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R. Barrie & G. Barrie


George Barrie, Jr.

THIS year A.G. and I took our boats, Merlin and Irex, to Annapolis during the Decoration Day holidays, leaving them in charge of the Hellers. We made one weekend dash during June, and on the first of July he went down with Alexander, his son, while Bob and I did not get away until the third.

The little Seminole was still on the shore, as last February I had become the proud owner of the Irex, built by Ford in 1894, thirty-eight feet over all, twenty-nine feet on the waterline, nine feet one inch beam, and six feet draft. Yawl-rigged and flush-decked.

In the main cabin there is six feet headroom, as over the floor is a mahogany skylight and hatch combined. On the starboard side of the companion ladder is a large locker three feet wide by four feet deep, extending from deck to floor, forward of this is a berth, back of which are three lockers; on the port side is a short sofa five feet long, at the after end of which is a china closet and at the forward end a bookcase. A swinging table occupies a great deal of floor space, but is a convenience and a comfort which more than makes up for the sacrifice of room. Aft of the ladder is a stateroom, on the port side of which is a permanent berth with lockers underneath and also at the forward end; on the starboard side is a bureau containing two drawers, overhead is a skylight three feet wide by two feet six inches long which gives five feet six inches headroom, as the floor is six inches higher than the cabin floor. In the galley are two folding pipe berths; one of which holds sails, vegetables, etc., and the other is used only when there is a third person aboard; no paid hands ever being carried. Two Primus stoves, a good sized ice box, lockers, and shelves take up the rest of the space. A quadrant hatch is on the port side. All locker doors have rattan panels which allow complete air circulation, and, therefore, prevents mold.

The Merlin, since broken up, was an old-fashioned straight stem cutter, designed by G.M. Ripley, and built by D.C. Bernard in 1884. She was thirty feet four inches over all, twenty-five feet on the waterline, seven feet beam, and drew five feet. A good, old boat, sound as could be, and with a good turn of speed in light airs. Her narrowness somewhat crowded the accommodations below, which were arranged in the usual way, i.e., main cabin with two berths and a good amount of locker room in the forecastle a berth for a man and the cooking paraphernalia.


Irex • Merlin • Liris


On the morning of July Fourth we were all up early, and, after breakfast, set sail before a light northerly air for West River. The Merlin for some unaccountable reason got off before we did, a circumstance that never happened again during the cruise. As we drifted down to Tolly Point I repaired the awning torn by a squall, which during the previous afternoon had nearly blown Annapolis into the harbor. On reaching the point we set the spinnaker, but soon changed it to balloon jib and then kept shifting it back and forth several times before we rounded the old weatherbeaten red spar in the mouth of West River. Headed up for Rhode River and anchored just inside the mouth behind a sandspit, but not so far in that we did not have a view of the Bay.

Recollections of many pleasant days anchored in that same spot are brought up by the mention of the Rhode River Sandspit. How pleasant to lie there on a bright day with awnings set, a breeze from the southwest sweeping across West River, the tall pines of Curtis Point, the bugeyes and schooners collected in Parish Creek, perhaps one or two with sails set ready to slip out with a load of wheat for Baltimore, the rolling country to the north, the peaceful "ondulation" of the sail of a canoe tied close to the bank, or the weird appearance of sails traveling over the land as one comes slowly down a hidden creek, a few shore birds or a couple of crows strutting along the hard packed sand of the spit. But all the enchantments of Rhode River are not to be seen from here. First of all is Cadle Creek, on which is situated a small collection of tiny houses, known locally as Scrabbletown, while the post office has the old family name of Mayo. Beyond the first point the river becomes really a lagoon, the surface of which is broken by three tree-covered islands, while the mouths of three creeks lead one on with the promise of further beauties.

After lunch we sailed in small boats to the west shore, but did not stay long, as a heavy thunderhead gradually making up in the northwest sent us back on board to set the rain awnings. The balance of the afternoon being taken up with two showers and the preparation of dinner, which we did not enjoy, as both were not feeling up to the mark. The Merlins went ashore to call on some friends, but we stayed at home.

