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by Jody Argo Schroath
We return this month with a second helping of excerpts fromCruises Mainly in the Bay of the Chesapeake, Robert and George Barrie Jr.'s sumptuous account of their sailing trips predominantly on the Bay between 1897 and 1907. When it was published in 1909, and through three printings,
Cruisesinspired legions of yachtsmen to come and sample the Barrie brothers' "ideal" cruising grounds. A century later, the book continues to inspire and delight the fortunate few who come across it. Modern readers rediscover its lively descriptions of some of the Bay's favorite--and sometimes forgotten--cruising grounds and its portraits of a simpler, less crowded time. And they too fall under the spell of the Barries' gentle humor, high spirits and overarching affection for the Bay, its history and its inhabi-tants, because the Barries--both the older and more serious Robert and the young and eager seaman George--are perceptive, but rarely critical, and absolutely never bored.
In addition to more excerpts of their cruises and a look at one of the books recurring themes--the hunt for food--this month we also have a special treat: some "new" photos. Last month, we published a few of the book's photos, but this month--thanks to Robert's granddaughter, Eugenia Slaymaker of Villanova, Pa., and to George's daughter, Georgine Barrie of Dorset, Vt.--we have photos from George's own photo albums of the trips. To our knowledge, they have not been published before. And we're pretty pleased about it.
So to return to our story . . . we left the two brothers last month after the completion of their second cruise from the Corinthian Yacht Club in Philadelphia to the Bay on Robert's 42-foot cutterMona. After a third trip aboard
Monain 1899, George returned the following summer in his own boat, the 28-foot
Seminole, while his brother pursued "the elusive somolian" in Europe. George was accompanied by friend A.G. (Dr. Alexander Glass of Philadelphia), who brought his own boat--a 28-foot bugeye named
Corona, which had a 1 1/2-horsepower gasoline motor of uncertain reliability. The two friends stopped at Annapolis for several days and then anchored in the Rhode River before crossing the Bay to visit St. Michaels.
While George favored small boats for cruising, Robert argued that the bigger the boat the better. The following year, 1901, Robert returned to the Chesapeake with his brother George and an unnamed paid hand on his new boat, the 57-footLiris. The bigger boat meant more stability and more creature comforts, but with its draft of nearly eight feet it also increased the likelihood of running aground . . . which is just what happened during
Liris's second day on the Bay. And then, as so often happens, one thing led to another. Robert recorded the events:
"We were up at sunrise. Of course we see the sun rise only when cruising. What a charm there is in the dawn and early morning! Unlike the twilight, the day is before us; there is a feeling of hope and buoyancy; even the chirping of the birds up in these placid inland waters adds zest and vigor to the feeling of freedom.
The breeze was light from the southward, but increased as the sun rose. We breakfasted off Turkey Point, and, coming on deck, found a good stiff wind and a swirling wake. We had a splendid piece of sailing over what the poets would call a summer sea: deep blue with splashes of white, brilliant with sparkles of sunshine. The grand sweep of the sky and the rush of the sailing added to the spirit of buoyancy, so that we soon had that true spirit of adventure which a cooped-up townsman cannot feel.
But this did not last long. Off Still Pond the breeze died out entirely, but we had a fair tide, and worked down with it until off Poole's Island, where I thought we might take chances across the shoals. I knew there was a six or seven-foot lump thereabouts, but thought it was farther west. In the desire to make time in the light breeze I took the risk, and got caught by the strong ebb tide driving us sidewise against the lump. There we stuck, although we hung the anchor under our boat and towed it with the launch to the end of a new fifty-fathom hawser and set it up with the capstan as taut as a fiddlestring. The tide dropped until we were showing two feet of copper, so we made up our minds that we would not get off until nine o'clock or so at night. As it kept getting hotter and hotter we had a swim and pottered round at small jobs.
