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White Oak Shavings

Toronto Telegram, January 14, 1932
Schooner Days LXX (70)
By C.H.J Snider

Had the White Oak of Oakville been christened the G. K. Chisholm or Dominion or Alice, the chances are that her undoubted merits would not have rescued her from oblivion.  As it was, her happy name gave her a personality which survives, though her bones be mouldering in Collins Inlet on the Georgian Bay.  She had imitators.  The little stonehooker scow long owned in Port Credit by Capt. Al Hare, was named after her, although the square-ended box had nothing to do with the queenly schooner, either in build or material.  The White Oak, of Port Credit, by the way, was last seen twenty years ago in Port Hope, where she had lain down to rest after the herculean labor of supplying gravel for the Cobourg harbor works.  Publication of the original White Oak's picture and history in "Schooner Days" recently has produced a flood of reminiscences, from Captain Albert "Nipper" Quinn, who was a sailor in her when his redoubtable brother James was master of her, and from many others; some of which here are told.

THAT was a great time when the White Oak raced the Oliver Mowat and the Flora Carveth up the lake from Oswego for Hamilton.  The Flora Carveth was a little larger than the White Oak, very lofty, with a sixty-seven foot mainboom sticking out over her stern as much as her bowsprit projected ahead.  Will Wakeley was sailing her then.  Capt. Jim Peacock had the Oliver Mowat, the pride of Port Hope.  She was a three-master, with a raffee.  The White Oak and the Flora Carveth were two-masters.  The White Oak, with customary contradictoriness, was black.  The Mowat and Carveth were white, with lead-color bottoms; both were owned at this time by the McLennans of Port Hope, but the Carveth hailed from Whitby.

The vessels towed out of Oswego at night and lost one another almost immediately on diverging tacks.  The wind was ahead.  Two days later the White Oak, standing in to the north shore on the port tack, picked up the Mowat ahead, becalmed under the Highlands of Scarboro.  Capt. Peacock, seeing his rival making hay with the fresh breeze out in the lake, boxhauled the Mowat around with her raffee, and stood out on the starboard tack.

It was dinner time, and as was usual in lake schooners, all hands except the helmsman were at the table in the cabin.  Nipper Quinn had the wheel.

The Mowat moved faster as she smelled the freshening breeze.  The courses of the two schooners would intersect at right angles.  It looked doubtful which would pass ahead.  The Mowat, being on the starboard tack, had the right of way.

"Hi, cap! " called the Nipper, "better come up and have a look!"

Jim Quinn put his head above the companion slide.

"Steady as you go," said he shortly, and resumed his meal.

Nipper was like the boy on the burning deck.  He waited for the bang.  But there wasn't any bang.  Never budging an inch from "full and by" the Mowat drove straight for the White Oak, knowing that the latter vessel, being on the port tack, was responsible for all damage, to herself or others.  But the White Oak justified Jim Quinn's superb confidence in her speed and weatherliness.  The jibboom end of the Mowat just missed her.  Next moment the three-master's sails flailed emptily, blanketed by the pinions of the escaping fore-and-after.  When they had filled they went all a-flutter again, as the Mowat tacked reluctantly in the White Oak's wake.

"What's that there blue cloud hangin' over the Mowat?" asked the watch as they tumbled out to relieve the wheel.

"Langwidge," answered the Nipper who had heard some.

The wind canted sweetly to the southward, and the two vessels went spanking on for Hamilton, the White Oak drawing ahead.  Off Toronto Island she sighted the Flora Carveth, well out in the lake, coming with started sheets.

The pair of two-masters made a pretty even race of it for Hamilton, but the Carveth, being to weather, entered the piers of Burlington first, as darkness fell.

"Shorten down, captain," yelled a man on the swing bridge, waving a lantern.  "There's a scow sunk inside."

"Don't care for a hundred scows," hailed back Jim Quinn, "if the Carveth can miss one so can we."

Through he went, swinging everything, across Burlington Bay.

Will Wakeley wouldn't shorten the Carveth, with this termagant on his tail and the Mowat behind both, and when he rounded her up he had so much way on her he overshot the dock by fifty yards and had to fill away and tack again.

"We've beat her, boys! " yelled Jim Quinn, shooting his schooner for the pier-end with sure aim.  Next moment the lines were smoking on the timberheads and the White Oak was doing her best to tear the wharf into the bay.  But everything held.

To be first to the dock in those days when coal was unloaded by the wooden bucket, hove up by one horse, meant a week's wages.  The White Oak unloaded and sailed back to Oakville to lay up for the season.  (It was late in the fall.)  Then to show there was no hard feeling, her crew went back to Hamilton by train and shipped in the Flora Carveth and took her down to Port Hope, where she went into winter quarters.

JIM QUINN had a great reputation as a sail dragger, and once when he was lying windbound in Oswego, loaded and ready to go out, with a strong south-wester roaring down the lake, Capt. Dolph Corson, of the Wave Crest, tried to take a rise out of him.

"Here's ten dollars," he bellowed across the creek, "says you can't beat us up the lake to-day."

"You're on," said Jim to Nipper. "Strike the fly for the tug!"

