Maritime History of the Great Lakes
What Happened to the "Mary" 30 Years Ago: Schooner Days CCXXII (222)
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 11 Jan 1936
Full Text
What Happened to the "Mary" 30 Years Ago
Schooner Days CCXXII (222)


SO many have followed Mr. S. A. Clark's request for the story of the loss of the Mary, thirty years ago last December, that it seems, necessary to redeem the half-promise of last week and repeat what was written at the time. I know "Young Andy Beard' well, and his brother, and his father "Old Andy," a famous Vanderdecken, whose last exploit was the dismasting of the W. Y. Emery. Young Andy loved sailing for its own sake, aside from its being a livelihood. He was so fond of it that he kept his yawlboat rigged with a mainsail and jib and used to go sailing around the harbors in her for pleasure, when his vessel was in port. He always had a main-topmast staysail for the Mary, and; for the Snow Bird, which he sailed before her—sure sign of a smart captain on the lakes, where the maintopmast staysail was an extra bit of muslin.

Mr. H. M'Geachie, of St. Catharines, writes regarding the Mary:

"We certainly enjoy Schooner Days. Keep on with the good work. According to my dad, who was skipper of her for 13 years, the Mary was built in 1877 at McLean's sawmill in Thorold for John Conlin and George Garner, builder. [C.#74378. 2 masts, 84'x 20' 3" x 7', 87 gross tons] Captain George Garner sailed her for a number of years and then sold her to Capt. Frank McGlinn, of St. Catharines, who, in turn, sold her to Neil and James McGeachie of St. Catherines. My dad, Neil, was (as stated before) skipper for 13 years when he in turn sold her to Capt. Sherwood of Brighton. I think he only had her for one season, and sold her to Capt. Andy Baird of Napanee, who was skipper when she foundered."

What I wrote about the loss of the Mary was published in The Telegram on Christmas Eve, 1905, and while it is out of date in its reference to bars—can you imagine taking sailing sailors up to a beverage room?—it puts the facts about as veil as I know how. So here goes or the repeat:

Oh, the time to sail on the lake schooner is the last trip in the fall, when the water is cold and heavy, and the sea makes quick, and freezes is it bursts aboard, and the wind has the edge of an axe and the weight of a maul; when the big salt barrel under t'gallant forecastle is fresh filled with salt, to cut the ice from deck and gear; and weather-boards are lashed to the lanyards of the lower rigging, to keep the coils on the pin-racks from getting iced up; and the yellow gleam of new manila and double-ought duck shows among the sails and cordage, replacing the stuff worn old and thin with the season's work.

Then it is that the deep well of the forecastle fumes like a furnace with the continuous blast of its red-hot stove; and the galley, unless the cook is a termagant, achieves unwonted popularity with the watch on deck, on account of the grateful warmth of its cooking range; and even the "Old Man," chilled in the solitary grandeur of his wind-swept state-room, unbends a little and thaws out occasionally between watches, in the galley or forecastle as his dignity will permit.

The last trip in the fall may be short—a daylight run down, and a day to load, and a daylight run up; and that means money, for freights are often double; or the sulky old wind may blow his lungs out from the north-west, weeks on end, and the trip may last a month; and that means getting in the hole, for wages are higher in the fall, crews have to be kept up to full strength or over, and the wear and tear on gear is big; to say nothing of the chance of wiping off a season's profit by blowing out an outfit of sails or carrying away a set of spars.

And when she makes the dock with the last load the chances are the "Old Man" will take the boys up to the nearest bar and buy lemonade all around, with cigars for the fellows in the crowd who never touch it.

Young Andy Baird came aboard of us as soon as our lines were out, down in Fairhaven the last trip in the fall last year. He wore a shaggy fur cap that matched, unintentionally, his quick brown eyes, and a brown tarpaulin coat with a corduroy collar, and his overalls were stuffed into heavy leather sea-boots, showing red and raw on the wrinkles. No figure, perhaps, for a ball room, but a smart looking sailor man. His vessel, the Mary, was lying at the head of the coal trestle waiting for a slant.

"An' I hope," he says, "it comes tomorrow, for I'm twenty-one days out."

He had news to tell. The Annie Falconer was lost, off South Bay Point, and 'Shell" Sullivan had died of exposure after the crew reached Amherst Island in the yawl boat.

And of course he couldn't tell, land we couldn't tell, that just a year later the Mary would be seen scudding under bare poles past Oswego in a turmoil of waters that told the tugmen that nothing less then a liner could live; and then nothing more heard of her until a couple of weeks later, when her cabin-house and water-barrel would be seen washing about the lake.

Sailormen don't make the last trip in fall for their health, and neither did Andy Baird. To the boys for'ard the last trip in the fall means a bit of money to carry them over the winter, for wages, as said before, are good. To the "Old Man" aft if, as in Andy Baird's case, the captain is also the owner, it may mean enough money to atone for an otherwise meagre season, for the freight rate is high.

Young Andy Baird and his crew of three, with wives at home and winter coming on, took their chance; not, like gamblers, but heroes.

And it was cruel, cruel, cruel, the cat-like caress of fortune at the start. It was Friday, fatal Friday, when they slipped away from their home port, Napanee, down the river, down the reach, past Hay Bay and Bass Cove, out into South Bay through the Upper Gap, and then south, south, south, past Timber Island and the False Ducks and across the bounding billows of the great lake, with the wind flowing steady and strong and fair from the north-west, until the bluffs of Fairhaven and the long, deep harbors of the south shore received them. The storm signals, with the big "black drum and upside down cone, that Sunday, for the heavy gale from the eastward, did not worry, them, for they were lying snug at the head of the coal trestle, just as they did a year ago.

And when the gale blew out that night, and the wind drew to the westward again Monday morning, while two hundred and ten tons of coal thundered from the chutes into the little schooner's hatches, they rejoiced. It was a fair wind home, or at least as far as South Bay Point, this wasn't going to be any twenty-one day trip; they would be back perhaps, by Tuesday or Wednesday.

So out they towed at eleven o'clock Monday morning, with their coal under hatches, and their dinner on the galley fire.

Then it freshened and freshened and freshened. It would be just forty miles across to the lee of South Bay Point, and perhaps they tried to crack it to her for four or five hours and get that shelter, so much nearer home, and blew out every stitch she had in the process. Or perhaps the sails burst to tatters before they could get her shortened down.

Certain it is, when they saw her off Oswego, she was helpless. Lake schooners very, very seldom strip to bare poles if they have to wrestle a gale of wind, for the reason that, shorn of their wings, they are unmanageable.

Once the Mary, her deck within twelve inches or so of the water, got rolling in the trough, without the steadying influence of sails, the end came quick. The great combers of the lake, sweeping down three at a time, spilt over the bulwarks on both sides, flooding the reeling decks with tons of water that the scuppers could not disgorge. They might have freed her, perhaps, by knocking away the bulwarks, as they did in the Lizzie Metzner the other day, but the sea didn't give them the chance. Forecastle and cabin, the only buoyant spaces, fore and aft, were flooded before the pumps could be manned, and the two hundred odd tons of coal that filled the hold dragged the vessel down from under the feet of the crew of four -- and wives are weeping in Napanee.

Snider, C. H. J.
Item Type
Date of Publication
11 Jan 1936
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • New York, United States
    Latitude: 43.31646 Longitude: -76.70217
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 44.25012 Longitude: -76.94944
  • New York, United States
    Latitude: 43.45535 Longitude: -76.5105
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.11682 Longitude: -79.1964900952149
Richard Palmer
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Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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What Happened to the "Mary" 30 Years Ago: Schooner Days CCXXII (222)