Slow and Sluggish But "Good News" withal
Schooner Days XCIX (99)
Like many another stonehooker, the Good News was built for better things. When her keel was laid by the brothers Ganley, her builders announced that the finished product of their efforts was to bear the name Michigander. A day or so after the keel-laying the sovereign people of the United States decided that they had had more than enough of Grover Cleveland and his works, and chose William McKinley. to preside over the destinies of the nation. The news of Republican ascendancy was considered good by the keel layers and they expressed their approval by re-naming their ship.
She was built at Sand Beach, Michigan, before the port became a summer resort and changed its name to Harbor Beach. Her keel was of maple. Her stem was of good white oak and hewed out of the stem of a larger vessel that had been wrecked near Sand Beach. Her keelston was rock elm and her frames and planking were elm and tamerack and Norway pine.
She was scow built, on the popular V-bow model of the muskrat fleets of St. Clair; differing from the general run of scows in that her dead rise was planned on a scale of one and one-half inches to a foot.
It was intended and hoped that the "Good News" should return quick and extensive profits to the Ganley brothers, George and David. Their program of operations included carrying jags of coal to the little towns and villages scattered along the Thumb shores of Lake Huron and Saginaw Bay, and a pick-up trade in railroad ties, shingles, lumber, trap-net stakes and stave bolts, from places that were inaccessible alike for larger vessels and the various branches and spur lines of the Flint and Pere Marquette Railway system.
The Ganleys planned trips to the north shore of Lake Superior where great quantities of amethyst spar and agate fragments were said to be lying waiting for someone to come and gather them up. There was to have been a big job of salvaging copper ingots in Bachawana Bay, an expedition of otter fur poaching to Isle Royal and an extensive campaign of general freebooting along Superior's rocky shores. The Good News was built to withstand the rigors and viscissitudes of such faring.
The Ganleys started for Lake Superior but never arrived. They cleared Sand Beach with a fair wind up the lake and were abreast of Point aux Barques that night when the wind headed them off. The Good News stood across Lake Huron, close hauled on her port tack, and fetched a landfall a few miles north of Goderich. To even the most dull-witted of mariners it was obvious that after sailing 60 miles she had fetched to loo'ard of the parallel of her starting point. The adventuring Ganleys put her around on her starboard tack and headed her back across the lake. They picked up the Michigan shore about 20 miles north of Sand Beach. The Good News had demonstrated that she was a minus quantity at windward work.
She never fared closer to Lake Superior than she had been on that disheartening voyage. She carried few cargoes of coal and fewer of lumber and she made no profit at all. A Finn persuaded the Ganleys to let him try his luck with her and induced a darky to sail with him. They engaged in carrying loads of bricks on St. Clair River and made enough money to keep themselves reasonably well fed and clad—in overalls—and tobaccoed and beered.
Tiring eventually of their brick carrying the Finn and the darky sailed the Good News back to Sand Beach to return her to her owners. The Ganley brothers had migrated to the Pacific Coast and an order of court had allotted the Good News to their principal creditor. Neither the Finn, the darky nor the creditor appears to have been greatly exer
cised about it.
The Good News was moored after a fashion in Sand Beach Harbor and left to shift for herself. She did not make much of a job of it, but during the following winter the harbor ice did. The man who saved her from destruction in the ice rewarded himself by taking arbitrary possession of her and using her at odd times during the ensuing summer season.
By ways that were devious and not particularly reliable, word of the existence of the Good News reached Toronto. Albert Maud journeyed from Toronto to Sand Beach to negotiate purchase. He settled all claims against the hooker for ninety dollars and paid twenty-five more to have her transferred to Canadian registry.
A friendly skipper of a little coastwise package freighter towed her to Port Huron and forthwith she became the Good News of Sarnia.
Her gear was mostly tag ends and tatters. A re-conditioned raffee was serving as a mains'l. A cut down mizzen sail of number three canvas,
discarded from some larger vessel, was in temporary use as a fores'l. Albert cut and bolt-roped a tarpaulin cover and bent it on where a forestays'l was intended to go; and under this improvised rig the Good News cleared from Sarnia, bound for Toronto and stone-hooking.
It took three days to sail down river from Sarnia to Detroit and when the Good News came close to a dock at the City of The Straits the crew of one man whom Albert had hired at Port Huron, leaped ashore and was seen no more.
Various thlngs happened during the next two weeks including several contacts with Detroit River shoals, a painful period of wind-bound inertia at Amherstburg, the hiring of a half-witted youth at Colchester, and days of dreary drifting on Lake Erie.
In the fullness of time the Good News allowed Albert to nurse her into Port Burwell. There the half-witted youth revealed the confidential information of a cherished ambition to become a driver of mules on the Erie canal.
"They keep the mules in a big barn in Buffalo," he explained to Albert. "Every time a canal boat wants to go anywhere, they hook a mule onto it and give a feller a job drivin' it. It's a fine job." Then he asked, "Is it as far from here to Buffalo as it is from Colchester here?"
"A little further," Albert guessed.
"Gosh!" the nitwit exclaimed, "them mules'll all be gone out with canal boats before I get there on this here boat. I'm gonna walk."
