Tag Archives: rowing

P.E.I.-based boatbuilder receives international recognition


12.5 foot and 17.5 foot Norseboats on a P.E.I. beach


All too often we think of the golden age of sailing and boatbuilding as being something confined to the 19th century.  Of course, 150 years ago Charlottetown the harbour was the home of scores of small multi-purpose boats that served as fishing craft, lighters, dinghys, sculling boats, ferries, and yes, even as small yachts.  Boatbuilders both in Charlottetown and other coastal areas served the market for well-built small boats.  Not so much today.


Charles McQuarrie’s boatbuilding ad in Haszard’s Gazette 1852

The work of making small craft was one of the minor industries along with sail making and marine blacksmithing which often get lost when we talk about the wood, wind and water economy. We focus on shipbuilding with schooners, brigs and barques, often forgetting that the nautical arts  contained dozens of specialties which were a requirement for a community which, as an island, depended on boats for much of their existence.  As the economy changed and our dependency on locally produced  craft was reduced many of these minor skills almost disappeared. In the 20th century boat building became the preserve of those producing large motorized fishing boats on the one hand and home-built pleasure craft on the other.

But all has not been lost. In the most recent issue of the English yachting magazine Classic Boat, the Norseboat has been recognized as a “New Classic”.  See the story here.  The founder and president of the firm responsible for the Norseboat is Kevin Jeffery of the Belfast area just down the coast from Charlottetown.  He conceived of the boat as a multi-purpose craft which could equally well be sailed or rowed, had a classic appearance, and could be easily transported by trailer so that its range was extended to almost every harbour in the world.  Built originally in Pinette, PEI production moved to Lunenburg and then to Maine to tap the increasing market.


Norseboat 12.5t showing characteristic rig.

There are now a number of different craft in the range with boats at 12.5, 17.5 and 21.5 feet, all with a distinctive dutch curved gaff rig with a boomless mainsail.  The boats are now found all over the world and are admired for their classic style and their fine workmanship . In addition to being recognized by Classic Boat Norseboats have graced the cover of Small Craft Advisor and have been nominated for awards such as the Sail Magazine Best Boat award.  Kevin has described the boat as “the swiss army knife of boats” and his depiction is not far off. The webpage for the Norseboat has lots of video and photos of the various models in action in posts across the globe.

I have spotted a Norseboat from time to time in Charlottetown harbour and have seen them at boat shows. They are expensive boats but have a quality which matches the price. Like the Drascomb Lugger this seems to be a boat that does everything well.   I am sure DeSable’s Charles McQuarrie would approve.


Charlottetown Regatta Rules 1856

Regatta001In a previous posting I noted the existence of the Charlottetown Regatta Club in 1843 – perhaps the first notice of yachting organization in the Colony.  By 1846 the event held by the Club  had been extended to two days (some recent Charlottetown Race Weeks have lasted no longer) with a total of fifteen races; seven sailboat races, four rowing events and four canoe races.  As in previous years it was a gala event and as Haszard’s Gazette pointed out it was a right and proper thing to do –  Our insular situation will necessarily force us to be a commercial community whether we wish it or not and it is therefore but natural, that we should take pride in fostering a taste for a pursuit which is essential to our well-being and comfort. We have need of good sailors and good ships and these annual contests will do much towards creating and keeping up such a taste. 

The 1856 notices contained a listing of the regulations for the regatta. It is an interesting combination of the procedural and the competitive. Some instructions such as the requirement that sails be hoisted only at the start are strange to us today. Others, such as the starboard tack rule have survived into present-day racing.

Regulations of the Charlottetown Regatta

1. Subscribers of Twenty Shillings, and upwards will be entitled to all the privileges of Members of the Regatta Club.

2. Boats, not owned on the Island, will be allowed to compete for the Club Plates., by the owners subscribing twenty shillings to the fund of the Club, and also the entrance money.

3. The Boats places at starting will be decided by lot; all sails will be lowered previously to starting.

4. No 2nd prize will be given unless three boats start.

5. Boats on the Larboard Tack must invariably give way to those on the Starboard; and in all cases where a doubt of the possibility of the Boat on the larboard Tack weathering  the Boat on the Starboard Tack must give way; or if the other Boat keeps her course, and run into her the owners of the Boat on the Larboard Tack shall pay all damages, and forfeit its claim to the prize.

