McCutcheon - 1983 Alvin Clark An UNfinished Voyage

McCutcheon - 1983 Alvin Clark An UNfinished Voyage - 1 3...

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Unformatted text preview: 1' 3 3E“ '3 E E mmme . H l ‘l. McCutcheon, C.T. Jr. (1983). Alvin Clark: An Unfinished Voyage, wooden Boat, Va;= No. 52, lax-Jute 1983, 52-58. Hoodensoat Ptblications, Inc. 5 , w - m I ‘ . - - . 13 E -—...I‘r_.,,rv_T H3 ‘3' (:3 if C] E I *3 if“ I 1 w fl f“?! 3 Iii-:3 Er iii-3 I c3 [:3 (if) ET] E; 1 mi: Super!” the east coast of Wisconsin's Door Peninsula, that long finger of land that separates Green Bay from Lake Michi- gan. Scanning the horizon to the south, they saw what appeared to be the ' foremast of a brigantine. The small boat came about on the starboard tack and worked its way out of North Bay in the direction of Cana Island. By the time it had gained a couple of miles from shore, the crew of the boat could see the approaching vessel more clearly. ‘With her foresail now in view, they could see that this was not a brigantine ‘ but a topsail schooner of the old style, ‘ with sharply raked masts, her three- , piece foremast being square-rigged from § course to topgallant. She was riding , light and running before a steady, 15- ‘ knot south~southwesterly with a bone j in her teeth. Her lower hull was coated 3 with "iron ore" paint up to the bottom 1 of the wales, while the wales and bul- , warks were a light tan, topped by a faded green railcap.‘ Bluff and boxy ‘ above the waterline, she was nonethe- ‘ less making very good time. As the Mackinaw boat worked in closer, her crew made the schooner to be the ‘ ALVIN CLARK and waved to the portly helmsman, who answered with a lift of his cap as the small boat passed quickly I astern. Aboard the ALVIN CLARK, Captain Durnin was past the‘ end of his watch. ‘ Two days out of Chicago, with orders to load lumber at Oconto, progress had been f itful. However, this day had been fair, with a moderate breeze rising out of the south-southwest, and the CLARK had made good progress since morn- 54 WoodenBoat/52 ing. The captain knew they-'d make Death’s Door in about an hour, and if the wind backed around to the south- east like he hoped it would, he'd be able to anchor off Oconto by nightfall. The little lumber port lay on the west side of Green Bay, some 50 miles below Death’s Door. If the present wind direc- tion held, it would-be'dead on their course, and there would be much tack- ing after they cleared the passage. The bay was 10 to 15 miles wide but was quite shoal in places, even well out from shore. This would shorten the length of their tacks considerably. After gaining ‘Deathdoor Bluff abeam, Dur- nin would harden up as much as the wind would allow and make for the northeast comer of Chambers Island. If the wind had not come around by then, they would have to tack about six miles beyond the point where the tip of the island came abeam. At that point, Dur- nin decided, they would take in the squaresails so as not to be too busy on the tacks. " ' Aside from captain and mate, the CLARK carried only two able seamen and another'fellow who .was earning his passage home to Oconto. One of the seamen, Michael Cray, an adventurous young man from Toronto, had already served an enlistment in the Union 9 Army and so was safe from the long arm of Father Abraham's draft. With the War of the Rebellion raging, crews were hard to find and demandwas high. Captain Durnin had felt deep misgivings at having set out so short- handed. The captain turned the watch over .124 to his mate, Mr. Dunn, and instructed him to hold his course until the Plum Island light bore northwest, then to call him. Dunn repeated the instruc- tions, and Durnin went below. The CLARK's aft cabin was typical of those in use on the smaller Lakes sailing vessels of the period. Measuring only 14' fore and aft, it occupied the full breadth of the hull to the height of the rail. A raised skylight toward the after end of the cabin provided light to the saloon. A shelf in the after end of the skylight held a compass and binna- cle lamp visible to the helmsman. Below, the saloon, which was about 9' wide, occupied the center of the cabin space. The galley and pantry were to port, and the captain's cabin and mate's cabin were to starboard. The overhead was panelled between the beams and painted in a dark wood grain finish, as were the doors and trim moldings. The interior bulkheads were of beaded tongue-and-groove pine, laid vertically and painted white or light gray. We can visualize the Captain enter- ~ ing the first door to starboard, the one