Schooner Days DXVI (516), 11 October 1941

Timber Islander

"The Delaware making port at Oswego, Oct. 22nd, 1887, when commanded by Capt. Bob Bartley at Napanee. She had carried away her foreboom and the jaws of her fore gaff, and the tugs for which she was signalling with her struck fly were unable to venture out of the piers. Capt. Bartley had to emulate Minerva Ann McCrimmon's feat of nine years before and bring her in under sail alone."
Crayon drawing in the office of the late John S. Parsons, Oswego.

Once upon a time there came to Napanee a great big man with a curly black moustache, a big bulging cigar and a long heavy gold watch chain. Curly moustache, bulging cigar and gold watch chain were adjacent and unvarying characteristics, for the watch chain was worn around the neck, like a lord mayor's chain of office, and the owner was never seen without all three decorations. Some said he wore them to bed and smoked in his sleep.

This was David Andrews. He was an American and making things hum was his avocation and recreation. He bought the Saucy Jack, which had been built near Long Point, Lake Erie, and ran ashore near Long Point, Lake Ontario, in 1869. And he bought – or built – a schooner that grew in a bush.

Napanee is up the river from Deseronto on the Bay of Quinte, and Deseronto was then burgeoning from the original settlement of Mill Point into a booming town. It was assuming the name of Captain John Deserontio, chief of the Mohawk reserve, with an island of his own in the bay – Captain John's Island until renamed Foresters by another great Indian, Dr. Oronhyatekha, at the beginning of the present century.

"Who would believe the crumbling docks and buildings at Deseronto were once the scene of tremendous industries in wood and iron night and day?" wrote a valued correspondent, Arthur R. Wallbridge, of Belleville, recently, adding this picture of Deseronto and the bay: "Passenger steamers of the R. & O. or Bay lines calling twice a day; schooners and propellers and steambarges like the Resolute or Iona loading fruit or freight – shingles, boxwood or lumber, for Oswego; sloop or schooner-rigged woodscows loading bunchwood for bay ports scattered along the hundred miles of reaches from the Carrying Place to Kingston; coal coming in with the smart Nellie P. Downey or the black and green Annandale or the white H.W. Rathbun, return freights from Oswego or Fairhaven; tugs like the Rescue arriving with big rafts of 'star' logs from the Trent or the Moira; chimneys with spark-catching grating tops flaming night and day, while saws sang and wheels roared, and the smell of fresh cut pine sweetening the air for miles around."

Deseronto was lumber, Napanee was flour; an Indian attempt, some say, at the French "la farine," which may be doubted, though grist has been ground there for a century and a half.

It was a great day in the history of the town of Napanee when David Andrews launched his schooner from Timber Island in 1872. Dave did nothing by halves. Timber Island was thirty or forty miles away down the Bay of Quinte, out in Lake Ontario in fact, but time and distance meant nothing to David. He organized a Masonic excursion in the new and beautiful steamer Oswego Belle, then owned by Downey Brothers, big grain buyers and coal merchants in the Napanee district, with yards in Oswego. Loaded to the guards with bandsmen, townsmen, sailors, excursionists and refreshments the Oswego Belle steamed down the Long Reach and past the stone mills at Glenora and down the Adolphus Reach till she came to Indian Point and the Upper Gap. Here she began to toss in the blue water coming in from Lake Ontario to mingle with Quinte's brown, and the musicians started for the third time on their limited repertoire with diminished enthusiasm. Timber Island was not yet in sight, being still below the southern horizon. But they got there in time and anchored in the lee, and some people made a sort of Robinson Crusoe landing in the Oswego Belle's boats and others stayed on board.

The new vessel had been built close to the shore and the launch was as readily viewed from the steamer as from the tree-covered island. She shone bravely in the afternoon sun in new white paint with green trimmings. In those days the name of the vessel was usually a dark secret, a surprise to be sprung only when the champagne bottle was smashed and the canvas ripped from the stern-board as the ship thundered down the ways. So a launching would be good for a month's speculation and gossip on who was sweet on whom and who would be the lucky maiden honored in the name, or what locality or public event would be commemorated – would it be Marquise de Vaudreuil or Chrissie, Nellie or Napanee? Dave Andrews cut the Gordian knot in his usual style. "I christen thee," said he, "David Andrews." Bang went the bottle and splash went the ship, and the Oswego Belle's whistle blew the gulls off the adjoining False Ducks.

Ever hear of Timber Island before?

Well, Timber Island on the chart of Lake Ontario looks like a deflated football being kicked off from Prince Edward County, with Point Traverse as the toe of the boot. It and the False Ducks mark the lake end of the Upper Gap, through which sailing vessels have steered into the Bay of Quinte for almost two centuries. Laforce's Marquise de Vaudreuil, in 1756, was probably not the first, but is the first craft to come to mind. The island offers a shelter anchorage in lake gales. It is still wooded. Eighty years ago it was surveyed for John Welbanks, who had a tenant there, one Michael Fegan, in a small log house in a twelve-acre clearing. Fegan may have been trying to farm the island, cut wood and fish, for two fish shacks, a barn and eighteen cords of wood, "cut recently, it is said, by Mr. Swetman of the False Ducks Island" were the only features of the landscape noted except woods and swamp and an old clearing.

Even then, so long ago, the valuable timber of the island had already been removed and what was left was scattered or of small growth. The island was still so densely wooded that at a distance it looked like a solid green pound-cake. The surveyor thought the soil good for an average crop, but not worth more than $2 an acre, "and in case of a lease or deed being granted the occupant should be prepared to render assistance in case of shipwreck, as such mishaps will probably increase with the increase of the navigation of the lake."

