The Hickory Jibboom
Schooner Days XVIII (18)
Magistrate J. J. O'Connor reports an "inquest" in the long vanished International Hotel.—The Magdala's run from Port Hope, which broke all records and a barley bin.
I had some lively times on this Magdala, not the least of which was when we towed out of Port Hope, after discharging a cargo of coal, bound for Whitby. It was blowing a living gale from the eastward with a heavy sea. When the tug let go we set the forestaysail and a squatted foresail, making the run of 36 miles in 2 hours and twenty minutes. We entered the Whitby piers at a terrific pace. In lowering the foresail, it jammed—bless those heavy man-killing halliard blocks—and would not come down.
We let go both anchors. They fouled.
With the piece of the foresail on her and two anchors tumbling over one another on the bottom instead of taking hold, she would neither steer nor stop.
Her long jibboom, sticking out ahead of her like a lance in rest, was a beautiful tapering spar of hickory. According to forecastle lore at the time this was "agin' the law," although I have never been able to find anything about it in the statute books. The idea was. I suppose, that such a stout stick was a deadly weapon in collision, where a spruce or pine spar would snap off easily. The Magdala's nosepole certainly made a wicked gash; for, as we swung slowly to the wind she poked it into the side of the Watson elevator—since demolished—and ripped open a bin of barley. The gushing grain made a splash of dull yellow in the settling dusk. Then, stopped by this solidity, the force of the wind at length caught us and caused us to drift back from the wharf, until the anchors held her in the harbor.
When things were snugged down for the night the skipper asked me to take the boat, go ashore and wander around the old International Hotel, which then flourished in Port Whitby, and note the comments on our entry.
In those days the International Hotel in Port Whitby was a sort of Royal York, St. Lawrence Market, Albany Club, Board of Trade and Union Station rolled into one very compact ball. Port Whitby is now about as dead as Mount Pleasant, so far as shipping goes, but at this time it had a big sailing vessel trade in grain and lumber and steamers called regularly.
Travellers drove to Port Whitby and put up at the International to await the boat for Kingston and Montreal or Toronto and Hamilton or crossing the lake, to Oswego and Ogdensburg. Farmers stayed there when they came in with their oats and wheat and barley or to buy their winters's coal which the vessels brought in.
The whole country used to be supplied by vessel, and not only bulk cargoes, like salt and plaster, but groceries, furniture, hardware and drygoods were unloaded on those long since deserted wharves. The International Hotel was the scene of many a deal and dicker, from the hiring of foremast hands to the sale or a season's crop or a winter's lumbering.
The bar glowed warmly against the night and the sobbing east wind as I passed its windows and lounged in through its ever-creaking door. It was thick inside with the smell of pine tar and coal oil lamps; pungent with spilled beer, cigars, whiskey and the reek of spittoons. Blue, of course, with tobacco smoke.
City fellows were there, in wide-checked suits and low crowned "christy-stiffs", buying barley or selling horse rakes. The two red-nosed hostlers had come in from the big driving shed with an "I-don't-mlnd-if-I-do" ready to drop from their arid mouths. Swanking farmers in long boots with copper toes and red or blue tops and broad brimmed felt 'knockabouts", blue or black, with the crowns ringed instead of creased, were elbowing sailors in fur caps with ear-flaps or dinted derbies. A couple of side-boarded men in stove-pipes, and clothes more solemnly black than any undertaker dares put on nowadays, were store keepers. They were outward bound on a buying tour to Oswego.
Everybody wore black when dressed up then. I remember the first Sunday the Annie Minnes, which Capt. McAllan had just bought, passed Whitby. She tacked in abreast of the lighthouse, hoisted all her colors, burgee, pilot Jack, ensign and fly, and then came grandly around and stood up the lake ablaze with bunting. So were the other vessels of the McAllan fleet then "dressed" and lying in the harbor.
Capt. McAllan himself, jolly sailor, father of sailor sons, good citizen and pillar of the community, strode up and down the wharf as was his Sabbath wont, also "dressed". But oh so differently from his glorious ships! In funeral black from top to toe. Not that he was gloomy. Not at all. He was respectable.
Upstairs, while christy-stiff and knockabout and stove-pipe and ear-flap hob-nobbed down below, a harmonium assisted lady guests to assert that.
"Of all the things that I love best
And fill me with delight,
It is to take a ramble
Upon a starry night."
I backed up against the wainscotting to listen to the "inquest". It was as I expected, in full swing. But like some other inquests, its evidence left much to be desired and its verdict more. It ran something like this:
"Thet there barley was wuth a good fifty dollars, cash money."
"Yes, an' how much of it was lost? I'm tellin' ye not more'n two bushels was spiled after they'd run it back through the fannln' mill."
"Well who's to pay fer the fannln'? AND the two bushels thet was lost?'
"Tre-'n'tare. Never see that in yer bill?"
"What I says is that any farmer c'd stop a stone-boat handier than thet there feller did thet there schooner."
"The feller that was wheelin' her oughta been wheelin' a wheel bar.'" "She must've had a hick'ry jibboom. He give the elevator sich a [ ] Ain't that agin' the law? It [ ] be."
[ ] it ain't agin' the law in Quebeck. Thet's where she wuz built.
"If her jibboom hadn't-a stopped her she might-a knocked the hull elevator over. Good thing if it WUZ hick'ry."
Minds me o' the time the old British Lion speared the little lighthouse on the end of the pier at Gravelly Bay and went sailin' on with it on the end of her horn and the light still burnln'."
"And her Old Man bust his lungs yellin' 'Hard up, hard up, the helium! No! Hard down, hard down the hellum! Never mind what the hellum, but git her past that darn light somehow!' Yeh, I mind thet well!"
"Nothn' but two steamboats backin' on her could-a stopped thet Magdala when she rounded up and the anchors fouled. It wuz a nax dent, a pewure nax dent."
"Betcha they wuz some langwidge."
"Well, what I says --- "
I listened till the ladies upstairs had gone on the seventeenth mile of their starry-nlghted ramble but really got no nearer to a conclusion for Capt. Farewell.
I have always found that it is easier to handle a vessel when on the wharf than when on the quarter deck or bridge, with all the responsibility. Capt. Farewell, his mate or his crew were in no way to blame for the happening. It was one of those unfortunate things that come as part of the day's work in the life of lake sailor. Responsible opinion evidently realized that. There was no action for damages and the whole incident, like the spilled barley itself, went out into the night of things forgotten.