’s 1878 birds eye view of Charlottetown is likely the Prince Edward. No photos are known to exist.

In the 7th annual report of the company dated March 1880 it was noted that it had been a good year. A condenser for fresh water had been added to the ship’s equipment allowing for deck cargos of sheep and cattle to be carried across the Atlantic. The ship had made trips from New Orleans to Liverpool, to Charlottetown, to Newport (Wales) to Charlottetown, to Montreal, to Liverpool, to Charlottetown and back to Liverpool.   The profit on operations was $16,000 (an increase of almost $11,000 over 1878) and the holders of the 59 shares were paid $100 per share which represented about a 4% return on the original costs.

Gore's Liverpool General Advertiser 3 December 1874 p. 2

Gore’s Liverpool General Advertiser 3 December 1874 p. 2

The following year saw more trips from Montreal to Liverpool and voyages to New Orleans, Bristol, Baltimore  and Charlottetown. Although net earnings remained at the $16,000 level two dividends of $150 were paid representing a return of about 10%. However the following year (1881) was somewhat of a disaster. The ship did receive a subsidy of $6,000 from the Dominion Government for carrying cattle, sheep and other Island products overseas but there was increased competition and on a November trip from Liverpool severe weather resulted in the Prince Edward running out of coal in mid-ocean. She had to be towed to St. John’s. Profits dropped to half of the previous year.

In 1882 there seem to have been only two trips for the Prince Edward: Liverpool to Charlottetown in May and Charlottetown to Bordeaux France in June.  The firm’s English agents were instructed to put the ship on the market.  She did not return to the Island and she was sold to the French firm of Caillot & Saint Pierre in Marseille. They changed her name from Prince Edward to Senegal but the ship was wrecked on the coast of Spain later that same year.

Although created in the optimism of a pre-Confederation PEI the Ocean Steamship Company could not survive the changing times and was wound-up.  The Island’s trans-Atlantic trade gradually diminished and passed to other hands.