As many as sixty-four riding lights had been counted as wind-bound schooners rode out westerly gales off Timber Island, in the lee of Prince Edward. It was from here that poor Moses Dulmage was blown across the lake from among a fleet of fourteen schooners and perished, on Hallowe'en, 1878.

How David Andrews hooked up with the building of Timber Island's only schooner is not known. It may have been one of his expansive ideas, or it may have begun with Farmer Welbanks as a more profitable way of disposing of what was left of the timber on the island than letting his neighbor Swetman cut it up for firewood. David may have bought the vessel as a speculation. Anyway, John Tait, master builder, went to work in 1872 on Timber Island, and by the time he got through, Timber Island had less timber and David Andrews had the new schooner on his hands.

She represented a departure from tradition. The barge era had come to the lakes and the new vessel was modelled very full, like a barge, and, like a tow-barge, she had a round stern. She may have been designed to voyage from Prince Edward to Ogdensburg in tow of a tug, but though she behaved like a barge all her life she seems to have spent that life under sail.

She got into trouble early and often. At the end of her first season she got ashore in Soup Harbor in a snowstorm so thick her decks filled with snow faster than the bursting seas could wash it off. Soup Harborites at one time had a desperate reputation as wreckers. A boat put out from the shore through the smother. "What vessel is that, captain?" hailed a voice through the snow. The captain jumped on the rail and fired two revolvers in the air.

"This is the David Andrews," he shouted, "put one foot aboard and I'll drill you."

"Lave him be, lave him be, I'm telling ye," came another voice from the tossing boat. "It's touched he is. No man in his sinses would fire a gun off to save the life of such a hard steerer as she be."

The boat pulled away and the David Andrews insisted on continuing her tortuous career. She was refloated, and got ashore again promptly at Poplar Point. Refloated again, she grounded on most of the corners of the Bay of Quinte, because no matter how steady the wind was she was always taking sudden fancies for the opposite bank. When she climbed the beach three miles below Oswego on April 13th, 1880, David Andrews was through with her. He got rid of her completely, even to taking his name back. She was bought by hopeful Oswegonians and repaired and renamed the Delaware. But they were glad to get rid of her, new name and all, and sold her to another optimist who, appropriately, re-registered her in Port Hope.

Nerva McCrimmon, Capt. Nate McCrimmon's sailor daughter, was the only one who could make the David Andrews toe the line of a compass course, and Will Wakeley of Port Hope was the only one who could make the Delaware pay, or pay better than when she was the Andrews. She was so slow and awkward to handle no one could make time with her, and her bills for accidents ate up her freights. She was repainted black with a red bottom, when she was renamed, and Will astounded her owner by bringing her into Deseronto in a December gale with her sails full of snow and his desk full of greenbacks. The "red" was sunk for once literally and figuratively, and with a pay load of coal. He had sailed her all season and cleaned up $400, and the owner said it was the first money he had seen since he parted with her purchase price. He wanted Capt. Wakeley to take her over for life, but William said he was so worn out fighting her that his life wouldn't run into the next season if he had to continue the battle.

She used to be seen around Toronto in the early '90s, sometimes with coal, sometimes with cribstone, sometimes for the odd cargo of grain from Adamson's elevator, but we didn't hear of her for years, until the Rapids Queen got aground somewhere near where the Rapids Prince spent all this summer, in the St. Lawrence. 'Twas in 1902 or '3.

Then the old Delaware, dismantled and out of commission for a long time, went into the battle like the boy who plugged the dyke's hole at Haarlem. The spot where the St. Lawrence is constricted by its thousand isles is a very difficult trap for any vessel to escape from, for the bottom is so shaped that any success at lightening the stranded vessel and lifting her up only accelerates the rushing current and drives her farther on to the rocks. The Rapids Prince, it will be remembered, was on the bottom all summer, defying rescue efforts until last week, and then only moved 200 yards before she grounded again. So it was with the Prince's grandmother, the Queen, 40 years ago.

The Delaware had been towed down by the Donelly's, or some other wrecking outfit, possibly Capt. Leslie's, as a tool-barge or lighter. Pumping and pontooning attempts failing, the heroic measure of building a coffer dam, to back the water up and form a favorable eddy was taken.

How build a dam where the current was so swift? everybody asked.

"Try me!" shouted through the Delaware's hawse-pipes the spirit of old Dave Andrews, curly moustache, gold chain, bulging cigar and all.

"We will," agreed the wreckers.

They bored holes in the Delaware's white oak bottom with augers and plugged them with long poles, dumped some rock ballast into her to hold her down, hauled her inside the despondent pleasure steamer – the Delaware only drew four feet stripped for action – and pulled the plugs out.

In rushed the river and she settled, decks under, into her self-chosen grave. She raised the water around the steamer, all right, and she broke the run of the current. She never floated again.

Such was the end of the hard-steering Delaware-Dave Andrews after 30 years of wearing out owners, captains, wheelsmen and rudder-stocks. All that remains of her is a 70-foot stick of pine, dug out of some low ground between Deseronto and Napanee while the steamshovel was at work on the foundations of a power plant. The gang foreman thought it was a wonderful big telegraph pole, but old-timers like "Bart" – Albert Bartlett of Napanee, the lively septuagenarian, who races yachts in the Bay of Quinte all by himself and his dog – identified it as the mainmast of the Delaware, dismantled at this place 30 years before. As a boy he was at Timber Island when she was launched.

For the last time listen to her well worn epitaph:

"You may paint my sides black
That were once painted white,
You may alter my name if you will,
But when at my wheel of a dark stormy night,
You'll find I'm the Dave Andrews still."

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