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R. Barrie & G. Barrie


Robert Barrie


There's a schooner in the offing,
With her topsails shot with fire,
And my heart has gone aboard her
For the Islands of Desire.
    -- Richard Hovey

AFTER selling Liris it wasn't long before I wrote to the brokers asking for lists, and oddly enough the first description which I picked up out of the first batch received was of the old schooner Azalea. I had cruised and courted on her eighteen years ago when she belonged to my wife's father, so I threw the paper across the breakfast table and said I'd buy her for the sake of old times.

She is a fine, little centerboard schooner of most useful type, of the kind of which we should have more; built like a frigate in 1857, by D.J. Lawlor, at Chelsea, Massachusetts, almost entirely of white oak, which is apparently as white today as when put together -- in fact, a fine example of what could be done in the olden days. Her lines are particularly easy and graceful, and it is not surprising that she has a long string of prizes, such as any modern freak might well envy, to her credit; many won in the days when she was the famous flagship of J. Malcolm Forbes, Commodore of the Eastern Yacht Club -- "first prize in first class" as an inscription dated 1873 on her rather handsome binnacle puts it.

Recently, in an interesting article in The Rudder, Mr. Winfield M. Thompson told the history of Azalea and her sister ship Edith. Apparently, they were the first twin yachts built, in this country at least. Edith was the first constructed of iron and the first to carry the New York Yacht Club burgee across the Line, when, in 1858, she made the voyage from Boston to Montevideo in forty-eight days, part of the time under jury rig. As an instance of the hardiness of the men and the ability of the boats of those days, it is well worth noting that Edith made this voyage with three hands all told, and that with the same number Azalea during the Civil War went from New Bedford, Massachusetts, to Beaufort, North Carolina, in five days. Mr. Forbes's summer home was on the Island of Naushon, and Mr. Thompson states that Azalea was used as a family carryall by Mr. Forbes in those days, that she made the passage of Buzzard's Bay in all kinds of weather and never failed in the roughest; one trip, at least, she had a famous passenger, Ralph Waldo Emerson, who was seasick and woebegone.

About 1887, when my father-in-law, Mr. Blunt, bought her from the Forbes' there were at that time about half a dozen vessels in the Forbes fleet at Woods Hole, and steam had infested it. When taken to Larchmont the little vessel was a most consistent and persistent winner in races of that club and of the New York Yacht Club, and some good prizes resulted. When sold to J. Clinch Smith he had a lead keel put on her, but I think it was a mistake. She later passed to the wilds of Raritan Bay for awhile, and while there I bought her. She could slip along well enough, but the particularly strong point of such a craft is her usefulness. With seventy-three feet over all, sixty-one feet waterline, eighteen feet beam, and five feet five draft, her accommodations are surprisingly liberal; a large cockpit gives comfortable space for four wicker chairs. The saloon, in mahogany, is fifteen by eighteen feet, and contains four extra large sofa berths, with very thick cushions, which make up into a bed at night. An extension table seats seven more or less comfortably. There are ample lockers for glassware and table linen. A large reversible skylight and ports make the saloon cool and well ventilated at all times.




On starboard side are two connecting staterooms, each nine by seven feet, and toilet room forward. On port side is another stateroom of the same dimension. These three staterooms and toilet room are finished in white enamel and mahogany; washstands with running water and outboard waste pipes, and each has mirror and ample drawers and lockers, quite equal in comfort to the average steamship stateroom. All are well ventilated by reversible skylights and ports.

On port side forward of stateroom is large galley, nine by twelve feet, fully fitted with every necessity. The refrigerator holds seven hundred pounds of ice, connected with a large cold storage space for fresh vegetables, which is very useful. The forecastle is fifteen feet long, with four cot berths. Three large tanks hold an ample supply of water.

