Thursday, February 25, 2016

Granite Schooners

A large ship at sea turns the head of mariner and landsman alike.  Even when not under sail it exudes the aura of a champion, a master of campaigns in distant and alien elements. It waits impatiently at the wharf until released to the wind where intricacies of canvas and rigging propel its crew to business with grace and daring, in a fair breeze; or with tedium, or terror, during weather extremes.

We enjoy the sight of a Cape Ann schooner the way we admire the lines of swift and powerful creatures. Their utilitarian excellence impresses us as beautiful. Experiments over the centuries probed, refined, and probed again among the combinations of materials, capacity, seaworthiness, speed, safety, and economy  for given jobs.

On all schooners the fore mast is shorter than or the same height as the aft mast.
Loading stone on a granite schooner, Lanes Cove
Annisquam Historical Society, postcard from the Richard Lewis collection
As its cargo or fishing crew expands in size the schooner's concept must grow larger and require more sail. Masts either become taller or multiply to supply sufficient motive power. The vessel's two or more masts extend its sail reach more longitudinally than vertically (less height for the sailor to climb), present a lower center of effort than a single-masted craft (less tippy), distribute the forces (lower individual mast stress), and increase flexibility through a multiple sail plan, especially if gaff-rigged.
A granite schooner off Rocky Neck, Gloucester
Photo courtesy of the Cape Ann Museum
The gaff - a spar supporting the upper edge of a four-sided sail - and the bowsprit, to which forward stays and sails may be attached - increase the power dynamics of the craft as well as its visual pleasure to anyone who sees a schooner under way.

Compare the sleek outline of the vessel photographed above with the Annie & Reuben below. Although deeply loaded for this trip, as the waterline indicates, the close-set masts suggest it was originally designed as a fishing boat.

The schooner Annie & Reuben ready to discharge cargo.
John R. Herbert photograph from Peabody Essex Museum1
The Annie & Reuben was refitted to spread the masts as far apart as possible to allow a loading derrick to swing clear from the base of the foremast. It resulted in a tremendous foresail that in some cases was almost bigger than the mainsail and, "winged out" with foresail to one side and mainsail to the other, most of the stone vessels could walk away from other vessels when the wind was dead aft.1
Four-masted schooner approaching the Rockport Granite Company pier
Charles Cleaves photograph, Sandy Bay Historical Society
Gloucester Daily Times
The Pigeon Hill Granite Company on Saturday loaded the three-masted  sch Crescent with 44,500 New York paving blocks in 5 hours and a quarter or 141 1/2 tons per hour. The quickest loading on record. December 5, 1891.
      We foresee record granite prospects this season in Pigeon Cove. Last week Mr. Barker loaded a vessel with 900 tons burden, said to be the largest one ever loaded here, but that record has been broken by one that arrived here Sunday to load for Charles H. Cleaves. She is the Harry Messer and arrived in the tow of tug Nathaniel Jones and is 1,000 tons burden.
      A large 4-master, the Wm. Johnson, arrived at the Rockport Granite Co dock Sunday, the first 4-master, 1,200 tons. March 12, 1894.
A deep-loaded schooner at the Pigeon Hill Granite Company wharf
Charles Cleaves photograph, Sandy Bay Historical Society
The smaller schooners on the Boston run were almost invariably loaded just shy of the sinking point. I have seen the Annie & Reuben with something over 200 tons of stone aboard, lying at Crotch Island wharf with the water flowing through the scuppers to the height of an inch or more on the main hatch coaming over the deck. This in a flat calm. Loaded in such a fashion, the schooners resembled half-tide ledges when at sea, and it is sure the hatches were well battened down and the pumps going steadily the entire trip.1
Painting of a five-masted schooner by Emile Gruppe, c. 1920
Pigeon Hill Granite Company wharf, Rockport
Courtesy of the Cape Ann Museum
On April 12, 1894, exactly a month after printing the sanguine article above, the Gloucester Daily Times recorded awe and heartbreak in the community.
      The ocean is a fearful sight this morning. Yesterday afternoon we took a walk around by the shore as far as Way's Point. The waves were mountains high....
      The sad news was received here last evening of the wreck of the large three-master, Kate Markee, off the New Jersey coast. [She] sailed from the wharf of the Pigeon Hill Granite company last Friday with a freight of paving for parties in Philadelphia. We learn that all hands were lost, and what makes it doubly sad is that they were lost in sight of the life-saving crew who could not get their lines in the vessel, as the storm was so severe....
      The bell buoy on Avery's Ledge was washed ashore near Gully Point. At present there is no appearance of an abatement of the storm.
The Oliver Ames, largest of the two-masted schooners,
inbound to the Bay View granite works.
Lobsterman Ezra Harraden in foreground2
By getting stone to distant markets  the schooners became an indispensable partner to the burgeoning Cape Ann granite industry in the latter nineteenth century. They filled their holds with the millions upon millions of paving stones astonishingly cut by hand. They carried immense blocks on deck for public monuments. They navigated "outside" past Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard to reach ports as far away as New Orleans and the West Coast. 

Schooners epitomize the many specific achievements of technology and determination that sustained people and industry. 

1. John F. Leavitt, Wake of the Coasters, 1990.
2. Pictures from the Past, volume 1, published by the Lanesville Community Center

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