Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Climbing Down Stairs - Hard, Sometimes: Schooner Days MCXCII (1192)
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 6 Nov 1954
Full Text
Climbing Down Stairs - Hard, Sometimes
Schooner Days MCXCII (1192)

by C. H. J. Snider

Manitoulin-Toronto, 1868 - No. 16

ONE might think that once into the Straits of Detroit, where the St. Clair River current runs at six miles an hour in places and the water is going down hill for a hundred miles, all the sailing vessel had to do was to mind her helm and gravity would do the rest. Not so! Navigation laws will not let you sail the navigable channels now. You must go under power, steam, gas, or oil, because you have to be completely under control, to tread the narrow path. You may not zigzag in the ancient Straits, any more than you may in Toronto's modern open cut subway.

This restriction did not apply in 1868, nor for seventy years afterwards. It is another boon our times have produced, like the H-bomb. But in spite of that freedom and the assistance of the current the little Toronto schooner yacht Ripple had a hard two days climbing down stairs from Lake Huron to Lake Erie, for the summer south wind was dead ahead for much of the passage of the Straits. Capt. Cooper Campbell's well worn logbook continues. But first let us explain that "Harry Lee" was slang, aboard the Ripple only, for the helm order "Hard-a-lee!" which is given when the vessel is about to tack. It means to thrust the tiller hard over towards the lee side, so as bring the vessel's head around.

Now let us get on with the log.

August 31, Monday

Weather squally with thunderstorms.

Wind S.

Distance to noon 110 miles

This day has been anything but a charming variety, thunder-squalls and "Harry Leeing" all day. We got our first squall about 5 a.m. and everything was made snug and as we had not raised anchor we rode it out tolerably well, the watch only suffering to the extent of a soaking.


At 8 all hands were called to make sail, and with a very light southerly breeze we entered the river. The breeze gradually freshened until it blew hard, the sky cleared up and our passengers, Arthur Lee, Manley and Harley, seduced by the promising appearance of a good day, decided not to stop at Sarnia but to go on to Windsor. Our wind was, however, dead ahead, and gave us as much as we could well carry. The channel is narrow and the current strong.

It was nothing but a succession of tacks or "Harry Leeings" every five or ten minutes. Two hands at the headsails, one at the main boom, one at the foreboom and one at the tiller, Captain Waggoner standing forward to watch the channel and give us notice when to come about. We made splendid progress till 1 p.m., going downstream eight miles an hour. But blacker and blacker grew the sky and denser the clouds, then the thunder rolled and the lightning flashed and we were fair to dowse everything and drop the anchor. It was an excellent chance to get our dinner, although our passengers did not see much comfort in it, as it was now impossible to reach Windsor before night.

The squall past, we stood in again until we came nearly to the mouth of the channel through the flats, having run about 42 miles since morning. Another thunder squall meeting us here and with a headwind to run through and very narrow and tortuous channel with only stakes to mark it, we decided to anchor for the night. We passed enormous numbers of ducks and many were the regrets we could not now spare the time to take a day or two's shooting here. It was no use wishing for it, for our hearts were turned towards home.


Tuesday, Sept. 1

Weather Fine

Wind NW

Distance to Windsor 27 Miles

The morning is fine and the Captain and Morley start after their ducks. It is almost dark when they go and although the ducks are there in myriads they are all feeding in the thick rushes, and will not even fly, so tame are they yet. Three or four mud hens formed the extent of the sport, and thus at 7 a.m. off we start again through the Flats — nothing but marsh extending for many miles with only from one to three feet of water on them. The channel is dredged out and it only about 100 feet wide and any unfortunate wight getting aground has a bad chance of getting off again.

When we got across Lake St. Clair the wind died away and left us to drift down the river. Near Hog Island we were in great danger of going on a shoal but by the vigorous application of muscle and white ash we got round all right and by noon cast anchor opposite Windsor. Here our passengers and their effects were landed, and we all adjourned ashore, to get a shore dinner. But all the funds we could muster amongst us was 25 cents! The Captain had to state the destitute case to the hotel keeper who generously gave us credit.

The rest of the day was spent in visiting in Detroit, a very handsome city, not much larger than Toronto, but with an appearance of wealth and business that Toronto does not possess. Shipping at all the wharves, and neat, clean-looking private houses for a strong contrast to the careless, cheap, and nasty appearance of most Canadian towns. The Captain having duly raised the wind by drawing a little bill, there was a general clamor round him, each one petitioning for a share.

We all took tea at the Hirsch House with Mr. Morley's brother and some other friends. At four we saw our wretched companions depart in a crowded train, without chart, compass or even parallel rules. Harley particularly grieved at the absence of these to him, latterly necessaries. Morley and his friends adjourned with us on board and we spent very pleasant evening.

Wednesday, Sept. 2

Weather Fine

Wind Light S and SE

Distance to Noon 18 Miles

Another hard day of "Harry Leeing." The wind which at first promised fair came out dead ahead again. Still we made very good headway, astonishing Captain Waggoner by beating 3 scows, 2 schooners and a yacht that came out on purpose to have a brush with us. He is to log it in his notebook, so that he may not think lightly of the Ripple when dragging about his fast schooner, the "J. G. Beard.

This vessel, built in Oshawa, 1856, and named after a Toronto mayor, was a fine schooner of 400 tons, long pride of Ontario.

By noon we cleared the river but still had to tack backward and forwards, the wind hauling all the time more the eastward right in our teeth, We had a fine sailing breeze and are much amused at the tremendous heating we are giving our friends the schooners, as also the way we astounded the yacht "Wyandotte," a fast boat which had already beat the "Carol" and other celebrated yachts.

Snider, C. H. J.
Media Type
Item Type
Date of Publication
6 Nov 1954
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • Michigan, United States
    Latitude: 42.59587 Longitude: -82.63269
  • Michigan, United States
    Latitude: 45.16646 Longitude: -85.23064
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 42.983611 Longitude: -82.411944
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 42.9423843482574 Longitude: -82.4385736914062
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 42.30008 Longitude: -83.01654
Richard Palmer
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Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Climbing Down Stairs - Hard, Sometimes: Schooner Days MCXCII (1192)