Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Going Into Sodus, Where The Yachts Race Away: Schooner Days CCCCVII (407a)
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 29 Jul 1939
Full Text
Going Into Sodus, Where The Yachts Race Away
Schooner Days CCCCVII (407a)

By C. H. J. Snider

WERE you ever into Sodus, where the yachts all started for the Freeman Cup race to Hamilton this week?

Sodus must have been a Seneca word, meaning shore-pond or something like that. The name occurs frequently in territory once held by the Senecas and Mohawks on the south shore of Lake Ontario. There is Little Sodus. This is often confused with Fairhaven, as a place name, but Fairhaven and Stirling are villages on the shores of Little Sodus Bay, a large inlet running back two miles and cut off from the lake by a sandbar pierced by natural cuts and a dredged channel. Just west of it is Blind Sodus, a smaller lakelet, but quite extensive, separated from Lake Ontario by a large and permanent beach. Ten miles farther west is Great Sodus Bay, a larger body of water with the same characteristic— a sandbar cutting it off from the lake. Then there are Sodus Creek and Sodus Point and so on.

The actual Sodus of to-day is a small town in New York State, three miles inland from the lake and still farther from the shore of Great Sodus Bay. Other little towns inland are Sodus Centre and South Sodus.

What sailors mean by Sodus, Big Sodus, or Great Sodus, as a port or harbor, is properly Sodus Point. That is the postoffice name for a little village laid out as Troupville in 1810, on the high ridge overlooking the lake where Sodus Creek purled into Ontario past Sand Point or Long Point, a narrow-necked peninsula helping to enclose Great Sodus Bay.

Here is a Prince Edward County sailor's description of the place as he first saw it:

"My first trip with Capt. Wm. Wakely in the Wave Crest we loaded coal in Oswego for Toronto and got up the lake almost as far as Charlotte, when it came down on us heavy from the westward, with squalls of wind and snow, and we had to reef and run back. It was late in the fall and we were icing up so fast the vessel was becoming unmanageable. It was my trick at the wheel from ten to twelve, and Capt. Wakely told me we would have to go into Sodus, and asked if I had ever been there. I said no, but I could take the Wave Crest anywhere he told me to, for I was young, and ambitious of being thought a good wheelsman. He said, 'All right. Mind you, you'll be the first man overboard if you make any miscues.' The Wave Crest was a smart little schooner, but wet as a raft on the quarters because of her low round stern, and if I got her into the breakers I would likely be the first washed away.

"A little after eleven we sighted the red light on the pierhead, and, flying under reefed sails, hauled up for it. With the alteration of the course the Wave Crest filled the gangways between the cabin and the bulwarks every time a sea broke, and they were breaking continually.

'"Just mind what I say, and you'll bring her through, son, ' said Capt. Wakely. 'There'll be such a slather of water going over the broken pier and then over our bulwarks as we go in that you won't hear me, but you listen good to the man who passes the word!'

"I was nervous about making a mistake, but I took courage from his steadiness. He went forward to the knightheads, a hundred feet from me, and put one man in the fore-rigging and another in the main. The mate and the other man in the crew were busy on the anchors. The captain would call 'Port' or 'Starboard', the man in the fore-rigging would shout 'Port' or 'Starboard', the man in the main rigging would repeat it, and I would have to answer.

"The only bawling out I ever got from Capt. Wakely was the first — and only — time I failed to hail back. I heard him call, and the first man, and the second, and thought that was enough. But he taught me better in a hurry.

"We shot past the red light, and then it was pandemonium. The whole lake was pouring over the broken pier like Niagara Falls running up hill. I could see nothing of either pier, just a slather of white shapes in the blackness of the night, jumping high over our bulwarks, and through the hullaballoo confused shouts from forward resolving into clear directions from the main shrouds—'Hard a-port' — 'Steady-as-she-goes!' — 'Starboard!' — 'Hard a-starboard!' — and so on. It was in the old days of cross-orders, when you were told to port your helm when her head was to go to starboard, and 'up' was towards the sails and 'down' was away from them. But for the white avalanches of waves and the snow mixed with spray it was as dark all around as the Wave-Crest's own sides—she was black then, with a lead-color bottom—and the only light we saw was the red one on the pier end.

