Tag Archives: Yacht race

A Century of Spithead Racing

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Guardian 21 August 1907 p. 3

During the summer’s racing season at the Charlottetown Yacht Club there are usually a couple of evenings (especially early in the season with several hours before darkness) when the winds and tides are just right and the assembled skippers and crews waiting on the veranda for the course for the evening to be posted agree that “it would be a good evening for Spithead.”  It is a much favoured course – through the harbour mouth leaving Battery Point Buoy to port, past Blockhouse buoy and four miles out to Spithead Buoy and then back to the finish line at the Club.  It is a longer than usual course and calls for a stiff breeze and the race being dependant on the breeze, the course can never be called too far in advance. Often the conditions outside the harbour are very different from the wind and waves usually dealt with and as in the earlier race described below this difference in conditions can favour different boats.

Black buoy 1005

Detail from Chart of Hillsborough Bay 1886 edition

What few of the sailors of the CYC fleet realize is that the Spithead course for the yacht race was in use more than a hundred years ago. What we now call Spithead Buoy was placed at the end of the reef running east from St. Peter’s Island in the late 1830s. It was marked by a Black Buoy and for most of the 19th century the mark was simply known as “the Black Buoy.” The Buoy was part of a series of navigation marks which included a buoy marking Fitzroy Rock and another on Battery Point.  Conspicuously absent from early charts is a buoy marking Blockhouse point, Instead of a buoy the correct and safe line into the harbour through the narrow harbour entrance was identified by leading marks including the conspicuous Dockendorff’s Barn on York Point and church steeples in Charlottetown. For some of the evening racers it is as far as they will ever get from the security of the harbour and the longer course makes a pleasant change from the usual parade around the marks inside Charlottetown Harbour.

In 1907 the race was advertised well in advance. However on the appointed day it had to be be postponed for a week owing to light winds. It is clear from the advertisement (illustrated above) for the race that it had been held the previous year and the cup for the event had been won by the sloop Micmac, the cup having been put up again for the 1907 race.  The Guardian covered the competition.

A splendid breeze greeted the yachts entered for the race over a course inside and outside the harbor on Saturday afternoon.  The entries were  – Micmac, Capt. Gaudet; Charlotte, Capt. Rogers; Vinco, Capt. Prowse; Grace  Darling, Capt. Moore

The course was from Marine and Fisheries Wharf to Hillsborough Bridge, thence to entrance to, North River thence out the harbor to Black Buoy, thence back to North River, thence to Marine and Fisheries Wharf.

The struggle was between the Micmac and the Charlotte, the latter very nearly robbing the former of her laurels. In the rough water outside the Charlotte was more than her match but the smoother water the Micmac scored. The finish of the race was most exciting, the Charlotte and Micmac turning the last stake boat together. The Micmac then drew ahead, finishing by a short lead. Grace Darling was third.

A number of lobster boats accompanied the sloops and showed a lot of speed.  

The advertising suggests there was a bit of a rivalry on the waterfront between the Charlottetown Yacht Club and the older Hillsboro Boating Club. Because of weather postponements the latter organization had their annual race for the Hillsboro Cup on the same weekend with several of the same boats such as the Micmac (with Capt. Pineaud instead of Capt. Gaudet) and the Charlotte in competition.  For the Black Buoy race there was no entry fee but neither was there mention of prize money. The Hillsboro Boating Club race had a $2.00 entry fee but besides the Hillsboro Cup for the winner, second place would be awarded $10 and third garnered $5.00. Because of light winds the Hillsboro Cup race was not completed and had to be re-staged on the morning of the following Labour Day.

“Interest in the Race was Practically Lost Sight of”

Headlines for Yacht Race story  - Charlottetown Guardian - 9 August 1900

Headlines for Yacht Race story – Charlottetown Guardian – 9 August 1900

The style of Journalistic reportage has changed a good deal since the end of 19th century. Today  for example, one would never start a front-page story with “Yesterday was an ideal summer day and considerable interest was taken in the yacht race.”  This is especially so when in the reader learns halfway through the story that the events of the day included the tragic drowning of a member of the crew of one of the yachts!

The 8th of August 1900 was a fine day with strong winds – an excellent day for a yacht race. The Guardian detailed the position of the eleven yachts as they crossed the start line; Flirt, followed across the line by Freda, the Rescue, the Report and the Stranger with the remaining boats close behind. The course lead up the East River (the Hillsborough Bridge had not yet been constructed) to the Asylum Buoy off Falcon Point which was about a mile from the Railway Wharf. The wind was strong and suddenly one of the boats, called the Gentlemen, which was apparently carrying too much sail, overturned and sent the five members of the crew into the water. The yacht Jubilee which was sailing nearby picked up two of the crew members; Freeland Wood and J. Morrisey.  The steamer Southport with about 100 spectators raced to the scene of the accident and lowered a boat which recovered two others; William Brown and Theo. Brehaut.  These two had been hanging on to the spar along with a third man, Mark Riley. Riley was not a good swimmer and he panicked owing to the current and tried to hang on to Breahut taking them both down. At some point he let go and was not seen alive again. Men in another boat  had tried to grab him but in the strong wind their boat collided with the Southport, broke its jibboom, drifted away, and the opportunity was lost, although Riley’s hat was secured. Another man dived for Riley but could not find the body.The Jubilee and the Southport brought the four saved men to shore. Several attempts were made to take the overturned Gentlemen in tow but they were not successful owing  to the strong current.

The Guardian coverage then becomes somewhat absurd. It was reported that Brehault had lost his clothes and books (hardly significant in view of the fact that Riley had lost his life). Then the story provided a few lines identifying the deceased as the 25 year old son of Edward Riley of Miminigash, employed at James Judson’s lobster factory at St. Peters Island.

Having dispatched the unfortunate Riley the Guardian then returns to the coverage of the race.  While a few of the boats rounded up following the accident the race went on.  As the fleet passed Connolly’s wharf on the first circuit of the course Onward led with Flirt second and Freda third. At the end of the leg Freda had overtaken Onward and Flirt, Rescue and Report followed.  That order was maintained through the second circuit of the course  and the race finished with Flirt first in 2 hours and 43 minutes.

The story then gives details of the Freda (a new boat built by James Griffin) which took about as much space as the biographical details of the late (but apparently not too lamented) Mark Riley. Although boats dragged for Riley’s body that afternoon and the next day it was not found until five days after the accident when his corpse was discovered washed up on Rosebank Beach.