with the louvers, planting his ample stern on a small stool before the desk in the alcove opposite his berth, and tak- ing a journal from the top drawer of the desk. In this he would have recorded his noon entry, and then he probably made his way across the saloon to the galley. The CLARK carried no cook this season, so meals were a chancy'propo- sition: a succession of stews, bread and cheese, perhaps the oCcasional roast of beef or pork. While Durnin was thus preoccu- pied, Cray and the others were below, sweeping out the hold. The hatch cov- ers had all been removed and were stored below, as the weather was fair and the captain had wanted to air the ship out. After dumping the last of the sweepings over the side, Cray lowered a bucket over the side to fill it with water so that they could rinse off the sweat of their labors and get ready to enjoy the stew that he had started simmering ear- lier on the galley stove below. He went forward to the fo'c's’le for a clean shirt, entering it through a scuttle just aft of the anchor windlass. A small, triangu- , lar space, separated from the hold by a watertight bulkhead, it had room fora box berth on either side. At one time, there may have been two more berths forward of these, but now any extra seamen would have to make do with‘a bedroll on the floor or with a 'ham- ’ mock, if they had one. The fo'c‘s'le had no light or ventilation other than what filtered down from the scuttle. The next hour passed quickly as the hissing of the wake, the rhythmic creak Drawings by Sam Manning of hempen rigging, and the warm meal lulled each man into his own private reverie. They had now approached the passage and the clear water was visible between the headland and Plum Island. At the call of the mate, Captain Durnin soon appeared on deck and noted with satisfaction that the mate had held his course. Durnin ordered his crew to brace up the CLARK’s yards, in anticipation of putting the schooner on the wind. Sighting roughly across the compass card, he soon determined that it was time to put the helm over and ordered the mate to do so. Slowly, the ALVIN CLARK responded and bore up on her northwest course. While the crew forward fell to trimming with a will, Durnin heaved at the seemingly endless mainsheet as it coursed silently through the well-greased blocks. As the CLARK settled onto her new course, Dunn let go the wheel briefly to help Durnin horse the 58’ main boom into its last foot of tn'm. g ' They hardened up again when they brought Plum Island abeam, and once more when they raised Chambers Island on the horizon off the base of Death- door Bluff. By now, the CLARK was about as close-hauled as she could get without taking in the squaresails, but Durnin had decided to carry full sail until it became necessary to tack. Though her speed was much dimin- ished, the CLARK still made good time _ to the west-southwest, toward the north-east point of Chambers Island. As the afternoon wore on, a low, dark cloudbank slipped little noticed across their stern. Hugging the horizon to the northeast, it probably seemed on its way to somewhere else. By 4:30, when the CLARK had Chambers Island nearly abeam ‘to port, Durnin must have seen that the cloud formation would pass closer than he had antici- pated. There were three other vessels nearby, just a mile or two astern, and none of them had moved to shorten sail. One of these Durnin no doubt rec— ognized as the brigantine DEWI'IT, which was commanded by Frank Hig- gie, a former part~owner of the CLARK. Perhaps 10 minutes elapsed before Durnin noticed that the farthest vessel, a steamer, had become nearly obscured by the onset of a rain shower. Then he saw that the DEWI’IT's forecourse was in bunt and that her royal had been lowered for furling. But perhaps because he still saw no signs of high winds, Durnin continued under full sail. Off Chambers Island the winds had become uncertain. They had begun to back to the south, and he had been able to change course a bit more to the south- west. Since he still hoped to reach the mouth of the Oconto River by night— fall, he would have been disinclined to interrupt their good progress because of what appeared to be a brief shower. Captain Durnin should have known better, as the very name "Death’s Door" came from the brief, furious thunder- squalls that ripped with unexpected suddenness through the passage at the headlands of the Door Peninsula. Even as the captain made his decision to maintain all sail, a roiling thunder- storm, accompanied by hail and gale force winds, was sweeping out of the passage from the