Maritime History of the Great Lakes
The TWO BROTHERS and the ARIADNE: Schooner Days CLXXVIII (178)
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 2 Mar 1935
Full Text
Schooner Days CLXXVIII (178)


ALTHOUGH it occurred forty-eight years ago last fall, the loss of the Toronto schooner Ariadne on Stony Point, near the foot of Lake Ontario, recently recounted in Schooner Days, has induced a procession of interesting reminiscences. Among these, Marsh Spafford's.

Marsh was in the Two Brothers the fall the Ariadne was lost. The Two Brothers, a little smaller than the Ariadne, was built at the same place, Port Burwell, on Lake Erie, and afterwards bought on Lake Ontario. At one time she had a square foretopsail, with Batwings above it. She was sharper than the Ariadne, and she had a clipper bow. In 1886 she was owned by Wright Brothers, in Port Hope, and sailed by Captain Nathan McCrimmon, of Point Traverse. His son, Will McCrimmon, was mate, and Mrs. Will was cook. The "crowd forward" consisted of Marsh Spafford, Stephen Van Dusen, and "Let," or Lester, McCrimmon, who was afterwards drowned off the schooner Fleetwing, at Four Mile Point.

The Two Brothers left Oswego in mid-November in a large fleet that had been held windbound for days. She was bound for Consecon in Prince Edward, to load barley. Some of the others were bound up the lake and some for the Bay of Quinte, all in haste to get in one more trip at least before the freeze-up. She was a fast little thing, and was at Weller's Bay in Prince Edward County shortly after dark that night, and anchored there to wait for daylight. Next morning the southerly wind had shifted to the westward, and blew hard. Under a piece of the mainsail and the staysail the Two Brothers scampered through the crooked passage of the Bald Head and on down Consecon Bay to a small crib, about 20 feet wide, built out into the bay about 200 feet, where she had to load. It was a ticklish landing, with the wind blowing hard on to the little dock, but Capt. McCrimmon knew his vessel and the Two Brothers handled well, and right after dinner loading commenced.

And that was a hard job for the crew. The schooner had to be held to this small crib, with a westerly gale blowing, for three days and three nights, while 9,000 bushels of barley were trundled out to her in little cars holding about a hundred bushels each. The crew had to trim the grain in the hold, and in between times carried fence posts from a nearby farm to make fenders, for the Two Brothers was tearing her whiskers out ramping on this dock in the five-mile sweep of the wind across Consecon Bay.

At last she was loaded, and the wind lulled and came so that the sleepless crew had to get her out while the going was good. They were misinformed about the depth of water and stuck on the mud of Bald Head for four hours, heaving through with a line run out to a kedge ahead. The Brothers loaded to nine feet. The wind was foul for Oswego, so when they got out of Weller's Bay they ran across to Presqu'isle to Brighton Bay, in hopes of a night's sleep at last.

Barely had they stowed the sails after anchoring when Mate McCrimmon, who was hanging out the anchor light shouted "Show the torch, quick!" and the red and green sidelights of a fore-and-after boiling down the bay shone through the dusk. Marsh Spafford jumped to the forescuttle, where the torch — oakum on an iron rod, well soaked in coal oil—was kept for just such emergencies, but before he got a match struck the mate called "Get out of that! She's going to come into us."

"Come aft, boys, come aft, out of the way of falling spars!" roared the captain, and just then the Annie Falconer thundered by, her sails flogging, as she bore off to avoid the anchored vessel. She all but went clear. The end of her mainboom fouled The Brothers' jibboom as she passed, and snapped it short at the flying jib stay, leaving the jibtopsail and most of the headgear dragging in the water.

It was late before the worst of the mess was dragged inboard and straightened away, but the boys had "a long night in the straw" at last, for the wind remained ahead and the mate did not turn them to very early. They spent the day repairing damages, and at four o'clock next morning, came a pounding on the scuttle and the call "All hands turn out and heave up!"

Bitter work it was hoisting the mainsail and foresail, heaving the windlass round and catheading the anchors in the freezing dark, with a fresh north wind blowing black and cold, but by daylight they had the staysail and flying jib set and she was leaving Presqu'isle light, at the entrance to the bay, on her quarter. Hugging the shore for smooth water, Capt. McCrimmon edged between Nicholson's Island and the Prince Edward mainland, but after they got past the Scotch Bonnet it blew fresher still and the sea made up, and they had to reef her—a single reef all round. The water was slapping over and freezing where it fell, and when the boys sat down to breakfast after the job was done, Let McCrimmon's old ulster snapped under him, and he got up wearing a pea-jacket.

When the Brothers drew clear of the land, off Point Petre, the wind hauled north-east. The lake was steaming like a kettle coming to the boil, from the disparity of the temperatures of the unfrozen water and the zero air. It was impossible to see a length ahead.

"Keep a good course, Marsh," said Capt. McCrimmon quietly when the wheel was relieved, and Marsh Spafford knew that upon doing so depended the lives of all on board, for the vessel had to hit Oswego piers on the dot or she was lost. This was the day that the Ariadne, after lying under shelter for some time, ran back to South Bay Point when she encountered the vapor and the cold in the lake. When she left the following morning, she left the north shore behind her forever.

