Toronto Telegram, December 3, 1932
Schooner Days LXIV (64)
By C.H.J. Snider

Spade Work on the Wreck

They say the spade is really the best archaeologist. It was applied last Saturday to that ancient wreck on the island shore which has defied all comers to give it a name.

It was a bitter cold day, like January. The Island seemed as deserted as Robinson Crusoe's. The lake, smooth under a scouring north wind, smoked like a smothered fire. At first glance it looked to be frozen all the way across, with little drifts of snow driving before the wind. That was only the steam from the unfrozen water meeting the freezing air. This difference of temperature between the two distorted the light, until a freighter squaring away out of the Eastern Gap towered up like the Bank of Commerce, with the little red patch of her engine room bulkhead glowing like a big red barn. To the westward the shores of the head of the lake loomed high as the Highlands of Scarboro. The bell-buoy off the point stood up like a Grenadier Guard.

This wreck lies near the water's edge, a little to the westward of a line that could be drawn from the old lighthouse to the bellbuoy. As stated earlier, it is uncovered every time we have low water on the lakes. When the waves recede the wind whips away the sand and reveals it. When the waves creep up again they bed it in sand and gravel, and it disappears for years. One correspondent is sure of it as far back as 1884; how much farther back it dates we would all like to know.

The surface sand of the beach was loose, but beneath it was frozen, and before any progress could be made with a shovel the sand and gravel had to be loosened with an axe. A couple of hours' vigorous work produced considerable information about the wreck, even if it did not uncover its name.

The hulk lies on a slant, northeast and southwest, and not quite parallel with the Island shore at this point. The most prominent part of it is a fine oak log, used as the bottom of the centreboard box. The slot for the centreboard, six inches wide and nineteen feet long, has been hewed out of this solid tree trunk. This log has square ends, and shows up above all the rest of the wreck. It was manifest that the hull had extended beyond it, towards the lake, and there were other remnants at the opposite end, towards the shore. The lake end was first attacked.

Digging down until the lake water oozed in through the sand it was found that the bottom log of the centreboard box sat on top of a keelson. The "log" measured sixteen inches across at its base. Its sides tapered inwards until it was twelve inches across at the top, and it was about 12 inches deep. The keelson on which it sat was 22 inches across; possibly two timbers, side by side, fastened with drift bolts and through fastenings, but possibly just one oak stick, of this fine width. It was twelve inches deep. Very curiously, this part of the keelson ended square within a foot of the end of the centreboard box log; the log projected beyond it that much. Evidently the next section of the keelson had been torn away by the seas and the ice-shoves which have battered this wreck for fifty years at least.

More excavation at this point should uncover more of the hull lake-wards, for unless she was broken completely in two the keel would be found below the keelson. But further digging here was not practicable at this time, for we were down to water level, and Lake Ontario was freezing in the little test-pit that had been dug. So the shoreward end was next tried.

Before attacking the shingle here some measurements were made: A gentleman with a brother in China, and interested in the wreck from reading earlier articles in The Telegram, happened along opportunely and produced a steel tape line. From one end of the centreboard log to the other taped out at 28 feet 3 inches. The slot hewed out, through which the centreboard slid up and down, measured 19 feet. The log was solid for three feet beyond the slot at the lakeward end and for a little over six feet at the landward end. The uprights which form the ends of a centreboard box are head-ledgers, usually shortened to head-ledges in lake vernacular. There was the heel of one of these ledgers left in the centreboard slot, and it measured six inches by ten.

Stretching the tape from the end of the centreboard log, which was the lakeward extreme of the wreckage in sight, to the edge of an upright stump which marked the visible landward extreme, yielded a total length of 53 feet; about one-half of the original vessel. It was fifty feet clear to the inboard or back surface of this stump, and the slant of it, and its extent, added another three feet.