northeast, obscured by the rain pattern ahead of it. When the first raindrops reached the CLARK, her crew would have felt the wind drop abruptly. Then, within a minute, they were struck by a power- ful gust from the northeast, Durnin, again at the helm, had seen it coming and quickly put the helm down to avoid a jibe. The CLARK, having little way on, responded slowly at first but then, with gathering momentum, rounded up while nearly rolling her starboard rail under. With the gust came a tremendous clap of thunder, finally warning Durnin that this would be no light shower. Now aware of the danger, Durnin shouted his orders to loose the ’course tacks and haul the buntlines. Cray, meanwhile, fetched an axe. The deck was now inclined steeply under the press of another gust and, with the last of his footing, Cray reached the for- ward shrouds. The gust passed and the CLARK struggled upright. Working with one hand, Cray cut the backstays. Then, sensing another gust, Cray let fly at the topgallant shroud lanyards and then parted the topmast shrouds. By this time, the CLARK was fully broad- side to the wind with her sails still trimmed for sailing close-hauled. Dunn had tried to let go the foresheet, but found it had become jammed. The next gust struck furiously. The topgallant mast snapped above the doubling and settled alongside the lee rail. The top- mast soon followed, creating an appal- ling mass of wreckage. Still the squall grew stronger. Cray had abandoned the axe and now grasped the windward rigging with both hands. His legs went from beneath him,-and he knew that the CLARK was going over and that without hatch covers in place would fill quickly. It was too late to save her. Swinging his legs lip and over the rail, Cray found himself lying on the bul- warks across the port chainplates. Now pelted by driving hail, he could hear nothing but the gale. Then, almost as abruptly as it had set upon them, the storm passed off to the southwest. Only Cray and one other seaman remained aboard, cling- ing to the mainmast shrouds. Francis Higgie, aboard the DEWI’IT, had seen the CLARK capsize and soon brought his ship close in, lowered the yawlboat, and picked up the two men. The others had drowned. " Vessel Lost—We regret to be com- pelled to announce the loss of the schooner ALVIN CLARK, in the squall and gale of the 29th of June...." So be- gins the Oconto Pioneer's July 8, 1864 52/WoodenBoat 55 (I...) {If} 1ij] [if] [3* £3 £3 13! g‘ as [.13 1 ea ii! If t, «3 E3 sits a: report of the sinking of the CLARK. From this and other news accounts of the day, we find that several days after the storm, the CLARK was reported lying in nine fathoms of water off Chambers Island with her stern out of the water. Believing that she could be salvaged, her owners, William and John Higgie of Racine, sent for a salvage tug from Buffalo. By the time the tug arrived, the CLARK had disappeared. The weight of her anchors and chain had evidently submerged her how and, when the rest of the hull had become sufficiently waterlogged, she slipped, beneath the water, finally coming to rest in 19 fathoms. Soon forgotten amid reports of war and the presidential elec- tion campaign and Lincoln’s assassi- nation, the old schooner went into a prolonged sleep beneath a gathering blanket of silt. hat was this vessel that would be so long preserved to haunt another generation a century later? This schooner had been the brainchild of John Pearsbn Clark. Born at Catskill- on-the-Hudson, New York, in 1808, Clark had moved with his parents to the vicinity of Wyandotte, Michigan, while he was still a boy. Located on the bustling Detroit River a few miles ‘below Detroit. this community must have developed in Clark an early inter- est in making a living from the water. In 1826, when Mr. Clark was only 18, he went into the fish business on the Maumee River. - Over the next 20 years, Clark's fish- eries grew and expanded into northern Lake Michigan. He found that it would be most useful to have his own vessel to transport salt and barrel staves from Buffalo to his fisheries and then carry the prepared product to Detroit, Cleve- land, and Buffalo. So it was that, in the winter months of 1846, he ordered a sturdy two-master from the Truago (now Trenton) shipyard of Joseph M. Keating. At that time Truago, also on the Detroit River, was favored by immense stands of white oak, and this wood had become the principal con— struction material for Great Lakes ship- builders. We know nothing, at this writing, of Keating’s background and training, 56 WoodenBoat/52 With the Civil War at an