The Brothers went rolling along, splashing the seas over herself and icing up quickly in the bitter breath of the north-east wind. All hands were on deck all the time, keeping a lookout and plying the salt to keep the gear from freezing under a solid mass of ice. It was so cold that the two men who were kept aloft, above the vapor, had to be relieved every few minutes. They would have fallen from the crosstrees. Poor Mrs. McCrimmon was seasick, and there was no dinner. No one could be spared from the deck long enough to cook a meal.

The captain allowed the Brothers until four o'clock to make Oswego. By three all the salt in the two barrels had been used up and she began to look like a berg forward. There was so much ice on her that she was down by the head, rooting like a pig. and steering wildly.

Marsh Spafford was in the fore crosstrees, relieving Steve Van Dusen, who was preparing to go down the main rigging, when Steve saw something dark to leeward and called to Marsh, and the latter made it out to be smoke. They called to the captain and the schooner was kept off until she was heading for it.

"Stay up as long as you can stand it and tell us what you see," shouted Capt. McCrimmon, and after ten minutes of icy agony Marsh made out a steamer close aboard, and cried, "Keep her up!" The rolling schooner passed within a hundred feet of the steamer, but even so, they could not make her out. But the compass told them she was steering north, and they knew by that course she was coming from Oswego, so they let the Brothers swing off into her wake and go due south.

No sign or sound of land, and the captain was getting worried. He tried sounding, almost impossible with the schooner going as she was, but could get no bottom. He was thinking of letting her go up the lake, before the wind, when dead ahead they heard a bell. Nothing could be seen, but they knew it must be the bell on the west pier at Oswego. Steering by the sound they ran in, seeing nothing until they had the pier on one side of them and an anxious tug snorting on the other. Then they got the mainsail in, and the tug had to hold her in the basin of the harbor while they pounded the sheets and halliards clear of the accumulated ice. It took a long while, but at last the tug got her under the elevator.

"We were sure glad to make fast and get our supper, which the cook had ready for us," says Marsh Spafford, "and we thanked God, who seems to look after sailors, for bringing us in port safely."

It did not take long to elevate the nine thousand bushels of barley, and next day the Brothers loaded a hundred ton jag of coal for Port Hope, just good ballast for the return trip, the intention being to go home and lay up. The wind had come south and it was quite mild again.

They hauled to the end of the trestle when the coal was under hatches, hoisted the mainsail and foresail, and, with the tug alongside, lay waiting for Capt. McCrimmon to come aboard and give the order "Cast off!" He had gone uptown, after dinner, to pay his bills and get his clearance. As he was coming down the trestle at 2 o'clock the sky darkened to the westward, and there came a sudden thick squall of snow.

"Lower away your foresail! Lower away your mainsail!" was his order, instead of "Single up your lines and let her go!" But he told the tug to wait, and as soon as the canvas was stowed he had the schooner shifted around the east side into Merrick's slip. And there she stayed till next spring.

When the tug had berthed the with the wind gone round to the westward and spits of snow coming.

"The Old Man knew a thing or two when he didn't go out," they agreed.

Just then a rocket shot up from the lifesaving station across the river.

Let McCrimmon and Marsh Spafford went over to see what was wrong.

Capt. Blackburn, of the life-saving station, said, "There's a schooner out there showing a torch. We saw her lights once, and we're firing rockets to help her pick up the place."

"Why," said Let, "that'd be the Ariadne, that was following the Wave Crest."

As he spoke the lookout man sang out, "There she is again!" and they all saw her lights for some minutes. The station shot more rockets and the tugs lying snug in the harbor blew their whistles. If they had only saved their steam and gone out and put a towline on her!

The poor Ariadne, iced up, waterlogged, with both pumps frozen, steering badly, fell to leeward of the harbor entrance, and had to stand out into the lake for another try. When she again appeared, about eight o'clock, the rockets soared and the whistles blew, but she was still to leew'ard. She got in so close her crew could see the breakwater, but when they tried to tack she missed stays and blew her flying-jib out. They only got her turned around by wearing her off before the wind, by which she lost a lot more ground and fell further to leeward. She gave up the struggle and started to run down the lake; jibed, and broke her mainboom and fore gaff and so lost her sails; and drove on to the reef of Stony Point, where she drowned her captain and mate— Hughie McKay and his father, Sutherland McKay—and half her crew, and pounded to pieces.

The crew of the Brothers heard of the wreck next day, while they were stripping their own vessel. Capt. McCrimmon had decided to leave her there where she lay all winter. That night he got a passage for all hands home in the steam barge Saxon, and next morning they were helping saw the ice to let her into Black Creek in old Prince Edward.

Marsh Spafford's reminiscence of this last trip of the season for the Two Brothers appeared recently in the Picton Times, well told.


FLEET AT THE OLD QUEEN'S WHARF in timber rafting times fifty years ago. The lost Ariadne is the black schooner on the extreme right.

Snider, C. H. J.
Media Type
Item Type
Date of Publication
2 Mar 1935
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 44.00012 Longitude: -77.51618
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.916944 Longitude: -77.520555
  • New York, United States
    Latitude: 43.45535 Longitude: -76.5105
  • New York, United States
    Latitude: 43.8509 Longitude: -76.2716
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 44.009166 Longitude: -77.588888
Richard Palmer
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
WWW address
Powered by / Alimenté par VITA Toolkit

My favourites lets you save items you like, tag them and group them into collections for your own personal use. Viewing "My favourites" will open in a new tab. Login here or start a My favourites account.


The TWO BROTHERS and the ARIADNE: Schooner Days CLXXVIII (178)