A few ribs of this ship-skeleton were visible, and by putting the steel on the farthest fangs which came up through the sand we got a measurement of 9 feet 8 inches from the centre. These were what are technically known as the "wrung-heads of the floors," and indicated that the ship was nineteen or twenty feet wide where her sides joined the bottom; probably a little wider on deck.

Of course the layman cannot be expected to know that the floor of a ship is different from the floor of a house. In general the term floor means the whole bottom of the vessel, and she may be said to have a long flat floor, or a sharp rising floor, and so on. Specifically the floors are the cross-timbers of the bottom, to which the planking is nailed, and which unite the ribs or "frames" on either side of the keel. The floor-timbers of this hulk are fine pieces of white oak, ten inches wide and nine inches deep where they cross the keel, and tapering out to four by 9 inches at the wrung-heads, where the lower futtocks, or most curved part of the ribs, joined them. The floor-timbers appeared to have been centred 24 inches apart, with a set of frames meeting between each pair of floors. The frames joined, heel to heel, on the keel, and were held down by the keelson.

The gentleman with the tape went on and excavation resumed. Digging at the shoreward end the rather important discovery was made that we had been looking at the wreck wrong-end-to. From the general contour and the comparative uprightness of the stump aforesaid it had appeared that this was her sternpost, and that she lay pointing lakeward. In this case about twenty or at the most thirty feet of keel might be found extending lakeward beyond the centreboard box. But the spade proved conclusively that the "stump" was the remains, not of the sternpost, but of the stem. The wreck had driven in head-on, and piled well up on the beach.

Penetrating the frozen sand and gravel was not easy. The digger got down until he was right under the keel. It felt as though at any minute an irritated protest might come from the brother in China over having his cellar entered from Canada, but no lake water filled the excavation. Either it froze before it seeped so far, or, more probably the keel was so tilted that the shore end was above the present water level.

The spade left no room for c[ ] about the wreck lying bow-in. Following down the side of the "stem" it was found that the outer edge was straight, almost perpendicular, six inches across. Two feet below the surface a strap of iron was encountered. It was three inches wide and had been half an inch thick. The end was bent down under the weight of sand and stones for a distance of three feet, but it was bolted to the stem, and could be traced down all the way until the stem rounded into the forefoot and the scarf of the keel. It was shod or faced with this iron strap for an undetermined distance, even after the curve of the forefoot had translated its direction from the vertical to the horizontal. This curve was in a quarter circle about 3-foot radius. The stem seemed to have been almost plumb; nearly as raking or overhanging as that of the Nancy or most vessels of the period of the War of 1812 which have been examined. Of course it is very difficult to argue conclusively from a three-foot fragment, seen in a sand hole.

The rabbet-line, or groove chiselled in the stem to receive the hood of the planking, could be traced, and even some of the bottom planks were found. They were three inches thick white oak, very sound and hard, much of the rest of the wreck. They were blackened as though the whole had been wholly exposed at one time and set on fire. Indeed there were signs of fire about her timbers in many spots, and the cobs and other remnants of corn-roasts found in the sand give the reason why.

From the rabbet-line to the curve of the iron-faced forefoot measured seventeen inches at the greatest width. There did not appear to have been much of the stem inside the rabbet-line, but there were decayed remnants of a stemson and apron, once solid baulks of oak timber about three feet through, to which the planks had been spiked and bolted.

One very curious piece of ironwork was found, a strap eight inches long, three inches wide and half an inch thick, bolted to the forefoot just inward of the ends of the planks. Unlike the long iron strap, which manifestly protected the stem from injury if the vessel ran aground, this short strap on the side of the forefoot did not make its use apparent. In the sandpit it was not possible to discover a scarf or joint in the forefoot which it might cover. There may be one. It stands at an angle of about 50 degrees to the keel. The Nancy has two scarf-straps on each side of the scarf of her stem and keel.