The Illustrated Sporting News, in an article, correct in some particulars, devoted to "the oldest yacht in America," fired a broadside about her in which it said:

"She is a perfect example of a schooner yacht of the days when we first gained the leading position in international yachting contests, and showed the world that Uncle Sam was as canny a sportsman as John Bull or any other tried veteran. The two splendid cup defenders, Mayflower and Puritan, were modeled on almost the exact lines of the Azalea, and she is a fine specimen of what enduring results could be obtained in the days when the building of wooden yachts was in its prime; for the oak, which is the principal wood used in her construction, is now as white and sound as the day it was put together. . . . During these years the Azalea has had but five owners, and was for years the flagship and favorite yacht of her first owner, Commodore Malcolm Forbes, of the Eastern Yacht Club. Despite the fact that he possessed at least six other boats at the same time, Mr. Forbes was devoted to this dainty boat . . . the Azalea continued her remarkable prizewinning career, which has been the longest and most successful of any yacht in this country, with the possible exception of the America. The latter, however, has not always been used as a yacht, but at various times as a trader, blockade runner, and for Government purposes. The Azalea, on the other hand, has seen continuous service as a yacht, pure and simple, and sports the oldest American register number, 1911. She is a remarkable craft in many ways, being almost twice as commodious as the same size yacht of modern type, and is so perfectly balanced that she can perform the unusual feat of steering herself, without lashing the wheel, for an hour at a stretch."

I never could get her to go alone without a becket on the wheel, but be that as it may, she is certainly an example of what honest building should be, and a notable specimen of a type in the evolution of which this country has been particularly successful. Considering her accommodations and date of launching, one may well ask if naval architecture has made any great advance in the direction of cruising vessels.

During the summer of 1903 we spent a month on her in the Sound and won four firsts in four starts in the club runs of the Corinthian Yacht Club (of Philadelphia), and it seemed ridiculous that this little packet, almost fifty years old, should make a thirty-six mile run one day during the club cruise, in a very strong northwest wind, in only one minute more elapsed time than did a new fifty-foot waterline Herreshoff cutter not much over fifty days old. Of course, if it had been a beat the story would have been different, but as in cruising one generally waits for a run, the difference for a cruiser is not marked.

Nothing of any special interest happened that year, except that we got a dusting on the way to Newport from New London on a day when the Block Island steamer had one of her paddles smashed, and the only thing we saw out was a cup aspirant under short sail; we had a heavy gybe after rounding Point Judith, the old Azalea stood on end off the lightship until she put cocked-up bowsprit under and the deck sloped away forward like the roof of a barn. Passing by Beaver Tail, where the seas began to bottle up, was even worse, and we were glad to anchor off Jamestown. Two of us were at the wheel and had all we could do to keep her from broaching to.

Next year we had an amusing time when five of us, without any paid hand aboard, spent five days on her in early September. I had had a new suit of sails made, and with a view to shorthanded work had ordered a sharp-headed mainsail, and it was just the thing for such a lark. She was a little-[?]-headed in light airs, but pointed up very well when it breezed; and it gave us a feeling of comfort and security that we would not have had with a big mainsail.

Inspired no doubt by Bancroft, Roecap, of the Public Ledger, who happened to be at the club when we sailed, with a laudable desire to make a "good yachting story" of the affair, in the effort to make it impressive, called us "amateurs of wealth and position in the social world," and expressed admiration that they should "cook their own meals, look after their own staterooms, and take turns at watch," and wound up by adding that while we were all competent to handle the vessel that

"there is not the same degree of certainty about the culinary department. Accustomed to be waited on by servants and rarely having explored the inner recesses of the kitchen there is some little curiosity to know which can cook the best meal, and it is understood each will be afforded a chance to display his ability as chef."

My brother George, as cook, naturally should come first on the ship's papers; C. Barton Keen, as consulting navigator and specialist for Delaware Bay, next; Seymour Runk, H.L. Street, and I were their willing slaves. Leaving the club anchorage at Essington at five o'clock after waiting through a long flood tide all of a calm Thursday afternoon, we worked down ten miles against light airs, and finally became tired of it and anchored for the night to wake and find a drizzly morning and a few hours foul tide again, but managed to make Salem Cove through baffling airs. Here we anchored and had a swim, lunch, and siesta until a little southeasterly breeze with a sniff of salt in it came up, and we had a pleasant beat down. Dinner, of course, came when we were going around the elbow below Reedy Island, and the poor lone man at the wheel, distracted by the many dredgers, buoys, and the sight of the roast beef, had a hard time of it. It then freshened up for awhile, and, with the strong ebb under us, we had a brisk sail until about ten o'clock when flood beginning, we made over toward the western shore to get out of the traffic and anchored. As it was an exposed position we concluded to have an anchor watch, hour apiece, and the lucky drawer of slip number one, settled himself in an armchair in the cockpit with a rug about him. I am pretty certain I dozed all of my hour when it came my turn.


