Man Who Sailed Two Ships at Once
Toronto Telegram, August 8 1953
Schooner Days MXCVII (1117)
By C.H.J. Snider
Neither Kerry Town nor Giddy Town nor Cork Town in Cobourg, nor any other lake port, can ever be the same, now that Capt. Dan Rooney is gone.
He was buried last month near his birthplace, with honors befitting a master mariner and substantial and respected Citizen – last of the Evergreen fleet of schooner captains to weigh anchor for that desired haven beyond the golden sunset, past Ninety Mile headland, guarded by the Rock of Ages. In his three score years and ten spent ploughing vanishing furrows on the Great Lakes – in many schooners and steamers, Mr. Hugh. Dennis' racing sloop Cygnet, and Mr. Schoonamaker's power yacht he had never cost owners or underwriters a $5 bill for vessel damage. In business affairs no man was poorer by a 5 cent piece for trusting Little Dan. He was called that to distinguish him from his uncle, Capt Dan Rooney. Another uncle, Capt. Hugh Rooney, was also a vessel captain, shipowner, harbormaster and coxwain of the Cobourg lifeboat.
Hungry on a fast day
When Little Dan had the Charlie Marshall he ran out of meat in a long slow voyage up the windless lake. Ten miles below Cobourg he lay becalmed with nothing for dinner. It was a Friday, Nearby a fish-buoy bobbed. He put down his yawlboat, underran the net, and lifted a couple of fine lake trout. Before letting the float go he dashed a corked bottle to it, a $2 bill inside. At once a breeze sprang up, and before dinner was over the long voyage was over too, and the schooner was fast alongside the coal dock in Cobourg.
Long afterwards a fisherman told Capt. Rooney of the queer luck of finding money in his net, "Sure 'tis nothing at all," said Little Dan. "Didn't St. Peter pay his own income tax and our Blessed Lord's with a golden sovereign he found in a fish's mouth?"
Cobourg will miss his Irish wit and kindly counsel and Giddy Town will miss him from the diurnal sessions of the Senate, pn the bench made and provided for the select oldtimers on the sunny side of 'the Town Hall. Schooner Days has profited often by his sapient maxims. As -
"Make up your own mind and tell nobody. Get on with your own decision. Many's the vessel's been talked on to the' beach while the captain argued with the mate and man at the wheel over the bearing of the lights."
He cited the case of the Jessie Drummond, which he himself had sailed for his uncles. She ended an honorable career of forty years, including two Atlantic crossings, by stranding at Cobourg on the dirty night of Dec. 2nd, 1902.
Little Dan had brought his own schooner, the Annie Falconer, in safely from Oswego, and had guided Johnny Williams, in the big Van Straubenzee, into the port. But when be saw the Drummond red light showing he knew she was doomed.
"No vessel ever got into Cobourg showing her larboard light on that bearing," quoth he. Fifteen minutes later there was a thunder of anchor chains through the hawsepipes, and roaring and shouting, and Capt. Hugh Rooney was manning the lifeboat to take off the Drummond's Crew. She had been steering on the pumping station light to the east of the harbor, while they argued on board how to get her in. The Drummond could have come in by herself, with nobody at the wheel, for Rooney's had owned her for twenty years. She had only recently been sold to an Oakville captain, and was bringing the last cargo of coal for the season. She was a total loss. Most of the coal was washed up on the beach.
Chips and ships
As a laddie Little Dan gathered chips from the shipyard at Cobourg where Major Gifford's America's Cup challenger Countess of Dufferin was being built in 1876. As a man Little Dan gathered ships from many shipyards. By the time he was 21 he was master of the Eliza Fisher. The Rooney fleet included the Mary Taylor rebuilt as the Loretta Rooney, the Annandale, Annie Falconer, Jessie Drummond, Ralph Campbell, City of New York, Charlie Marshall and Wilfred Plunkett, which was rebuilt from the Kate of Oakville. They might be painted Black or white, but they usually had a green bottom in honor of Cork Town.
While this century was still very young Little Dan performed the incredible feat of sailing two schooners at the same time all one season.
This is how it was done.
The Richardson firm of Kingston sent him to Lake Michigan to buy the large 3-masted Sophia J. Luff for the Lake Ontario trade. Little Dan brought her down so satisfactorily that they sent him back to buy the smaller Charlie Marshall, which he greatly fancied! They gave him 16 shares, a quarter interest, in the Marshall, thereby making sure of a good captain for her.
Riding two horses
But they couldn't find one equally good for the Luff. Little Dan modestly offered to sail both vessels. He would take the Luff laden with feldspar or plaster stone, from Kingston to Charlotte, and while she was discharging he would cross the lake in the GTR car ferry to Cobourg, and take the. Marshall down to Oswego to load coal. While this was being done he would ride by train to Charlotte and take the coal-laden Luff back, to Kingston. Then across by ferry and train to Oswego, to bring the Marshall home to Oswego. And so round and round the merry-go-round.
At the end of the season Little Dan had the wages of two captains, at $60 a month, coming to him – plus his train and steamer fares – plus one-quarter of the earnings of the Marshall, He thought he should have $75 a month for the Luff, she being much larger. But the owners the miners said no, $60 a month was standard master's wages in sail. It was, too, in 1900. Now an oiler sniffs at $250.
"All right," said Little Dam "give me a bill of sale for 48 more shares in the Marshall" – there are only 64 shares in a vessel – "and we'll call it square. You keep my wages and share of the season's earnings."
Little Dan walked out of the office sole owner of a fine little 3-master.
"You'll sail both vessels again next season, Captain?" asked the owners.
"Oh no," said Little Dan. "A master may serve two vessels, as I've proved, but no man can serve two masters. Next season I'll be working for Little Dan Rooney and I hope he'll be as good a pay-boss as you have been."
God rest you well, Little Dan.