Iron was used in the wreck in plenty. The largest bolt discovered was round inch-and-a-quarter iron. Most of the bolts are smaller, one inch or less in diameter. There are dozens of them. And hundreds of eight-inch handwrought spikes.

Uncovering the stem of the wreck, and making sure that it was her bow which was nearest the shore, involves a revision of opinion as to her size. It increases the estimate. It clearly puts the 50-foot Ann Bellchambers out of the picture, as a possible original. With great reluctance, be it said, it also makes the Toronto Yacht improbable. From the fact that the Toronto yacht was built at the mouth of the Humber, one was prepared to concede the possibility of her having had a centreboard, even though she was built in 1799, and wrecked on this point in 1812, forty years before centreboards were generally adopted. It would, indeed, be a triumph to prove that this was the Toronto Yacht, and one esteemed correspondent has said that his father, who came to York in 1834, told him that this was the wreck of that famous gubernatorial vessel.

But it is almost certain that the end of the centreboard box nearest the lake in this wreck marks the middle point of the original ship. It was a common practice in lake schooners to put the centreboard forward of amidships. That being the case the vessel must have extended lakeward another fifty feet at least, giving her a total length of 103 feet or more. While the dimensions of the Toronto Yacht are not known, it is improbable that she was anywhere near 100 feet over all. Man-of-war brigs, of ten guns, designed by Strickland for Lake Ontario in 1815, only measured 85 feet on deck and registered 287 tons. The Royal George, full rigged ship in the War of 1812, was only 96 feet long. The 80-ton Toronto Yacht was probably 50 to 60 feet on the keel.

Claims of Americans to have invented the centreboard in the year 1812, for use on the Hudson river, are ill founded. That may be the date of the first use of the centre-board on this continent, for all the writer can prove to the contrary, but the idea had been used by the British at home twenty years earlier, and it is therefore possible that it was tried out in the Toronto Yacht built here. Mr. H. I. Chapelle, naval architect and author of most interesting works on researches into early marine types, has the plans of the following early centreboarders or slip-keel vessels in the British navy: Trial, cutter, 1790; two gun-brigs, 1796-7; Milbrook, schooner, 1796: Dart, sloop, 1796. He has also records of a sloop-of-war, the Cynthia, fitted with "drop keels' ' in 1794. So the case for the possibility of a centre-board for the Toronto Yacht is pretty complete. But it is a fact that centreboards were not in general use on the lakes before 1840.

Despite the illumination cast by the shovel "on a cold and frosty morning" the opportunity for identifying this island wreck is still open. In order to get on with something else a close season is hereby proclaimed for it, commencing Saturday, Dec. 10th.


Requests for a picture of the Baltic, which sailed through Schooner Days some time ago, have produced this spirited drawing of that schooner by C. F. Gibbons, very kindly lent by Mrs. John T. Andrew, of Oakville. The Misses A. and J. Andrew, with equal kindness, lent a portrait of their brother, Capt. John Andrew, who was the Baltic's master.

The picture shows the white schooner as she was rebuilt after her encounter with the business end of the Queen's Wharf in 1878, as already told. Capt. Andrew married Miss Isabella Armstrong in 1881 and took her in the Baltic for their honeymoon, a three weeks' voyage to Oswego and back. Capt. Andrew, famous all over the lakes as "Three Finger Jack" from an early misadventure chopping kindling, played no favorites with his dates. He was married on the Twelfth of July, 1881, and died on the Seventeenth of March, 1915. Seriously, though, he was eminently fair-minded in his religious views. A staunch Scotch Protestant himself, his lifelong friend was Capt. Maurice Fitzgerald, of Oakville, an equally ardent Irish Catholic. The Baltic, by the way, had nothing to do with the wreck on Toronto Point, discussed below. The Baltic came to grief at Oswego, in 1894, long after Capt. Andrew had left her. Does anyone know why Capt. Andrew flew a red and blue house flag, with "S" in the red half and "4" in the blue?

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