Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Voices from the Past: Sailing on the Annie C

Written by Joe Valentine

What was it like to sail on a Chesapeake Bay log canoe 100 years ago?

Fortunately we can answer that question, thanks to Dr. Harry Holcomb who had a fascination for maritime history. Harry got involved with Frank Young who had purchased the log canoe Annie C. The Annie C had been built in Sanford, Virginia in 1904 by Horace Bundick, who worked as a waterman and a carpenter. Growing up in Sanford, Frank had known about the Annie C since his childhood. He loved her lines.  When he found her abandoned in 1989, Frank bought her for $300. Harry found out about her shortly thereafter, and joined Frank in her restoration. In addition to restoring her, Harry started tracking down people who had sailed on her and recorded interviews with them. Thanks to Harry’s recordings of her history, we can get a feeling of what it was like to sail on the Annie C.

The Annie C is an exceptionally large log canoe. She is built of five logs and is 9 ½ feet wide and 45 feet long form stem to stern, not including the rudder or the bow sprit. Her mast was about 47 feet tall and she carried a mainsail and a jib.

One of the interviews was with Mr. Donald Corbin, the son of the first owner of the Annie C. The vessel was named for Donald Corbin’s grandmother, Annie Hall Corbin. According to Mr. Corbin:

"Annie C made a trip to Baltimore and was to return home to Sanford. There was a steamer in 
Steamer: Three Rivers
Baltimore at the same time called the Three Rivers. My Uncle, Spencer D. Hall was her Captain. A bad storm came up. The storm was so bad that my Uncle, Captain Hall, told my father to leave the boat there and to take the steamer home to Crisfield. My father would not go on the steamer and after the steamer left, he sailed Annie C out of Baltimore in this storm and straight home to the Hummocks. He beat his brother [Brother in law, Captain of the steamer Three Rivers] home from Baltimore. When he got in there was not a sail left on her."

Louise Temple with the Annie C above and behind the stern.
While we do not have a picture of the Annie C under sail, we do have a picture of his sister ship, the Louise Temple, also built by Horace Bundick. The picture to the left is actually of the Louise Temple, but it is believed that the boat above and behind her stern is the Annie C.

The larger canoes, like the Annie C, were used to travel across the bay and collect oysters  around the James and Potomac Rivers. One of the people Dr. Holcomb interviewed was Captain Clifton Stant, the son of Harrison Stant who owned the Annie C with Al Hall in the early 1900’s. At the time, Captain Stant worked as the “culler” for his father.  The crew would travel across the bay in the winter and sleep in the small forward cabin. Captain Clifton Stant tells us what it was like to live aboard, especially in the winter when they would go across the bay for oysters: 

"It was all in one little cabin, we pretty near slept, ate, and everything all in the same spot, it was just tight, you can't imagine how tight it was in that little cabin for four people. On each side they had a little seat maybe about eight inches up off the floor. That is where you pulled your beds out.  You could push them up under the bow and pull them out at night. Sometimes we would sleep forward of the mast, two could sleep up there, tight sleeping. They had a little four burner cook stove, the top of it wasn't more that eighteen inches square. It burned wood and we had to cut pieces about six inches long to fit. You would be surprised what it would do to keep us warm. Of course we would keep putting a little piece of wood in her all night long during cold weather and kept the fire going all night into her."

Captain Clifton Stant of Hallwood sailed aboard the Annie C around 1912 and further describes the Annie C and the Louise Temple:

"The Annie C. and the Louise Temple were built for speed and looks. They were built in a little different shape than the rest of the log canoes. She was almost as sharp on the stern as she was on the bow. Annie C had a couple of pieces of pig iron back in her stern for ballast to keep her bow up a little bit. She could fly if you had the right wind. If you had a good breeze with about one third sail onto her that thing would fly,  she'd go right over until she'd pretty near take water into her. She was a pretty sight when she would come up with water on her wash boards. The Annie C and the Louise Temple used to race under sail. The Annie C was a little faster than the Louise Temple. The Annie C was the same style [as the Louise Temple] but just a little bigger."

Captain Clifton Stant also talked about crossing the Chesapeake Bay in a Northeaster: 

"In 1912 we went to the James River oystering and we had about two hundred and fifty bushels of oysters in her to bring home, to plant; it was in the fall of the year. We got practically all the way back across the Bay coming into Tangier to what we call Tangier Cod Lighthouse when we struck a heavy Northeast storm, I mean it was a storm! I thought it was fun at the time, I was in the cabin with my feet propped up on a little stove we had to keep it from turning over. My father and little Al Hall owned her together. Mr. Hall was at the tiller and my father held a piece of canvas over the two cylinder Bridgeport engine keeping her dry. They had the sail reefed down just as low as she would go, just a little piece to steady her a bit and my uncle, Neil Stant, was bailing water just as hard as he could bail to keep her afloat. They knew that we were on our way home from the James River and I guess practically half of Sanford was down to Messongo Creek waiting to see if we made it, they thought we were lost. They were waiting there when we come in safe."

The engine Captain Stant referred to was a two cylinder, 16 horsepower, Bridgeport make or break engine that was installed around 1910. There was ambivalence about the introduction of the gasoline engine into the log canoe. The old timers preferred to use sail while the younger generation of watermen were enamored with the new engines. Harry interviewed  Leslie Drummond, who worked with his father and grandfather on the log canoe Madcap. His comments quoted here illustrate the tension over the use of engines: 

"She (the Madcap) had a Mianus seven horse power motor. I wanted a larger motor and bought a Buick forty five horse power motor. I put the new motor in her and my Grandfather said 'You have something in her now I don't know anything about.' I said, 'You steer and I'll run the motor.' He said, 'you bought the thing now you pay for it.' So I had to work for the rest of the year to pay for the motor."
The log canoes with their fine tapered ends were not well suited for the use of power. Under power they would tend to "squat" in the stern. Leslie Drummond describes Madcap under way with his Buick forty five horse power motor: 

"I opened her up. The stern was clean down, the rudder right under the water - she was a trottin."  

Annie C in 1978.
The Annie C evolved over time from only sail to power. Ultimately she had similar engines installed around the same time as the Madcap. When the larger engines were installed, the centerboard and bowsprit were removed and eventually “squat boards” or planning boards were installed on the stern to keep the stern from squatting down when under power.

The pictured to the right is the Annie C at the end of her working live in 1978. If you look closely at the stern, you can see the remnants of the squat boards.

The Annie C worked on the water from 1904 till 1978 when she was beached in Saxis by Delany Linton who had hopes of restoring her. Unfortunately he had cancer and was unable to fulfill his dream. Thanks to Frank Young and Dr. Harry Holcomb, the Annie C was saved and resides today at Ker Place in Onancock. She has been restored to her original design as a pure sailing vessel. 
The Annie C today at Ker Place
Sources: Interview tapes and transcripts made by Dr. Harry Holcomb.

No comments:

Post a Comment