Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Old War Horse Spared the Colts: Schooner Days DXIV (514)
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 27 Sep 1941
Full Text
Old War Horse Spared the Colts
Schooner Days DXIV (514)

by C. H. J. Snider


THAT was certainly a hard breeze of wind on Thursday of this Week; more than that, really a heavy gale, although that term is often misused for winds of half the velocity.

If not a hurricane (for it did not measure up to a hurricane's performance in direction and duration) it was of hurricane force—and that's something. Landsmen always talk nonsense about "gales" and "hurricanes" and "tornadoes" because to them any puff that blows their hats off is a "terrible storm." Sailors are almost as bad, for they often call a strong breeze a "gale of wind" and when it gets harder and harder they are apt to say it is blowing "pretty fresh" or a "smart breeze." Or, on the Atlantic coast, a "hard chance" or "blowing right pert."

You have to have some standard, and the Beaufort Scale, while un-picturesque, is as good as any yet encountered. It has thirteen numbers for the force of the wind, from 0 for a calm to 12 for a hurricane, and according to authenticated observations Thursday, the wind was blowing at force 12 Beaufort scale, from 2 to 3 p.m. at Malton, reaching its peak, 76 miles per hour, at 2.10 p.m.

Force 12, Beaufort scale, is defined as a wind velocity of over 65 miles per hour 20 feet above the sea's surface, over 75 miles an hour 33 feet Up and over 85 miles an hour 75 feet tip. It is a recognized fact that winds blow faster higher up, because the moving air is not held back by the friction of the earth's surface.

Seventy-five miles an hour is the heaviest wind the writer has ever been out in. Running before it in the old Empress of Scotland at 25 knots it was still so heavy that to make one's way aft one had to haul himself along by the bulwark rails, and having got to the open thwartship rail at the after end of the boat deck one could hang on at times with feet off the deck, blowing out like a flag.

It was blowing that hard Thursday at times. It was the heaviest gale seen in fifty years of watching Toronto's waterfront. The preceding highliner was a double-decker in 1900, also in September, and also a backlash of a hurricane from Galveston in the Gulf of Mexico. The 1900 hurricane practically destroyed Galveston, and drowned and mangled hundreds of victims. On Lake Ontario, in its two bites, it drove the Schooners Fred L. Wells, Albacore, and T. R. Merritt ashore near Oswego, complete wrecks, and it did a lot of damage along Toronto's waterfront.

It was a grand sight to see Wayne Pringle bring the big self-unloader J. R. Rice [sic: J. L. Reiss] into port in the thick of it Thursday. The big black bluffbowed steamer with her white houses and waving plume of smoke blew up from the southern horizon like a cloud detached from the heavy field of grey by the screaming southwest wind. Pushed by her engines and the gale she came on like a train, enlarging on the sight faster than one could take in her details. Now her black unloading derrick showed amidships like a spare span of the Quebec bridge. Now you could see the water smoking from her anchorbeds in the round bows, like lather, blown from a Clydesdale's nostrils. Then her boiling wake showed as her helm went a-starboard and she began to alter course.

A ticklish thing riding the tail of a hurricane into Toronto. She had to make the Exhibition gas-buoy tossing madly at the foot of Dufferin street, continually drowned in the backwash from the breakwater, and swing ninety degrees for the Western Gap, where the piers were invisible in the welter of waves driven in all the way from the Niagara fruit belt and being pushed back by preceding waves which had already broken vainly a thousand times on the long concrete seawall.

Her changed course to get her into the channel threw her into the trough of the sea. She neither rolled nor pitched, though that trough was as much upset as if a thousand hogs had been turned loose the moment it had been filled with swill.

If you don't like the comparison, don't go to sea, not even as far as the waterfront. Lake Ontario was no pretty-pretty Thursday. Ten miles out on the horizon the peaks of blueblack mountains were showing, under clouds of leaden grey, and five miles out there was a stripe of green laced with grey and white. But four miles out the dirty yellow brown of the sand and mud began, and came thundering in on the seawall in billows and breakers that seemed the contents of a million scrub pails suddenly dumped in the sink.