"In the midst of the din came a quick succession of 'starboards' and 'ports' and the roar died down somewhat, but we had so much water swashing on deck that it was still hard to hear.

"It was impossible to see where we were going, but I knew from the orders I was making a sort of S course. As it got quieter I got the order 'Hard down your wheel!' and the sails flogged the ice and snow out of themselves as she came up into the wind. Then I heard a final 'Starboard your helm!' 'Let go!' and the starboard anchor dragged out fifteen fathoms of chain with a roar, and I was called forward to overhaul the chain cable for the port anchor, and get it off the billboard. My trick was over. We stowed the sails as well as we could and all went down to dry ourselves around the red-hot forecastle stove."

"A steamy place that forecastle was, but we were so glad to get dry or even warm none of us thought of going back to the cabin for the midnight lunch. We turned into our bunks all standing, mighty glad of a night in the straw.

"Next morning when I poked my head out of the forescuttle there was six inches of snow on top of the frozen ice on our deck and hatches, and our rigging was white with it. There was no wind, and even the ratlines each carried its white bar of snow, steps in crystal ladders, The sun was rising—and we were in a land-locked lake, full of islands, like frosted Christmas cakes, it seemed to me. Some of the islands were only points and headlands of a deeply cut natural harbor almost as big as Burlington Bay, but with the sun glittering on the snow it was a fairyland come true. We could see nothing of Lake Ontario or the piers through which we had come like Jason passing the clashing rocks. We were in another world."

Such is one picture of Sodus, fifty years ago. If there were inner lights or harbor buoys then, Capt. Wakely had to find them by memory, judgment or instinct, for in the snow and the night they were invisible.

And at that time there was also decayed piling to avoid after you got into the harbor.

Great pilots, those lake captains! Some of them — Will Wakely among them — could take a vessel into port with their eyes shut, by the sounds she made passing through the water at remembered points.

Yachtsmen foregathering in Sodus for the Freeman found black and red stake buoys marking the entrance well out in the lake; then the red pierhead light, two fine long concrete piers, with the axis of the channel running cater-corners; a back range from the pierhead and another range at the inner end to shoot them out clear of the sandy tree-covered peninsula of Long Point; or Sand Point, a waste which has become a summer resort like Toronto Island; more black and red channel buoys to take them around it, and to the yacht club, or on along up to the coal trestle and malthouse which are the commercial interest of the harbor. A big freighter with her own deck-loader swung aside was filling her hatches with coal from the chutes, and a pair of tugs had brought in an armada of contractors' plant when the yachtsmen arrived.

A charming place, with islands with old Scotch names — Islay among them — and headlands, tree-embowered and verdant, quite landlocked, the only glimpse of the lake once they were inside being over a low bar which may be awash at times.

A charming place, full of inner bays with enough deep water for a cruise for the whole afternoon.

And charming people. For example: Three yachtsmen stopped on the sidewalk to admire a beautiful cherry tree, black with fruit.

"Wouldn't you like some?" called a lady from the cool of a porch. "If you'll wait a moment I'll bring you the stepladder and you can pick what you want."

She was better than her word, for she reappeared from the garage with a stepladder on one arm and three baskets on the other. "Perhaps," said she, "you would like to take some cherries to those you left on board." The cherries were the finest English ox-hearts, sweet as honey and plump as the little Dionnes.

Next week, if your patience holds out, you may hear more of Sodus and its shipping.



Snider, C. H. J.
Media Type
Item Type
The second instalment of Schooner Days numbered 407 (a week after the first)
Date of Publication
29 Jul 1939
Personal Name(s)
Wakely, William
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • New York, United States
    Latitude: 43.25729 Longitude: -76.96663
Ron Beaupre
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
WWW address
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Going Into Sodus, Where The Yachts Race Away: Schooner Days CCCCVII (407a)