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 .
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.
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.
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.
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.”