About three o'clock, when we looked for the tide to turn, things got very black in the west. We put on hatch covers, preparatory to the usual afternoon squall, but this turned out to be a white squall, and the worst we had seen in our cruises on the Chesapeake. Long before we felt any rush of wind the water across the Bay was white. The squall came down toward us, tearing up the water in spiral swirls. We were struck hard, so hard that, instead of heeling as we were to starboard two feet out of water, we were blown over to port. The boats were thrown about and rattled in a deafening way, and it blew so that we lay flat across the deck, holding on to the weather rail. Although the worst part of it was soon over, or we began to be accustomed to it, a wicked sea was up in no time; at first banging under the counter, but soon big enough to lift us, aground as we were, and slam us down on the [rock-hard] sandbar. Nothing could be done but hang on and hope that the spars would not fall on us, while the sea and the tropical rain drenched us, and the darkness gave us the blues. Soon we noticed that the hawser seemed to have slackened, so crawled forward to the capstan and found, to our joy, that, with two at the crank handles and one holding end, we were able to set up tight when the sea raised us, and when we rose the combined tightening of hawser and increased depth of water enabled us to drag her off. The anchor holding and the sea increasing, we were in this manner able to draw clear of the bar and blow off into deep water, where we rode to three hundred feet;Lirisbehaving like a duck, sticking her bowsprit under but not taking any water on deck.
About six o'clock we managed to get in our hawser and anchor, put on jib and mainsail, and stand down the Bay in a strong westerly breeze. It was a dirty night, but we had a boat big enough to move about on in comfort; we had plenty of dry, warm clothes, so had a good supper, and enjoyed the run immensely. I stayed at the tiller while George attended to the navigation, and under his directions we got into Annapolis inner harbor, thick and breezy as it was, without ever seeing one of the buoys, the whole job being as pretty a piece of that sort of work as I ever saw. We anchored at midnight."
After a short stay in Annapolis and the addition of a friend, Seymour, to the crew,Lirisset off for Oxford, encountering fickle winds and then a series of squalls along the way. Two days later, the Barries crossed the Bay to visit the small settlement at Solomons. Following the western shore south toward the Patuxent, they admired the cliffs and heavily wooded bluffs. The wind had a surprise in store for them, however.
"The wind kept getting hotter and hotter until at last, off Point of Rocks, something happened. I have experienced sudden shifts of wind before, but nothing so sudden as what then occurred. We were standing south, close-hauled against the hot southwest wind and close under the high shore; ahead of us, and not two hundred yards away, was a working schooner doing the same as ourselves, when suddenly his booms swung out to windward, and, without changing his course to any apparent degree, he continued on his way rejoicing. As there was not much ripple on the water, and we still had a fairly strong southwest wind and nothing to indicate any change, it looked like black art. In a few minutes we experienced the same change. Our booms went over suddenly--instantly, in fact--and we felt a change in the atmosphere, such as one experiences in opening the door of a large refrigerator. The southeast wind, which was cool and laden with moisture, with the scent of the sea in it, came up with an exhilarating rush that was fine. We slipped along in almost perfectly smooth water for a few minutes till the "bobble" began, when we had a spanking piece of windward work down to Cove Point and beyond, until we could stand into the mouth of the Patuxent. It seemed as though the southeast wind could not force its way in there, for we ran into a dead spot and then faced the hot southwest wind again coming out of the harbor. The tide was ebbing strongly, and we and a couple of pungys hitched back and forth, getting in each other's way and making slow work of it, so that we did not anchor inside Drum Point until after seven o'clock.
There is a fine harbor there, but the entrance is so narrow that there is little probability that some rosy dreams of making it a port rivaling Baltimore will ever come true. A railroad, with its terminal at Drum Point, has been projected. It even appears as large as life on a map we carried with us on our first trip here, but there is no sign of greatness on shore other than an enormous mansion of the Centennial vintage of architecture.
There are about half a dozen little marine railways scattered about in the coves and creeks, and all seem to do a good business with the large oyster fleet. These oyster boats are fine, big, able bugeyes, rated among the natives according to the number of bushels of oysters they can carry. The sharp rake to their masts, crisscrossed as they lie in groups in the coves, heightens the effect, while an occasional sharp-headed sail set adds to it all.
On the island, which is a peninsula at low tide, as the connecting bar at the west end is bare at that time, we found a straggling village with a couple of ancient and fishlike general stores, a fine artesian well, and the sole interests of the place oystering and bugeye building and repairing.