Their crests were so muddy that where they leapt in the air it was like a landmine exploding. They shot higher than the concrete lighthouse on the breakwater, and by contrast it shone like a marble tombstone against the murky background. Inside the seawall, scene of marathon swims, canoe races, and sculling matches in summers only now gone, the water was an almost sparkling black, like India ink—well, like watered India ink.

This was partly because the great tawny mane of the shore-borne breakers suggested a different tone partly because these breakers, hurling their hundred-ton outbursts across the seawall, stirred up the accumulated inky silt and soot of twenty years. Smoke prevention as practiced in Toronto leaves a deposit of carbon that will eventually make the site of this alleged civilization the coal mine of the North American continent. Hell hath no fury like a city smeared.

BUT to our tale, with Tam O' Shanter. That time the flick of the Galveston hurricane of 1900 struck Toronto, the National Yacht Club, which suffered so heavily last Thursday, had snug wave-proof moorings in behind the old Queen's Wharf, now buried under the site of the Rogers-Majestic plant on Fleet street. Beyond a few boats breaking adrift little damage was done.

The menace was, much greater to the fleet of the senior club, the Royal Canadian, then concentrated at the foot of Simcoe street. The club already had moorings across the Bay, at their present site, but these moorings and the island clubhouse, were less used. The main clubhouse was on the waterfront, opposite the old Union Station, and here most of the yachts moored. It was surrounded by boat racks and boathouses of other clubs and private owners and boat-renters.

About midnight it commenced to blow from the southwest, after a brooding day. How hard it blew will never be known, for the wind-guage blew down after registering 45 miles an hour. It blew harder than that, but not as hard as last Thursday.

The railways' freight sheds were on the waterfront then, from Simcoe street to John, with a broad driveway for the long vanished horse-drawn lorries. This was paved, if paved it might be called, with cinders from the waterworks pumping engines. That night the whole pavement rose up in a mass, a hundred feet high, and whirled eastward in a tossing river, blue in the moonlight, for there was a bright moon. By the hour it fled eastward. One could not understand how the supply of cinders and coal dust held out, but it did. Still some was left in the morning, but there was more to be found in Scarborough.

The Royal Canadian fleet of a hundred yachts, big and little, began to ramp and jump at anchor. Used to facing the storms in the open bay they were well secured-—as, indeed, were the poor Nationals this week. Old Angus Munro from Stornaway, the club boatman, put off from his shelter in a sturdy dinghy, and tried to reassure the frightened butterflies, or at least to secure those which had no crews aboard to keep anchor watch. It was hard rowing against that gale, and one knows it who was with Angus when he put out. They got extra warps out and made all snug.

"It's no the mooron's I feared on, and it's no pairtin' thir ain cables that has the puir wee things frichted," Angus spat out between strokes, "but its yon black lady-dog!"

Yon black lady-dog was the poor old White Wings, originator of the name W. J. Grant's fine sloop bears today; White Wings, winner of twenty-two firsts, two seconds and one-third in the twenty-six starts of her first season; White Wings, that had more than paid for herself in prize money when Aemilius Jarvis had her; White Wings, the toast of the Lake Yacht Racing Association, from Hamilton to Oswego. She had fallen on evil days, poor old thing. Been sold to become a stonehooker, broken her back carrying jags of cribstone, and, at length, too weak and leaky for this humble trade, had been left at her anchor in the bay, off the waterworks—plumb to windward of the yacht fleet, lightless, untended, forlorn.

They watched her, hovering like a broken-winged crow outside a chicken run—and then in the moonlight she began to grow, even as the J, R. Rice grew Thursday afternoon. She was dragging! She was coming right in! Right through that million—dollar fleet of yachts!

They pulled till Angus broke an oar, but could not get up to her before she was into the fleet.

"Now watch them all pile in on the club dock," crowd Angus bitterly. "Them she don't ram and sink wi' that razor stem o' hers she'll cut adrift from their moor'ns like a pair of shears! Guid send her she sinks hersel' afore she wins quite through!"

Despite her broken sheer the faded old beauty looked queenly yet in the silhouette the moonlight gave her, with her tall raking mast, and inquiring bowsprit poised like a lance in rest.

