Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Portrait of a Skipper: Schooner Days MCC (1200)
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 24 Dec 1954
Full Text
Portrait of a Skipper
Schooner Days MCC (1200)

by C. H. J. Snider

TO sailors everywhere," (as we drink deep in ice-water at the Shellbacks) Merry Merry Christmas from Schooner Days.

In particular, as mariner to mariner and man to man, to James E. Hahn, D.S.O., O.B.E., M.C., whose just-published "For Action" (Clarke, Irwin & Co., Toronto) is a great all-Canadian film of the first half of this turbulent 20th century.

Philip Murphy in his book page is competent to deal with this autobiography on its documentary merits. To us it seems an invaluable study in practical patriotism.

We cannot praise sufficiently the light-hearted manner in which Major Hahn and Commodore Hahn, and James E. Hahn, great industrialist, retired, depicts his fumbles, fortunes and triumphs, all most modestly recorded, both in the art, science and mystery of yachting, hunting, fishing and photography, and the sterner activity of serving Canada in two great wars and afterwards.

Though Canadian as maple sugar James Hahn had to fight his way into active service in World War I because of prejudice against a German name. (He is as Canadian as maple sugar). Three times in that war he was carried put on a stretcher. He also had his horse blown from under him by a shell, and was a walking casualty on other occasions.

He went through the war a teetolaller. Took his first drink Armistice Day.

The second World War he fought with equal zeal as a munition maker, powering ships by the hundred, and guns by the thousand, a patriot with a clear and long-range view of the Empire's necessities.

But Schooner Days sticks to the sailing adventures so humorously recounted. From a "rank outsider" starting late in sailing and finishing last in the Chowder Race at Marblehead in 1928 with his first yacht, the 30-year-old knockabout Cock Robin, Hahn hammered away at the novelty of skippering. Rerigging the veteran, next year he won the classic Chowder Race at Marblehead under the Royal Canadian Yacht Club burgee.

Later he achieved the distinction of hurling his great ketch, Nonchalant, around Lake Ontario on a 400-mile course in less than 42 hours, averaging nine knots through calms, puffs, half-gales and hard breezes, beating the next of 17 competitors by 10 1/2 hours.

That sailing record will probably stand for all time. It was in the first annual Rochester Race for the Snyder Trophy, in 1948.

"For Action" is full of generous references to others and their sailing achievements, but does not emphasize the above as the great sailing feat it undoubtedly was.

Even more reticent is the writer on another great exploit. He has been flag officer of the RCYC for many years, and was Commodore in the critical years at the end of World War II. His skilled helmsmanship at that time contributed largely to making the club the grand institution it is today.

A hard driver? Never sailed with him. But was with Aemilius Jarvis in many of his races, and his greatest, the 1921 Freeman Cup—Hamilton to Kingston in 20 hours. So we can agree that Nonchalant must have been hard driven. She blew out two sails, half a dozen other yachts quit the Snyder Trophy contest.

"Whereas certain lewd persons of the baser sort have bruited it abroad that... hath the habitude of using oaths, imprecasions and violent objurgations to such as serve as mariners aboard his craft, now we having served faithfullt and lovingly under the said ... in our several degrees as mate, jin-trimmer and sail-maker throughout diverse perilous ventures wherein we have oftentimes suffered sore stress both by the hand of God and the devilish villainy of shipwrights, do hereby testify and confirm under this our proper hand and seal that the aforesaid ..., albeit of a nature firm in command and insistent on service rightly rendered, hath at all times and in every season comported himself as a right courteous and gentle shipmaster withal, of sober address and chaste diction, so that never shall you hear any naughty word fall from him, but only.

"Prithee, gybe tenderly,"or

"An it please you, dwell not overlong with the jib-sheets," or peradventure.

"As you love me, me featly with the weather runner," or eke

"Dear hearts, stay not until the day of salvation in the scuppers."

And suchlike sweet and comforting exhortations passing all belief and experience of those acquainted with the common practice of Master Mariners.

"Wherefore may all such as have spread abroad the aforesaid blasphemous fable and damnable invention against the said ... his fair name and credit, be eternally shamed and confounded. And hereunto we have each severally set out hands."

Something like this hangs in the Royal Canadian Yacht Club. Commodore Hahn brought it home from the Royal Bombay Yacht Club, where he saw the original. He was then shooting gaurs (bison), tigers, leopards and alligators. No, the last were in Savannah. He quotes it in "For Action." A self portrait? Who knows? Hard driver or not, "Jim" Hahn is a grand all-round sailor-man, tops in his trade. Merry Christmas to him.

Snider, C. H. J.
Media Type
Item Type
Date of Publication
24 Dec 1954
Language of Item
Richard Palmer
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Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Portrait of a Skipper: Schooner Days MCC (1200)