Up at four o'clock, and after breakfast we started off under lower sail. Clear, with light northwesterly wind. Set the balloon jib when in West River, and stood on port tack for the black can; carried past it for a mile, and then gybed over for the run to Oxford. Had a grand run down the western shore, as the breeze had increased. Washed decks and straightened up. Off Herring Bay Merlin's balloon jib halyard parted and the big sail fell alongside in the water; we could see them having a terrific struggle to get it on board, and after doing so they set balloon staysail and working jib.



Off Holland Point we headed over for Sharp's Island Light, breeze lightened, and, after entering above Sharp's Island, we hove to until the Merlin could make up on us. Had coffee and crackers to pass the idle time. When the Merlins came along we persuaded them to go to the Little Choptank instead of Oxford; so we again set balloon jib for the run down behind Sharp's Island, and for some time we kept side by side, and, after a council of war, concluded to go into Slaughter Creek, but when we reached there we were not attracted; so kept on up the river.

Just beyond the next creek, which breaks the south shore, we, who were leading, ran plump ashore while traveling at a fair rate, as the breeze had shifted to southwest and freshened. Merlin had kept more to the north and did not touch. We quickly carried out the kedge, and, with the aid of the windlass, were soon off and following after Merlin. Ran close to a lumber-laden schooner in order to get directions for entering the next creek. The names of most of these creeks are not given on the chart, and we did not learn them from the natives. The instructions were of such length and so involved, that, not being able to make out the marks, we soon anchored. After lunch we all sailed in our longboat up to the town marked on the chart: the name of this classic spot we learned was Madison. Breeze gradually dying, so the last part of the sail was slow work. Walked about the town trying to get meat and milk, but could not get either, so filled the milk can with green apples. On getting back to the boat I left the others and went on to a house on the outskirts of the town to try for chickens. After many laughable attempts the man succeeded in catching one, then the others became too wily; although we needed four, concluded to take the one, and the price, after some hesitating, was set at thirty cents, but as he could not change a dollar and could catch no more I went back empty-handed. A long row back to the boats kept Bob and A.G. from getting chilled -- ther. 90°.




There not being a breath of air and great humidity, we ate dinner on deck; this over, A.G. brought over his phonograph, or rather the records and horn, as we carried his machine; and music was ground out for an hour or so. Fine moonlight night, but hot below, so I took a mattress on deck and slept wrapped up in a sheet. Never felt the heat so on the Chesapeake before or since.

Had early breakfast and made an early start for Oxford, the Little Choptank having no charms for us after the unpleasant afternoon and night; although we now have a craving to go there some Spring or Fall and explore this river of intricate channels, low, pine-clad shores, and many creeks. A few minutes after leaving, as we were running together with northwest breeze, we saw rippled water ahead and were somewhat confused; Bob said, "It is either very deep or very shallow," and just then we grounded, and all doubt was driven from our minds. The Merlin, which was heeled over more, went some distance farther before stopping. Tried to get off by getting the sails over to the other side, but the tide was rapidly falling and we held fast, so carried out the anchor, but by the time we succeeded she was some inches out of water. Sailed around in the small boat looking for the channel, and, with the information from some natives who visited us later, saw that the chart was decidedly wrong, the first time we have ever found the Chesapeake charts to be at fault. A long bar stretched out from either shore, overlapping, with the channel running diagonally to the shoreline of the river. A heavily loaded bugeye came down and was guided through by a man in her bateau. Had a bath, being able to walk on bottom, which we found to be sand and oyster shells packed as hard as cement. About one-thirty, the tide being flood, we slipped off; anchoring some distance above, and then went in the small boat to help the Merlins who were on tighter than we had been. Thunder had been heard for some time, and at four o'clock we got a squall out of the northeast, heavy rain and enough wind to cause us to drag back toward our resting place of the morning. Put over the other anchor, but we had drifted so near the rippled water that we did not like to stay there all night, so we hoisted sail in order to move, but just as the second anchor came out the breeze fell flat and we had to let it go again. At dusk, however, the breeze came down from northeast; the Merlins came to help us, and we once more made sail. The breeze turned out to be a small squall, but we beat up far enough to be well away from that bar which seemed to attract us like a magnet. Bed at eight-thirty.