Once aboard, her fallen estate appeared haggard enough. There was no speck of paint or oil on any of her spars; they were grey as her patched sails. Her long yacht's cabin-trunk, fluted and panelled, had been lifted off her. Two-thirds of it had been thrown away, and the rest jammed over one end of her cockpit, forming a doghouse for the crew. The cabin space left was a rough square hole with coamings chewed and bruised and splintered by the tossing of many toises of stone. Her "laid" decks in narrow yacht planks, were weathered grey, bare of paint or varnish like the spars, and scarred with cargo scrapes. The coarse fir planks which covered where the cabin had been were paintless and furry with splinters. She was deep with the water in her hold. It was to be seen rippling over the stone-chip ballast in the moonlight, like little waves on a beach. Yet soggy as she was, she was still a lady.

It was like a miracle. She cleared the outlying yacht by so little that they could not understand why they heard no splintering. Then she halted. Her dragging anchor must have caught on the mooring and held long enough to give her a cant. She swung broadside to the wind, and then payed off again, and kept on coming. And so like a premiere danseuse of the Ballet Russe she tripped her way through that whole fleet, butterfly-kissing each yacht in turn, scraping none, waking none, parting never a ropeyarn.

One would have thought she knew they were tender yachts and remembered her own dainty youth. When reached she was just emerging from a tete-a-tete with Sterling Dean's catboat Bazo, spick and span in shining black enamel and copper bottom. Angus couldn't believe in the White Wings' discrimination and slipped the Bazo's mooring line and made it fast on an unoccupied mooring; but the White Wings would have curtsied by without scraping anyway. He gave her all the chain she had left in her musty forepeak, and ran a large, soggy, frayed line—the only one she had—out on to a timber in front of the old freight sheds. This halted her dragging, but she dropped back until her poor old drooping stern, with "White Wings, Hamilton" still on it in faded gilt, was within six feet of destruction on the club dock. Angus dropped off the end of the mainboom on to the club verandah, and ran around to the freight sheds to haul her ahead on her tattered bowline. There was no budging her, the way the wind was blowing.

But even Providence knows a lady when one shows herself. The backwash of the seas bursting on the club floats surged the White Wings off the cribwork.

The gale dropped, like the lash of a whip that has snapped in two. It came in again, harder than ever, in half an hour, but from a new quarter—northwest. That flattened the water out, and gave the While Wings and the harassed yacht fleet shelter. Angus Munro went to bed, the writer went to work at The Telegram, and the White Wing went to Port Credit to be rebuilt.


OLD WHITEWINGS when she became a stonehooker.

FENDERS BY THE CORD—RUBBER TIRES, LIFEBELTS, MATTRESSES. WHAT-HAVE-YOU, saved her life in the sheltered basin but could not spare her scars. — After the gale at the National Yacht Club.

TOO BAD, BOYS!—-Wrecked stern of one of the National victims of Thursday's hurricane.

NATIONAL YACHT CLUB FLEET TOOK A TERRIBLE BEATING THURSDAY and necessity of greatly improved protection for this club's widely used moorings is emphasized. Above are some samples of the damage done by the waves dashing in -- sunken hulls, broken spars, splintered sides. The acreage of splintered planks shown is all from wrecked yachts. Farther above is a photograph of the National fleet a few days ago. A cross marks each yacht wrecked or damaged, but although it looks like a cemetery the picture does not show all that suffered. A partial list of the yachts injured includes the following: Spray, Monsoon, Perky, Idlewild, Halcyon, Gypsy, Volta, Ebb Tide, Scotch Bonnet, Dog Watch, Norma Mae, Donalis, Banshee, Glider, Teal, Lloyd George, Even Steven, Kestrel, Julia, Eleanor R., Margaret H, Evelda, Jimmie. The latter completely vanished.

Snider, C. H. J.
Item Type
Date of Publication
27 Sep 1941
Corporate Name(s)
National Yacht Club
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.6332152335354 Longitude: -79.3870198730469
Richard Palmer
Copyright Statement
Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Old War Horse Spared the Colts: Schooner Days DXIV (514)