6. Any Boat throwing out Ballast after starting, will forfeit the race.

7. Extra sail to be used before the wind to any extent.

8. To prevent collisions during the Races, any entered Boat found sailing in the Harbour during the progress of the other sailing matches, will forfeit her chance in the race she is entered for.

9. Any Sail-boat using an Oar, Pole or Boat hook, during the race, unless for the purposes of booming out her sails, will forfeit her chance of the prize.

10. All boats intending to compete must be at Peake’s Wharf by 9 o’clock

11. Printed directions for the course of the different races may be obtained from the Secretary on the morning of the Regatta.

12. All disputes to be decided by the Umpires.

13. First class club Yachts to carry a flag at their masthead, red ground, with any device thereon.

14. Country boats to be distinguished by their private flags – any ground but red.

15. All entrances to be made on or before the 13th of August.

16. All boats considered country boats, where owners are not members of the club.

These rules appear to have been used for many years but by the 1880s Regatta notices included the information that the races would be run under the rules of the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron.  With increasing competition balancing the ratings of different sized and rigged boats became an issue. When the Yacht Racing Association of Northumberland Straits was formed in 1937 classes unique to the area were developed. Today races which include different models of boats are run under the Performance Racing Handicap Fleet system (PHRF).   The current Charlottetown Yacht Club is maintaining a tradition of competitive sailing which dates back over 170 years and is one of the oldest sporting activities on the Island.


Confederation Celebration Sailing in 1939

Current mythology has it that the 75th anniversary of the 1864 Confederation Conference was squeezed out of popular consciousness by the out-break of the Second World War. However the 75th anniversary, like the current 150th anniversary, was a year-long celebration and had a long list of activities.

Confed 2

Charlottetown Guardian 11 July 1939 p. 8

For Charlottetown’s anniversary week in mid-July 1939 one of the many activities was a series of aquatic events in which the regatta of the Charlottetown Yacht Club played a central role. Swimming and diving competitions were held at Victoria Park in the morning of Tuesday, 18 July and at 1:00 o’clock attention moved to the Charlottetown Yacht Club on Pownal Wharf.  One feature was rowing races between crews of visiting naval vessels from two Canadian warships, an  American team and one from the local Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve. When the ripples settled on the water the HMCS Skeena took the honours, the other Canadian ship second, the local naval reserve third and the Americans last.

The yacht races saw a larger field with twenty-three boats from six clubs taking part. Yachts were expected from the venerable Royal Kennebacassis  Yacht Club of Saint John, the Amherst Yacht Club and the Wallace Yacht Club, Pictou and Shediac  as well as Island boats from Charlottetown, Summerside, Borden, Montague, and Georgetown. There was also interest in the entry of an Ontario-built boat sailing out of Orwell.

Confed 1939

Charlottetown Guardian 19J July p.6

At the end of the day the Island boats had a clean sweep of the silver trophies and awards presented by C.Y.C. Commodore Fred Morris.  The greatest number of entries was in the snipe class with ten competing boats, four from the Amherst Yacht Club and the remainder from Charlottetown.   J.C. Clark’s snipe Joke took the honours. Another keenly contested class was the Northumberland Strait Yacht Racing Association’s class 3 which included boats from Summerside as well as Shediac .  This class included boats whose names were known all over the region such as Mac Irwin’s Zenith, Jack Kenny’s Jeep, Ralph Smith’s P.N.O. and G.P. Paoli’s Mic  (Charlottetown), George Cunningham’s Nomad (Shediac),  and Ray Tanton’s Woodpecker (Summerside). This was another C.Y. C. victory with the ten-year-old P.N.O. in the lead.

The five-hour event was plagued with light and variable winds but the Guardian commented that it attracted one of the largest crowds ever seen on the Charlottetown waterfront.

Seventy-five years later the anniversary will pass without any special sailing events except for the 150 Challenge Race leaving from Charlottetown on 28 July. Perhaps yacht racing, with events every Monday and Wednesday evening and longer races almost every weekend has become too commonplace.

The newspaper account is the first note I have seen of the Amherst and Wallace Yacht Clubs. They may have been short-lived organizations. I am especially interested in knowing where the Amherst club sailed from – Tidnish appears to be the nearest harbour on the Strait.