end....the larger schooners and barkentines concentrated on the grain trade . but one presumes, from an examina- tion of the ALVIN CLARK, that he was influenced by developments in design that had evolved on the Lakes over the preceding half~century. The develop- ment of upper Great Lakes vessels as a distinctive type has received little atten- tion from historians of naval architec- ture. However, because of the draft res- trictions imposed by the many unim- proved harbors and connecting water- ways, one might surmise that, early on, Lakes sailing vessels were of shoal draft, with little or no drag to their keels. We do have some record of the designs of Naval craft on the Lakes dur- ing the War of 1812, and they tend to verify this notion. From that period to the early 18503 is very nearly a blank page in this evolution. Sometime dur- ing this period, the centerboard was tried and soon became standard. By the. 18305, schooners and brigantines much resembling Webb 8: Allen’s SANTIAGO (see Chapelle, The Search for Speed Under Sail, page 82) begin to appear in lithographs of harbor scenes. Whatever the stages of development may have been, the vessel that began to rise on the stocks at Keating’s shipyard in the spring of 1846 was very much a distinc- tive Lakes design. Mr. Clark's new schooner would measure 1068' in length along the underside of the deck from the inside stem rabbet t0' the inside of the stern planking. Her molded beam was 23'4" and molded depth, 9’4". Her deadrise, 12" at 8’ out from the centerline, was double that of Lakes schooners in their final stage of development. Her center- board was offset to the port side of the keel. With her short entrance, long, easy run, and her greatest beam well forward, she was very much of the cod’s head-mackerel’s tail school of design. Her mainmast, at three times the ves- sel's beam Over the planking, shows that this common proportion had been worked out by that time. In all, she would carry around 8,000 square feet of . sail. Enrollment records tell us that John P. Clark’s new schooner, named for his son, Alvin S. Clark, was launched on August 12, 1846, and was first enrolled at Michilimackac in April‘of 1847. We do not know much about her early years of operation, but by some stroke of good fortune, her account-book for the years 1850-53 has survived, and from that we can reconstruct the nature of her trade and her value as a business venture. Th‘e ALVIN CLARK was in the gen- eral cargo trade, and each year she would become active about mid-March. At that time, a captain would be appoin- ted and begin signing on a crew. Judg- ing from the supplies purchased, these men would attend to the vessel’s gen- eral maintenance. They mixed their own paint and did the caulking and rigging repairs. By early April, a full crew would be signed, consisting of captain, mate, cook, and four seamen. ‘The captain was paid $50 per month, the mate $25, and a seaman's pay ranged from $11 to $20 per month, probably depending on experience. The cook received only $12 to $13 per month. The season '5 first trip came in April, when Lake Erie was free enough of ice to allow the CLARK to clear for Buffalo or Oswego with a cargo of lumber. She would return with a cargo of salt (the vast salt deposits beneath Detroit had not yet been discovered) and barrebzz-m staves for Clark's fish business and—W: ————_—___.—__..—____ perhaps some manufactured goods for———————-———————— some Detroit merchant. By early May, she would head north, pass through ' the Straits of Mackinaw, and sail west— ward to Whitefish Bay (Door County) and Twin Rivers (Two Rivers, Wis- consin) with salt and staves for the _ fisheries. Then, typically, she would load lumber, more than 117,000 board feet on one occasion, together with sev- eral thousand shingles, and head for Chiargo. There, the captain would tele— graph Detroit for instructions. He might return to northern Wisconsin for another load of lumber, or he might receive orders to load wheat for Buf- falo. Sometimes the CLARK would stop at Twin Rivers to load barrels of fish for Detroit or Lake Erie ports. A typical trip from,Detroit to Chicago consumed around 10 days, followed by four or five days' layover. . The CLARK's account book bring one point home to the most hopeless romantics among us: the schooner was strictly a commercial enterprise to be conducted on the basis of a balance sheet. Thus, every expenditure, from a few cents for a bar of soap or curtain rings, to $25 for towing over the St. Clair Flats, or $50 for Welland Canal Tolls, was recorded. The freight rates from which these expenses were met seem modest today. The lumber rate from n_orthern Michigan ports to Chi- argo was only $2 per thousand board feet but was about twice that amount to Buffalo and even more to Oswego. Because of substantial changes in the value of the dollar, the true value of a commercial vessel in this trade, when viewed as an investment, can best be understood in terms of percentage. In 1852, for example, the CLARK had gross freight receipts of $6,64 l . 