The Charley Ferris grunted alongside.

"Sure is blowin'," said the tug man. "Want us to take you up the river for safety?"

"No," said Quinn. "Tow us out."

"You'll all be drowned," said the tugman aghast.

"I'll pay my bill first," said Jim Quinn, so out the Charley Ferris staggered with the White Oak.

When she cast off, outside the swamping breakwater, and turned back, there was the Wave Crest with her fly struck also.  Dolph Corson was no welsher.

"Well I'll be switched," said the Ferris man.  "Them crazy Canada skippers!"

And out he yanked the Wave Crest.

The pair of them plugged into it, with their decks filled with white water.  The Wave Crest was a very handsome schooner, with a round stern and clipper bow, but a wet little devil in the quarters, and the White Oak left her, tack for tack.  It was probably on this occasion that, as Nipper Quinn describes, "Captain Jim kept her going right past Niagara, and then squared her away for Toronto.  Did she come!  She blowed the standing jib out of her, and all the halliards washed off the fiferails and went out through the scuppers.  They looked like a bunk of lamper-eels following us.  The only dry place was on top of the cabin.  When we got into Toronto we unbent the busted sails and sent them up to Soper's in Hamilton, and had the after hatch unloaded by the time the Wave Crest anchored in the Bay.  Capt. Corson sculled across in his yawlboat with a ten dollar bill between his teeth."

JIM QUINN's indifference to the weight in wind in the White Oak was illustrated by his instruction to Sopers to leave all reefpoints out of the new mainsail he was having made.  They were going down the lake once, light, and the White Oak was over so far under the press of canvas that her coveringboard, normally eight feet above water, was buried.  The mate anxiously bade Nipper call the captain.  The younger brother found the elder jammed in his bunk on the lee side of the cabin, and after great difficulty extracted him.

"Humph!" yawned James, as he surveyed the steeply slanted cabin floor, "The Whitey must be travelling right along.  If it lightens, get some more cloth on her."  And with that he turned over.

The White Oak was assuredly a very able vessel, and went into Charlotte once with the wind blowing sixty-five miles an hour.  That was in the snowstorm in which the W. T. Greenwood went ashore on Braddock's Point, and the W. Y. Emery lost both her masts, the foremast at the head and the mainmast at the deck.  The Charlotte tug circled around the White Oak three times before she picked her up, and when she docked her the tug's wheelsman couldn't get out of the pilot house, she was so laden with ice and snow.

JAMES QUINN'S language was always equal to the occasion.  There was the famous time when the mate suggested going into Newcastle, instead of running all the way to Toronto Point for shelter.  "Lots of water all the way in, " he assured Quinn.

With five lower sails driving her the White Oak went through the narrow piers like a greased shot through a gun.  Before she got to the elevator she fetched up all standing.  What Capt. Quinn said to the mate could only be printed on asbestos paper.  But what he said to Nipper is on record.  It was, "Get out on that dock and catch a line!"  Nipper jumped and hit the string piece and smashed both kneecaps.  What he in turn said to the mate also requires asbestos, and we are out of it.

There was great affection between the two brothers, although each shyly concealed it.  When Nipper was still more of a description than a nickname for Capt. Albert Quinn, that worthy mariner was washing off the cabin top one frosty morning on the second of April.  The White Oak rolled becalmed off Port Credit.  She was homeward bound with coal, first trip of the year. The washing wasn't doing much good, for the water froze as Nipper splashed it, and in an unguarded moment he slipped and slid overboard.  He was dressed in winter clothes, with hip boots over all, and seemed to him he shot straight to the bottom of the lake.  After what seemed a long time, he came up right alongside the schooner, and there was Brother Jim leaning out over the rail.  He made one grab for him and caught him by the top of his fur cap.

Jim Quinn's grip was like a vice and his fingers closed on his brother's hair through the thickness of the cap; and thus he landed him on deck, almost scalped.

"I did not need a hair cut all summer," said Nipper, reminiscently.

ANOTHER late trip in the fall they loaded barley in Toronto for Big Sodus, and lay under Toronto Point in company with other vessels, windbound.  At last it came in snorting from the south-west, with snow.  All the others ran back into the Bay but Jim Quinn put the rags on her and down the lake she walloped.  When they got to where Sodus ought to be everything was invisible in a smothering white blanket.  There was eleven inches of snow on the schooner's deck, and she was tramping along, at twelve miles an hour with nothing but the foresail on her. Captain Jim was for making a blind shot for the piers, "for," said he, "even if there is a tug hereabouts, we'll never see him, nor he us."  Just as he spoke, the tug shot alongside through the snow, and picked them up.

This arrival in the midst of the season's heaviest storm was a big event for the good folk of the south shore, and it happened on a Sunday, too.  So all hands went to church, just as they were, oilskins, seaboots and all.

"I'm very glad to see you here," said the Methodist parson nervously.

"Mister," said Captain Jim, "we're damn glad to BE here. "

"We are having Epworth League.  Will you join us?" asked the parson, coughing slightly.

"Sure," said Captain Jim.  "Say, if you want us, reverend, we'll sing in the choir. "

Which they did.


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