The oyster fleet at Solomons must include well toward two hundred craft: one evening we counted eighty returning. They are handled wonderfully well; we hear much of the cleverness of the Gloucester fishermen, but no bayman ever made such a mess of a job as did a Gloucester fisherman I once saw in Newport harbor, fouling three craft while getting under way, officers and crew nervous and excited as chickens with their heads off. I have seen two baymen back a large bugeye for several hundred yards out of the thicket of vessels in Annapolis harbor, and this simply wonderful feat excite no surprise among the neighbors. They are certainly expert sailors in their line. I do not know how they would be in deep sea work or on large vessels, but they are certainly wonderful at handling the typical bay craft of fifty to ninety feet.
That night was a sad one for me. The effect of a too healthy appetite and too little exercise put me out of commission, so I went to bed shortly after dinner. During the evening we had a hard squall--George's log says it laid us well over, blew out the large and powerful riding light, and the next morning he found we had dragged a hundred yards or so. I give all this as hearsay as I did not get up next morning until we were well out into the Bay. I rose while the ship's company were enjoying a state breakfast, and on looking out of the stateroom skylight saw we were passing Cove Point with a fresh west wind. A little later I put on an overcoat over my pajamas, got on deck, sat in an armchair under the lee of a sail on the sunny side, had an orange and soft boiled egg, and soon began to feel [better]. These are trivial, and, from a certain point of view, ridiculous details, but they are little things which exercise considerable influence over life. The sunny side of that sail was to me the most desirable place on earth, and after a bad night the bright sunny world seemed particularly cheerful."
That afternoon they dropped anchor off St. Michaels and spent the remainder of the day entertaining visitors and then dashing off for ice, provisions, papers and telegrams.
"There is a brisk air about [St. Michaels], both in the morning and evening, when the summer boarders, principally beauty and youth, go for the mail; the rest of the day and evening seems to be spent by them in or on the water. It is a great place for canoe sailing. Canoes are everywhere. In the morning the crews, both girls and boys, are in bathing suits; then, if there is a smart breeze, the sailing is more than reckless: to capsize means only another bath. They seem to dress for lunch, so that in the afternoon the sailing is more discreet. In the evening, when the girls have on white dresses, and the breeze is generally lighter, things are more placid, and banjos are in evidence. This seems to be the daily round; at Oxford it was the same, and I presume it is so at these places all the summer."
The following morning, they weighed anchor for the Wye River.
"It was only a short distance and we were soon at our old anchorage off Bruff's Island. Here we were in the prettiest and most park-like scenery on the whole Eastern Shore, so we determined to run up the river to the westward of Wye Island and complete the circumnavigation of the island, in which we had been defeated by an out-of-order drawbridge on a former occasion. We took lunch and bottles in a basket of ice, and picnicked ashore on the northeast point at the junction of the Back and Front Wye Rivers. We found that we had chosen a spot that had been used for picnics before, for all about us under the turf were tons of oyster shells that had been cast aside by Indians centuries ago. It was a lovely spot, and spoke well, in our opinion, for the red man's taste in these matters. The red man undoubtedly went up and down to the Bay in canoes and probably paddled; we degenerates, cursed by civilization, used a launch. We undoubtedly lost in physique by it, but it was very pleasant."
Lirisreturned to St. Michaels and then recrossed the Bay to anchor near the mouth of the Rhode River, where they visited friends. A few days later, they returned to Annapolis before starting the trip up the Bay to the C&D Canal and home. Finally, Robert drives home his argument for cruising on bigger boats:
"We had had a most enjoyable month with plenty of exercise and, on the whole, I think we were much better off than we would have been in a smaller boat. A small boat can, of course, make a harbor in a lot of little places where it is not safe to take a large one, but this disadvantage, I think is more than counterbalanced by the big boat's ability to take the weather as it comes, in increased speed . . . enabling one to make a harbor earlier in the day in greater comfort and in easier behavior at anchor."
The crucial questions of food. If ever a company traveled on its stomach, it was the Barrie brothers, with three square meals a minimum daily requirement. Since ice was scarce, fresh food was constantly in demand and expeditions to local farms were frequent, though not always successful. Back on the Choptank the following year aboard his new boat,Irex, George goes looking for food. He picks up the story:
"After lunch we all sailed in our longboat up to the town marked on the chart: the name of this classic spot we learned was Madison. [We] walked about the town trying to get meat and milk, but could not get either, so filled the milk can with green apples. On getting back to the boat I left the others and went on to a house on the outskirts of the town to try for chickens. After many laughable attempts the man succeeded in catching one, then the others became too wily; although we needed four, [I] concluded to take the one, and the price, after some hesitating, was set at thirty cents, but as he could not change a dollar and could catch no more I went back empty-handed."