Shortly after four o'clock, next morning, we saw the captain of the lumber schooner being rowed aboard, so we hurried in order to follow him out, as he was evidently bound for Baltimore; but, much to our dismay and confusion, he did not head for the regular channel but went out a slue about which yesterday's visitors had told us and through which we had blunderingly come the day we came in. As we were somewhat panic-stricken after our late unpleasant episodes, I went ahead in the small boat to pick out the channel, while the Merlin and Irex followed under easy sail; found three to five fathoms. But we did not feel safe, after having been so deceived by the chart, until past Hill's Point, and we were glad to shake the water of the Little Choptank from our keels. Merlin slowly drew ahead in the light air and kept gradually increasing the lead all the time. Off Cook's Point we were disturbed by the rumbles of thunder and the breeze falling flat; then, what appeared to be a tide eddy, although no swirling of the water could be seen, caused us to turn a complete circle. Off the red buoy the flood tide helped us, and a light breeze aft pushed us slowly toward Benoni Point; set spinnaker, and enjoyed the sail. Passed to the north of the light and anchored above the steamboat wharf at four-forty-five. Dimphel boarded us almost before the anchor was down and insisted upon our going over to his place, but as we had mail to send and were in need of ice we stayed where we were.

Next morning we scoured the village for provender; meat and vegetables very scarce. Had another visit from Dimphel just before lunch, and in the afternoon we touched up the topsides. In the evening we went ashore again for preengaged chickens, and plucked them by moonlight on the schoolhouse green.

Up at five o'clock this morning as Bob wanted to go to Easton to look at a semi-yacht skipjack which we heard was for sale cheap. Scurried around to get breakfast, and just as he was about to leave he looked at his watch and found that the cabin clock was twenty minutes slow, so he had to abandon the trip. We often wonder what would have happened if our clock had been right. Another boat on our hands? But instead of a train ride for him alone, we both enjoyed a fine sail in the longboat, running abeam to a moderate southwest breeze to the other side of the river, where we landed in front of a small deserted house; walked around, peeped in the windows, rested on the porch, admired the beautiful view down the Tred Avon and across the Choptank, lifted the bucket from the well, went into the barn, where we saw a pair of antique fire tongs, the latter we concluded to give a kind home, as they were apparently unappreciated where they were.

On getting back on board we finished doing the topsides, and then went to the shipyard, making photos there, and also of the "Strand," as the shore drive is called. The afternoon was used up with a few odd jobs on board, and then, as the old Merlin was too fat and the young one too small to reeve a new jib topsail halyard, I went over and shinnied to the topmast head for them. A phonograph concert in the evening was greatly appreciated by the natives who gathered in numerous bateaux.





Thursday, up at six o'clock, straightened up and then set mizzen and jib for the run over to Dimphel's before a southwest breeze, which kept gradually hauling until, just as we reached the mouth of the creek, it came butt-end first from the northwest, dead ahead, so we anchored, but in a few minutes our host came out with his whaleboat launch to tow us in, and took us so far that we grounded. He then went back for the Merlin, but the breeze had become so heavy that the little launch could not make headway with her. Filled our tanks from his rainwater cisterns and then went to his house where, before lunch, we examined his numerous models of boats, built and to be built; every time we have visited him he has had some fresh design about which he was exceedingly enthusiastic. About three o'clock we prepared to leave, and had considerable difficulty in getting out of the tight place into which he had put us between his boat and wharf. We were now off the ground and had to turn around in a narrow space and then run sharp under the stern of his boat or we would have run into the bank. Managed it all right, and were soon at our old anchorage again. Ice and provisions were laid in as we expected to start early the next morning. Merlin came over about an hour after us, the skipper having fallen in the fore hatch and bruised his leg to such an extent that in a few days it looked like a tattooed savage's.


Beautifully clear morning with good northerly breeze, and although we were up at five o'clock it was nine before we got off, as we waited for the Merlins, and as usual they were like the cow's tail. Set big jib topsail, and after rounding Benoni Point set the little one as a fisherman's staysail. Breeze gradually dying out, and before reaching Sharp's Island we were in the midst of a fierce Irishman's hurricane. Rolled around until two o'clock, when the northerly came again, and we commenced a tiresome beat up the Bay, Merlin gradually working ahead. Tacked about every three-quarters of an hour, making very little each time on account of the strong ebb, but vessels bound south slipped out of sight in no time, while we could not get any apparent distance from Sharp's Island Light. Had dinner of fried chicken on deck, and as the sun set the breeze went down.