Again deserted in his hour of need, Albert sent a telegram to his wife, urging her to hire a sailor in Toronto and despatch him to Port Burwell. Mrs. Maud consulted Andy Tyman and Andy loaned Irish Paddy sufficient money for his railway fare to Port Burwell. In ten days Albert and paddy coaxed the Good News from Port Burwell to Port Colborne land through the Welland Canal. In half a day and a night they sailed her to Toronto.
Two boys who sailed the old sloop White Wings were the first of Toronto's mariners to sight the Good News as she blundered in through the Eastern Channel at dawn. Billie McCully of Port Credit was next.
The boys hailed, "Ahoy, Good News." Billie hailed, "Is that a missionary boat?"
Irish Paddy's bull voice shattered the morning quiet. "Naw, this is the earl-of-hell's gravy boat, and the fool-killer's holdin' the handle. You better hide under somethin'."
Thus the Good News arrived. She made little impression in the stone-hooking trade that first season. Albert Maud knew none of the tricks or fine points of operation, and the stone hookers did all in their power to prevent his learning. He built a scow and hired Kidney Johnston to help him and puttered around the lake shore for a month or so without accomplishing much.
Otherwise then running free in a good breeze the Good News was as helpless as a drift log. She had too much beam and too much freeboard for her length and draught, and away too little centre board, and beside these faults of design she spread only a third of the canvas that she ought to have had.
Albert rustled a profitable job along shore and laid up the Good News for the season. "I'll get to work on her next spring and make something out of her," he promised. He was not believed, and stone-hooking wiseacres nodded and snickered.
Albert was a resourceful man and withal a handier and better sailor than most of the men of the stone fleet. He hauled out the Good News at the foot of Parliament street and practically rebuilt her; making her longer, providing her with adequate centreboard and box and complete refitting her gear. When he launched her in the spring she had double the burden capacity that she had had when she was hauled out, a complete outfit of gear and a spread of seven pieces of used but properly fitted canvas.
She was still slothful in all her movements and did not, nor ever would steer well, but windward work was no longer beyond her capacity and the amount of her leeway as compared with her headway was enormously reduced.
She made money for Albert Maud and was the love and pride of his life.
Late in the afternoon of a September day when the laden stone fleet, Toronto bound, was abreast of Fallingbrook, the wind struck down fresh from the sou'west. The Good News was plodding along in her usual position astern of the next slowest of the fleet. The Eastern Channel piers were easily in sight and it was a run of 15 miles back to Frenchman's Bay, but the hookers decided to run. They took in their gaff tops'ls, started their sheets and turned their tails to it. All but the Good News. Albert took in his gaff tops'ls and hung on close hauled.
The Good News slammed her blunt and ugly snout into it, taking considerable water aboard, but steadily crawling to windward. When the blow freshened to half a gale and hove her lee covering board in, Albert shook her up and double reefed her and poked her at it again. She had drifted more than a mile to Loo'ard while they were reefing her, and yawl-rigged yacht coming up the lake had worked to windward of her.
"That yawl's carryin' too much muslin right now, and it's certainly as blazes goin' to blow harder." Albert remarked to French Mike, who was sailing with him:
"She's lak mos' men when he's get close to port. She's hate like hell to shake up an' reef when she's so near in," Mike averred. "But I'm tell the cork-line worl' those guys eider reef right away or them mas' go out of her. That win' she's comin' down screamin' hot."
The half gale of wind romped up to full gale strength in the interval that the yawl took to come in stays, and as she payed off she was hove on her beam ends. Her helmsman tried to luff her. She started to right herself in a momentary lull. Then the full force of the gale struck her and took her mainm'st out like a snapped pipe stem.
The spar tore up deck planking as it carried away and stove covering board and sheer strake as it fell. Tons of lake water poured aboard the wreck. She was filling, wallowing broadside to the run of seas.
"I guess we gotta pick them fellas up." Albert Maud remarked to French Mike. "Gimme a nip of yer chewin' tobaccer. Mine's run out."
Slow, cumbersome, unwieldy Good News to the rescue!
She plodded doggedly to windward. Six points off was as close as she could possibly sail. She sagged off discouragingly to loo'ard. Her helm was sluggish. She was slow in stays and slow to pick up her way when she payed off. She was taking so much water over her unlovely bow that it washed aft into the alleys.
And Albert kept her at it.
"I guess," he addressed French Mike, "if that yacht hasn't too much ballast in her she'll float long enough for us to work up to her."
Mike gave the idea due consideration before he answered. "I guess if she stop floatin' before we get there we might so well not go at all."
They "got there" and the yawl was still afloat, with her frightened, half-drowned complement calling piteously for help. The smartest sailor in the world might well have hesitated to attempt to manoeuvre the clumsy, wallowing Good News within heaving-line range of the wreck. Albert knew that he was far from being the smartest sailor in the world. He also knew all about the Good News and her shortcomings and foibles, and saw no reason to hesitate. For a quarter of an hour he toyed with destruction, and hauled the last man aboard his awkward craft a minute or so after seas started rolling over the place where the yawl had been.
"I guess if we'd took any longer to get here we'd 'a' been too late to do any good," he remarked to no one in particular. "Gimme a nip of your chewin' tobaccer, Mike. Mine's run out."