Runk • Street • Jorge • Keen




Next morning, thickest sort of fog. Got under way in the light southerly breeze, horn going, and the navigator did some wonderful work making channel buoys; no doubt all flukes. We had a close shave with a tug towing a lumber brigantine that brought us all to our feet, probably at first to look for life preservers or loose spars, and afterward to admire the effect. It turned out a nice afternoon, so much so that great folk like the cook and the navigator could have siestas in a hammock slung under the fore boom. Off Brandywine Shoal prepared for a threatened squall, which, however, petered out and left us with baffling airs, ahead whichever way we headed, and finally, late in the evening, we got near the breakwater, but could not quite make it as tide headed us, so we again worked in toward the western shore and anchored near a buoy which we afterward learned marked a dangerous wreck. The cook gnashed his teeth, but had to take an hour at anchor watch just the same as the rest of us.

Next morning, Sunday, was a beautiful one. We worked into the old breakwater the back way; anchored close to the reporting station, had a swim, went ashore and inspected the station, and about eleven o'clock put out again, and with a nice northeasterly breeze had a spanking sail of a close reach of ten miles, which brought us near to Cape May Point. We worked up toward Brandywine Shoal about lunch time, and as it began to cloud over in the afternoon, and the novelty of anchor watch had worn off we began to crave for a harbor. The navigator urged Maurice River, and although on the chart the water seemed to me very scarce, he made a brilliant job of it and brought us to just inside the entrance opposite the Gut. Sat on deck after dinner, and, strange to say, the mosquitoes were not so bad as I expected. As we had not been bothered by any since the start we could hardly complain.

Next morning someone announced a wonderful sunrise and we all turned out wrapped in blankets, for it was frosty. While we were thus grouped in the cockpit, along came the Albatross, steam yacht, down the river, and we saw, much to our surprise, the handsome forms of W. Ellison, Esq. and party, fully dressed, waving to us from the bridge. (Some people go to bed awfully late). And then we were treated to a series of pretty pictures as the oyster fleet, of about a hundred little schooners and sloops, came single file down the river after their Sunday at home; most of them taking the short cut through the Gut, all moving silently with their sails black against the golden sunrise. As they passed the lighthouse they scattered to the south and west, their sails whitening as they left us. When we came out the horizon was pretty well covered with them. The promised rain did not materialize, on the contrary, we had a bright sunny morning. We breakfasted as we slipped along to Egg Island Light, and after that we put on jib topsail and main topmast staysail and slipped up the eastern shore very nicely for awhile, but finally lost our breeze and met the ebb, so had to anchor for a long while off Ship John Light, and again lunched and loafed. Then we got it light from the northeast again and beat all afternoon and evening until bedtime, when we anchored close to Jersey below Deep Water Point, just below Wilmington. It breezed up from the northwest during the night and we were wakened by the racket and turned out just at daybreak again, soon made sail, breakfasted on the way up to the club and topped off an enjoyable little cruise by making a fine luff up and shoot into the little club basin; dropping the kedge over the stern, snubbing her as we entered, and so, much to the mystification of the dear old secretary, avoiding any smash up.

In 1903, three of us, with a Jap in the galley, took her to the Chesapeake, and one morning in a fresh breeze pried her open near the foot of the foremast, so that we had to put into Betterton and get a bucket brigade from shore to keep her afloat until a carpenter found where big, long whiskers of oakum were waving from a seam. The whiskers were driven back and a bit of plank nailed over them, and we went on our way to Annapolis. The episode of the leak was rather comical; imagine our surprise when one of us went below and found the Jap bailing out the galley -- taking the flood as a matter of course and gallantly pouring water from the floor into the galley sink -- and not a word to us on deck. He was a gamy fellow, an awfully good cook, and very popular on account of his good humor, when a party afterward spent Commencement week with us on board at Annapolis.

I later loaned and then sold Azalea to Keen (strange to say we are still friends), and he sailed her to Longport on the Jersey coast and, mirabile dictu back again. Azalea still floats and is likely to for a long while, for there is an awful lot of wood in her, so much, indeed, that I think she should be bought and sold at cord rates. But it is not fair to make fun of the good old vessel; her binnacle standing in my hall reminds me of many happy days on her, and with proper care she should be good for many more to some happy owner. 



© 2000 Craig O'Donnell, editor & general factotum.
May not be reproduced without my permission. Go scan your own damn article.

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