At dusk we could just make out the red buoy off Poplar Island, while the Merlin appeared to be abreast if not a little beyond it. Suddenly a breeze, which rapidly freshened, came from the southwest, and we were soon slipping along at a good rate, but not so fast that Merlin had to lower her peak to allow us to catch up to her. Had intended when we started in the morning to go to St. Michael's, but in the dark and with the rapidly increasing breeze we were afraid to try Eastern Bay and the Miles River, so decided to make for Annapolis. While running from Bloody Point over to Thomas Point, where we almost hit the black can, which is just below the light, we passed through quite a fleet of Bay steamers bound out from Baltimore. Ran up the edge of the red sector of Thomas Point Light and hung a lantern in the mizzen rigging in order to show the Merlin when we should turn in on the Severn River course. Just before we were in a position to do so the band came off the head of the spinnaker pole, allowing the end of the spar to drop overboard, and it soon broke at the rigging. Anchored in the usual place at eleven thirty with everyone ready for bed.

Saturday we were late in getting up, and, after a palaver, it was decided to go to Magothy tomorrow instead of back to Eastern Bay; so more provisions and ice were brought aboard in the morning, and in the afternoon, while the others loafed, I obtained from a builder of small boats a yellow-pine spar, the only one of suitable length, which I turned into a spinnaker pole, and although somewhat heavy, it served the purpose. In the evening sailed in the longboat, but turned in early.

Sunday, both feeling sickly from tomatoes and milk the day before, but we were off with the Merlin at nine fifteen. Light southerly breeze into which we beat until abreast the red can just outside Greenberry Light, then we eased sheets and headed for the black channel can off Hackett's Point. Annapolis looked particularly attractive in the bright sunshine this morning, and we were loth to leave. When halfway to Sandy Point Light set balloon jib, and shortly before reaching the light changed it to spinnaker. Both running together, and we decided, as the breeze looked very favorable, to run up to Worton's Cove, leaving out the Magothy. After passing the light we gradually drew ahead of the Merlin as she did not set her spinnaker. Off Patapsco passed close to a bugeye thrashing into it under all sail, a very exhilarating sight; one man at the wheel, while two others were seated on deck at a small table, busy with lunch. As usual we did not see the red buoy off Swan Point, and the balance of the run up to the cove was uneventful. Lowered mainsail outside, but the Merlin did not, so she anchored above the steamboat wharf some little time before we did, which was about three o'clock. Straightened up and had a swim before supper and afterward sailed up the creek, all in our small boat, to the house of an acquaintance, where we stayed awhile, returning on board in the bright moonlight; a dash of phonograph and then to bed.

For next morning we had planned a boat expedition to Fairlee Creek, but the young Merlin backed out, as a thrasher at the farm and some boys were more to his taste. Only three of us, therefore, started off in the long boat, but when halfway there, while beating into a light southerly breeze, Bob began to feel chilly, so he took to the oars, and although he rowed at a terrible rate his teeth continued to chatter. Finally reached the mouth of the creek, where we landed, and, while Bob tramped in an effort to get rid of his chill, A.G. and I watched a seine being hauled, but as Bob was extremely uncomfortable we were soon in the boat and on our way back home. On reaching the boat Bob went to bed, and after a time he fell into a sleep, which lasted nearly all afternoon. I had a quiet time on board, and later on sailed with A.G. up the creek, making soundings as far as the farm landing, where we inspected the thrasher and loitered until dinner time. Bob in a fever, but somewhat better by evening.



This morning the occupant of the sickbay was much better, but decided to spend the day at ease. So I made some small repairs, while the Merlins took their boat ashore to finish putting on a rope fender which they had started at Oxford. A trip to the farm was made in the afternoon for ice and chickens, but as the latter had not been caught the evening before another journey was necessary. A small squall appeared in the southwest, so took in awning and paid out more chain. Three fishermen, a bugeye, and two pungys, who had stayed in the harbor all day on account of the Bay being too rough to permit fishing, got up anchor and sailed up into the creek. This made us somewhat anxious, and we became more so when one of them as he passed said there would be lots of wind. It did not last long, only about half an hour, and, although we dragged a little and put over the second anchor, it was nothing to what we had been led to expect by the actions of the natives; however, one can never tell what a squall will amount to. After dinner we became completely panic-stricken when another bugeye loaded with wheat, which had not moved for the afternoon squall, began to get up his anchor, and, with a very light air, move into the creek; so we held a consultation, but decided to stay where we were. At dusk I sailed to a house situated on a bluff on the north shore for milk, while the Merlins went up the creek for the chickens. Had to wait for the milk to be coaxed from the cow, but had a pleasant beat back in a freshening southerly breeze. When the Merlins came with the chickens they also brought the news that all on board the trading vessels were of the opinion that there would be a bad night. Sat on the counter and picked the chickens. Fine moonlight and no signs of bad weather.

