Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Lifeboating with the Ward Boys-1: Schooner Days MCXCVII (1197)
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 11 Dec 1954
Full Text
Lifeboating with the Ward Boys-1
Schooner Days MCXCVII (1197)

by C. H. J. Snider

HURRIEDLY called from his pew in West Presbyterian Church, old Capt. Sylvester, the owner, was pacing up and down the peach of the Western Sandbar among a crowd of shivering Inlanders that Sunday.

His white hair streamed in the gale, his gnarled hands were clenched in anxiety. Shifts of snow blurred his steel-rimmed glasses as he peered harborward for signs of tugsmoke, and lakeward at the last of his fleet, hard aground in the lather of breakers.

She was the great three-masted schooner St. Louis, her running rigging making mighty arcs in wind, her red Canadian ensign, union down, streaming to leeward at half-mast, beseeching help. Her yawlboat was gone. Every time a sea smacked her he saw something black rise up astern like a huge crow lighting to pick the bones of a dying beast. He could count seven figures huddled on the bowsprit, farthest away and highest up of the hull from the assaulting waves. They were flogging themselves to keep warm.

He had telephoned for tugs. It was Sunday, early in May, and bitter cold. No tug had steam up. They couldn't budge the St. Louis if they had. Too much sea. Too little water. Couldn't get near her.


The Ward boys had come across from their ancestral castle on Ward's Island two miles away with a 20-foot fish boat. The government lifeboat had been burned the night before. They dragged their clinker-built, sharp-ended skiff across to the beach with all its equipment: five flat-bladed oars, a tin bucket and a painter. Frank Ward, the eldest, was the general; Fred and Ed were his army.

The crowd fell back before them respectfully. These were professionals. Frank sized up the run of the seas as they broke, pointed the stem of the skiff lakeward as deliberately as a gunlayer, and nodded to his brethren. Each took his place outboard at the thwart on which he was to row, and gripped the gunwale with both hands. Frank put his shoulder to the sternpost watching for the "Three Big Ones."

"No place for you, Jerry!" snapped Frank, as Schooner Days laid a hand on the gunwale to help heave.

"You've got no one to bail," the welcomed one pointed out.

"O.K. I've warned you," laughed Frank. "Here we go."

The biggest of the Three Big Ones burst and came foaming up the sand. We shoved, and the skiff shot out on the undertow, with us tumbling aboard as she was waterbourne. Fred and Ed. rolled into rowing positions like cats landing on their feet and began to pull hard at once. Frank dropped into the stern-sheets all standing, and had his oar over the stern instantly.

The next wave rushed on us like an avalanche going over Niagara Falls. Our bows rose, but not high enough. We were half full of broken water in a twinkling.


"Told you, 'Easy' didn't I?" Frank chided. "Don't go at 'em that hard! Meet 'em easy, give to 'em. Do your pulling on the backside of the sea, running down hill. Easy now! That's better."

Ere he had all this said, the good tin bucket had much of the water out of her. Scooping with it one expected to hear ice splintering, for the lake was at 40 degrees from the frosts of all winter.

Steering with his own oar over the stern and working Ed's and Fred's, port and starboard, back and ahead, like twin screws, Frank wormed us through a half mile of sea mountains, shipping hardly any solid water after the first miscue, but getting plenty of windblown spray to keep the bucket going steadily.

"But here my muse

Her wing maun cower

Sic flights are far

Ayont her power,

Tae tell hoo"—

Let's finish this next week.

Snider, C. H. J.
Media Type
Item Type
Date of Publication
11 Dec 1954
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.61681 Longitude: -79.3829
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.626944 Longitude: -79.357222
Richard Palmer
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by [more details]
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Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Lifeboating with the Ward Boys-1: Schooner Days MCXCVII (1197)