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R. Barrie & G. Barrie



The anchor heaves, the ship swings free,
The sails swell full. To sea, to sea!
     --Thos. Lovell Beddoes.

OUR Summer vacations "home," to the west coast of Scotland, where the ancestral families had summer cottages at Rothsay, on Bute, and at Millport, on the Cumbrae, gave us our first taste of sailing. Recollections of boating there and of the little stone cottage at Millport where the millstream empties into the bay; of my grandfather, enthusiastic fisherman, sitting by the fire in his highbacked settee-like chair after the happy parties came home from "the" fishing in the long summer twilights; of a beat up the Kyles of Bute and an enormous lunch of ham and eggs at Tinabruach; of a morning's fishing off the Little Cumbrae with scones and milk afterwards at the farm near the lighthouse; are treasures of memory.

There are few places in the world where sailing is more enjoyable and varied than on the Firth of Clyde. Over there were sown the seeds of the vice of sailing that blossomed forth later in our summers in the village of Stony Creek, near New Haven, Connecticut, where we spent six long summer vacations sailing and fishing to our hearts' content. Here we owned our first boats: the Jumping Jennie, apple of our eyes, but leaky and crank, yet I did not then hesitate, as I would now, to go out seven miles in her to the reefs off Faulkner's Island to catch seabass and flounders. My Uncle Alec, of blessed memory, taught me to use an eight-foot boat rod, light line, and wooden Nottingham reel, and the sport was increased one hundred per cent over that of the natives' heavy hand line method.

This uncle, who had been a dandy in his youth, but on account of his lungs had had to go to sea; first, as supercargo and then as third officer, had seen a great deal of India and the East; so, when I knew him, the dandy blood was gone and only the vagabond wanderer sort flowed instead. He was an insatiable fisherman, and when he visited us we were out every day, often from before daybreak until late at night; sometimes we would come back from Faulkner's with as many as sixty good seabass for two rods. Can that be done today? When not fishing we sailed, and then he would play his violin or gossip by the hour about the sea, and ships, and the East, and Africa, for he had gone in one of the ships of the British Abyssinian expedition of 1867 to Annesley Bay, where they cooled their wine in icy slush made with a canister, chemicals, and a roll of canvas. His soul was steeped in the indescribable charm of the sea and in the mystery of the East: I better appreciated it all when I went there in 1887.

The passion for sailing increased. Irex, an eighteen-foot clinker-built boat of beautiful model and a witch in light airs, followed Jumping Jennie; but, alas, she could not be kept afloat after the second year I had her. So, in 1884, I got Iona, built by Niles Tooker, of Essex, on the Connecticut River. She was a big, ablebodied carvel-built boat, less than a year old, eighteen feet waterline and six feet beam. A boilerplate centerboard and a suit of sails with sprit topsail, shipped from Philadelphia, made Baldwin, the boat builder at Branford, open his eyes.

I almost lost myself; and grew quite conceited the day Genesta, going westward in the Sound in the race around Long Island, lost a man. There was a dirty southwester blowing when I came, singlehanded, out of Branford Creek, six miles to the westward, the Iona having been left there over night. After getting outside I would have put back if possible, but I had gone too far to leeward before discretion came to me, so there was nothing for it but to run. It was so thick that, without a compass, I made an error and almost ran into the Nigger Heads, a series of boulder-like rocks just awash, on which the sea was heavily breaking. I luffed and got knocked down and half swamped, but the little boat managed to claw clear, and I made the western entrance to the Thimbles standing in water almost to my knees. No other craft was under sail that day, and, as I ran in, one hand on tiller and other bailing, I passed close to the Viola, sloop, NYYC, at her mooring pitching bowsprit under, her owner, John Wayland, Esq., and his crew cheered me. The conceit became stronger the next day, when I heard from our neighbor General Frank Pargoud, that Wayland had said, "that young Barrie is a devil for sailing."

Stony Creek is the shore village at the Thimble Islands, the prettiest group of islands, outside of Maine, on the Atlantic Coast. In those days, when yachts ran in smaller sizes, plenty used to come in there, and the old Palinurus, coast survey service, laid there all one summer. Among the yachts, the largest was the old cup defender Madeline, whose owner, Mr. Dickerson, used to stop there Spring and Fall. The General spent many evenings on her; once he took me along with him. This gave me my first hours on a big yacht, and it may well be imagined that I enjoyed myself. It was a cool night, but there was a canvas windscreen across the deck at the mainmast, and as we sat in the moonlight, the family and I listened while Mr. Dickerson sang, alternately, comic yachting songs and tales of the Madeline. One detail I remember: on the famous race she put her jib-boom end, nineteen feet above the water, so far under as to almost wash away a couple of hands who were furling her jib topsail. As we came away the General hung alongside and lauded her, and claimed they could never build her like again, and exclaimed: "le moule est cassé! le moule est cassé!" and almost wept.

The Madeline was very fine, but she did not thrill me as did a little double-ended Block Island boat, Periwinkle, that a couple of New Yorkers brought in one Fall. As usual, when a stranger came into the islands, I rowed out and about, and, to my boyish joy, was invited on board by one of the happy owners. The little cabin was enchanting; there were shelves along the sides filled with books, pipes, fishing gear, mysterious jam jars, etc., etc., and a shippy yet homelike aroma filled the place. I gloated over it all as long as politeness would permit, and finally tore myself away resolved to have something like it.

Iona had a little cuddy forward that I tried to make look like the cabin of the Periwinkle, and my ambition was to go a cruise and sleep over night in her, but this was forbidden; so, as I grew more expert, I increased my day cruising radius by starting at early hours and coming home late. By this means we were able to make some pretty good runs; once going across the Sound to Horton's Point and back in twelve hours; a look at the chart will show that this is sixty land miles. We were not always so lucky as to speed, but we never had an accident. Later we were allowed to stay away over night, but we soon tired of it, as the cuddy was too small to stretch out in, and even summer nights are cold just before daybreak, and anchor chain and sails make a miserable bed. We managed to get into nooks in the Sound from New Haven to Saybrook, and in those days, when the shore was not so built up, found lots of out-of-the-way places. We kept the Iona for several years, constantly making changes in her, until finally, after bringing her on a car to Claymont on the Delaware, and pottering for several seasons about the river and creeks from the Lazaretto to New Castle, she ended as a bulb-fin-keel with rounded torpedo deck and a big balance lug. We had lots of fun in the old boat, but finally, when the Corinthian Yacht Club was formed in 1892, she became too small for us, and I looked about for something bigger. 




© 2000 Craig O'Donnell, editor & general factotum.
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