Up at four o'clock next morning. Breeze northwest, bright and clear. Got away right after breakfast; Merlin took the ground for an instant on going about close to the south shore. After several tacks we made the red can off the point, and then eased the sheets a trifle as we stood for Turkey Point.

Breeze freshened rapidly until we had almost as hard a northwester as we ever have in the summer time in these parts. Met several schooners bound down, one large, two-masted vessel, looked fine as she passed well heeled over. After passing Turkey Point the Elk hills kept off some of the breeze, and we had a more comfortable sail up to the anchorage at the mouth of Back Creek, where we let go at noon. Immediately after lunch Bob, the young Merlin, and I sailed in the small boat to Chesapeake City for ice and butcher's meat; as the wind was fair we made good time, and were fortunate to catch the afternoon tow down. Dinner and early to bed.

As we were not to move today we did not get up until hunger made sleep impossible, which was not very late in the early morning. Bob and the young Merlin sailed in the ducker while I housecleaned and put two blocks of oak over each of the bibs as the shrouds had stretched so that the turnbuckles were chock up. This necessitated the slacking up of all the rigging, and by noon I had not quite finished. A southwester had been gaining strength all morning, until by two o'clock it was blustering, and the Merlins, who wanted to go to Betterton for mail, had a terrible struggle rowing the two miles in the face of it to Town Point Wharf. A large tow came down about three o'clock, and five or six schooners, some with reefed mainsails, made a pretty sight as they worked down the narrow river. Naps by Bob and tinkering by myself passed the time until dinner. A beautiful, peaceful, moonlight night was a pleasant successor to the turbulent day. Merlins not expected until very late, so we turned in about nine o'clock.



In the morning we were up about six o'clock, and saw by their yawlboat that the Merlins had returned, so shouted to get them up, but no signs of life, then rang the bell fiercely, but all was peaceful as a deserted boat, and as a last resort fired the cannon, which brought the sleepy head of the old Merlin to the hatch, but the young Merlin never moved. Today, instead of having too much wind, there was none at all, but about half-past eight o'clock we all got into our longboat to drift up the river. After going about a mile we came to a very large sloop, named Carrie, loading grain from a flatboat. On boarding her found that at one time she had been a yacht, and it looked rather odd to see grain in bulk in cabins finished in white and gold. From her we went ashore, where an old Delaware River "strikemaster" sloop somewhat over forty years old was having new timbers and new planking fastened to her old keel. A ramble over the hills in search of milk gave us exercise, but none of the desired fluid, and, as it was becoming very warm, we were glad once more to get on board, then overboard. A sewing circle and phonograph concert after lunch were brought to a sudden stop by the rapid approach of a squall from the northeast, which passed over with moderate wind and very little rain, then came a more modest one from the northwest, and finally a parting one from the southwest. Very vivid lightning brought out the lightning rod -- a piece of wire dropped overboard from the topmast shroud. Quite cool in the evening, which we spent below listening to music from the young Merlin, who performed on the phonograph.



Turned out at three-thirty, so as to get breakfast before the tug should come, as we intended to leave for home. Shortly before five o'clock the tug appeared, and, after picking up a pungy which had arrived during the night, he came for us, and we were in the canal and ready for the mules at six-thirty. After an uneventful trip locked out at eleven o'clock, just in time to catch the very last of the flood tide, but it did not carry us far, and by six o'clock we had made only ten miles.

Anchored for supper, and by the time we had finished the tide turned, so we once more made sail. A draft into a squall gave us about five miles of good sailing, but we finally ended up at the club at ten-thirty, going stern first. A good cruise, but the Merlins were awful hard to get started in the mornings, being addicted to much sleep. 



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