Thursday, March 3, 2016

Granite Sloops

An assortment of sailing vessels, early 1850s
A detail of the painting Freshwater Cove from Dolliver's Neck
Fitz Henry Lane1
It is gratifying to discover historical documentation presented vividly by a masterful painter. Some of the nautical traffic in this scene on the rim of Gloucester Harbor relates to a small quarrying operation where the derrick rises from the hill to the left. The sloop at the pier waits to be loaded with stone, spars secured off to the side. 2

 The gaff-rigged sloop at the center of the cove rides low in the water, perhaps laden with a granite delivery for the City waterfront. One can't help wondering whether it was destined for Fitz Henry Lane's own house construction called The Stone Jug in present-day Gloucester.

 The sloop out-sizes the schooner it approaches. Each of these vessels could add vertical reach by lofting a topsail above its four-sided mainsail, a way of dividing up the canvas to add flexibility to the sailing plan and to make the bulk more manageable in a breeze. The jib follows its stay line forward to the tip of the bowsprit.

The smaller sloop to the left can be rigged with a one-piece mainsail to the top of the mast and a proportional jib. On the near bank a catboat's single sail lies furled as the crew readies the boat to land or depart.
Granite sloop, Pigeon Cove Harbor
John S. E. Rogers stereograph
Cape Ann Museum
Sturdily built sloops ferried quarry products to markets around the Massachusetts Bay in the nineteenth century. The loading boom on this sloop at a Pigeon Cove wharf is just distinguishable in line with the mast while the main boom sits triced up out of its way during cargo handling. The hold will be filled with paving stones piled on the wharf.
Larger blocks may be set on the deck as in the illustration by John F. Leavitt, who shipped aboard these vessels as a youth during the twilight years of the coastal trade and went on to noteworthy service as the Curator of the Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut.3

Sloop America at the Rockport Granite Company wharf
Sandy Bay Historical Society
The granite sloops could be rigged to carry an immense amount of sail to push their semi-submerged hulls through the water. With that much ballast they weren't inclined to capsize. Friendly waterfront competition laced these  recollections gathered by a navigator-turned-journalist in 1924: 4

The America was a notably fast sailer and was a product of one of the old Salisbury shipyards, in the year 1869. Her tonnage was 105.31 gross. The owner was Captain Jeremiah Pettingill.
Sloop America, Captain Jerry Pettingill and crew
Sandy Bay Historical Society
The old sloops carried a crew of four or five men. The huge mainsails were hard to hoist and Addison Haskell, who is one of the last of the old timers who used to go as hand, recalls welcoming the hoisting engine that was first installed in the sloop John Brooks, of Bay View. The Hard Chance next had a hoister, then the New Era and the Belle of Cape Ann.

Sloop America  moored among schooners and barges, Granite Pier
Sandy Bay Historical Society
Captain Prescott Mitchell delights in telling how he pelted his old sloop to the windward, discharged a large cargo of granite at Deer Island and was back at his home port in thirteen hours. He also made round trips to Newburyport, and to ports in Maine, in remarkably short time.

 The best years of these  men's careers lay in the decades to either side of the turn of the century. By 1924 Prescott Mitchell had come ashore to run a quarry hoisting engine.  His sloop Active had enlivened the Gloucester Daily Times in its day.
      November 2, 1891. Sloop Active left Lanesville Monday at 11 am with a freight of rough stone for the Rockport breakwater. The sloop first went to Rockport to have her marks taken and then went out and dropped her freight of stone and returned to Rockport at 4 o'clock pm to have her marks again taken. The sloop arrived at Lanesville Tuesday forenoon and was loaded with paving by the Lanesville granite company and sailed about noon for Boston.

      September 4, 1895. One of the crew of the sloop Active claims that last week they made the quickest trip on record. They sailed from Lanesville for Boston with a freight of cellar stone, and passed through seven bridges, discharged that freight and arrived back to Lanesville, having been 18 hours on the trip.
"Steam lighter" off Breakwater Quarry, Folly Point c. 1910
Cape Ann Museum, Foster Collection
A new generation of boats boasted engines and steel hulls to out-perform the sailing fleet but they surely fell short in the affection of their crews. Before the railroad and the steam lighters crowded the old sloop out of the business, a few schooners were used at Rockport. But never did they begin to compare, in point of numbers, with the single-masted vessel.4

Schooners held a stake as large commercial vessels for another generation, adopting auxiliary engines and the marginal areas of cargo transport, often tethered to a tow boat. The more economical sloops, superior sailors close to the wind, retained preeminence as spacious racing craft and spawned a popular segment of yachting design. 

1. Reprinted from John Wilmerding's Paintings by Fitz Hugh Lane, 1980. The painting is in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
2. Details of the painting are elucidated by Erik Ronnberg in an essay within Paintings by Fitz Hugh Lane, "Imagery and Types of Vessels".
3. John F. Leavitt, Wake of the Coasters, 1970.
4. "One Survivor of the Famous Fleet Cape Ann Stone Sloops,"  an article from an unidentified 1924 Boston newspaper by Captain Charlton Smith in the files of the Annisquam Historical Society.
5. Howard Chapelle, The History of American Sailing Ships, 1935.

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