15 plus a $200 credit for insurance, for a total of . $6,841.14. Of this amount, the season's payroll for captain and crew totalled $1 ,739. 19, and the amount paid to John P. Clark was $3,589.00, the difference being the operating expenses. Thus, the return to the owner was 52% of gross receipts. Although we do not have her exact building cost, it would be proba- ble that the CLARK paid for herself in three seasons. I . .III ".1 Jill] 2, lllzflll mm“ mm mum /.llll If Mildly mum goggles. By the end of the century, schooner: could be found as frequently at the end of towlines as under sail. But just as economic factors brought the ALVIN CLARK into being, they also brought windbome commerce on the Lakes to an end. It did not happen all at once. In fact, after the CLARK settled beneath the waters of Green Bay, sail- ing vessels on the Lakes continued to grow in size and number. With the Civil War at an end, the country's great- estexpansion into the western prairies ’ resumed in earnest, and Chimgo bemme the terminus for shipping the bounty‘ of the West to eastern markets. The larger schooners and barkentines con- centrated on the grain trade, while smaller vessels the size of the CLARK. found most of their employment in the lumber trade. Following the Chicago fire in 1871, the lumber fleets had all the work they could handle. During this period, the numbers of steamers continued to grow and by the early '70s, passenger and freight pro- peller-driven vessels had largely forced the schooners out of the general cargo trade. In fact, specialized types of steam— ers began to be developed for the lumber trade. Steamers improved so rapidly and became so common that in 1889, only 25 years after the CLARK slipped into her prolonged slumber, Burger 8:: Burger would launch the last full- rigged Lakes schooner to be built in the United States, the CORA A. By the end of the century, schooners could be found as frequently at the end of tow- lines as under sail. By that time, too, the railroads had stretched north from the major cities and had begun to make inroads into the general freight trade of the stea- mers. Furthermore, the railroads had developed air ferries for cross-lake ser- vice, and these absorbed even more of the trade. In time, only the major bulk commodities—ore, coal, grain, lime- stone, and cement—were left to Lakes shipping. In the decade after World War I, the motor tru'ck began to cut into the railroads’ business, while auto- mobiles sapped the overnight passenger trade. By then, the northern forests were badly depleted and even the lumber steamers were becoming a memory. With mtgoes growing short, a hand- ful of schooners hung on in the lumber and pulpwood trade. But as the l920s waned, so, too, did the earnings for replacing worn sails and rigging. In 1930, OUR SON went to the bottom, LUCIA A. SIMPSON was laid up at Stur- geon Bay, and LYMAN M. DAVIS was enjoying a last fling under Canadian registry. By the mid-’30s, these last ves- tiges of commercial sail were gone. While a revolution in the country's transportation system was taking place, the ALVIN CLARK slept, patiently, the broken stub of her main topmast reach- ing imploringly from the gloom, a scant 40' below the surface. But her journey to Mystery Ship Seaport takes us to another story, and her meeting with Frank Hoffmann. Acknowledgments: I would like to thank the following persons for their assistance in the prep- aration of this article: Mr. Frank Hoff- mann; John Polacsek and Kathy McGraw of the Dossin Great Lakes Museum, Detroit; Patience Nauta of Detroit Historical Museum, Detroit; the staff of the Detroit Public Library and Burton Historical Collection, Detroit. Thanks to Sam Manning for having encouraged me to write this article. CT M 52/WoodenBoat 57 3» [J {:3 i3 1;.) {:13 £53 £3 £3 £3 (:13 L e E1} [:3 1:33 5:3 n v { E3 EH ET! €13 a 5 l :1 Mi . nnunnm ' EWIIIWIIIH ! i: Egilgiiiggalgfig i 1" Eli Ii 58 WoodenBoat/ 52 ...
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McCutcheon - 1983 Alvin Clark An UNfinished Voyage - 1 3...

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