On their way back up the Bay, the Barries sought refuge in Fairlee Creek because a terrible storm was predicted momentarily. Still, dinner could not be neglected.
"At dusk I [George] sailed to a house situated on a bluff on the north shore for milk, while the Merlins [A.G. and his son Alexander, who were accompanyingIrexon their boat,
Merlin] went up the creek for the chickens. Had to wait for the milk to be coaxed from the cow, but had a pleasant beat back in a freshening southerly breeze. When the Merlins came with the chickens they also brought the news that all on board the trading vessels were of the opinion that there would be a bad night. Sat on the counter and picked the chickens. Fine moonlight and no signs of bad weather."
Robert found the search for food while cruising a novel experience, and his musings on it suggest a pampered life back in Philadelphia.
"The fascination of this marketing at farmhouses, or even in the villages, is curious. During eleven months of the year to carry a basket or a milk can would be a degradation akin to servitude: then the only knowledge that such a thing as food must be bought is the monthly making of checks. But on a cruise there is something very humanizing in the experience of sitting gossiping with the friendly country people, most of whom are possessed of an astonishing education and dignity of manner. There is generally a delightful calm independence about the bay folk in this lotus land that seems to have been given them by nature in poetic justice as compensation for the lack of the doubtful joys of money bought luxuries."
By 1904 the Barries had clearly had their fill of chicken. Returning to the Bay in late May onIrex, George must have loaded the refrigerator to capacity with beef--for roast beef, stewed beef and beef brisket figured prominently on the lunch and dinner menus for the entire trip. On a trip in April 1906, however, the Barries and their friend A.G. took another tack: shooting ducks while anchored in the South River aboard George's new cruising skipjack,
Omoo. George wryly recounted their attempts.
"A poor, lonely duck was seen, and several charges of shot expended on him, but he came out unscathed. The small anchor was let go in Lonehouse Creek at three o'clock. After sail furling everyone piled into the longboat for a run ashore. I was landed on the west shore, and Bob [brother Robert] on the east shore, while A.G. stuck to the boat for a short sail. I heard several shots from Bob, but never saw anything worth shooting. In about an hour I returned to the beach and saw the other two out buying oysters from a tonger; when they came for me I eagerly inquired the results of all their firing; Bob answered that there were three ducks in the creek that did not know when they were dead. Oyster opening and eating was immediately begun by the two old men, while I rove some new halyards. . . .
Panned oysters were demanded for supper, and a kettle said to contain sixty was given to me. The casserole was made almost red hot, a little butter browned, then the oysters allowed to cook until they just began to curl on the edges. Those sixty faded away like chaff before a gale."
Fish were as safe from the Barries and their friends as were ducks. George puzzled over the process:
"The next two days we lay at anchor [off Oxford, Md.]. I sailed and pottered around, while the Merlins tested the engine (it ran fine at anchor) and fished. I never could understand that fishing of theirs, it would break out every few hours, rain or shine, and they never caught anything; others around them caught perch, but they only pulled up lines and lowered them again."
In 1907, George and Robert transited the canal and entered the Chesapeake one last time. It was their second trip south aboard George's Omoo, which he had commissioned from Charles Leatherbury of Galesville.Irexhad been broken up two years earlier and most of her fixtures and fittings removed and reused on the new skipjack. But George kept
Irex's handsome carved ram's-head tiller the rest of his life. His daughter Georgine has it still. On that final trip, the brothers revisited many of their favorite haunts: Annapolis, Oxford, the South and West rivers and Worton Creek. Once again, they were accompanied by their friend A.G.and his son Alexander, who traveled aboard their boat, this time a small power yacht--again with an engine of uncertain reliability. In the evenings, the four entertained themselves with a portable phonograph brought out on deck. Times were changing, but the charm of the Chesapeake remained. George wrote:
"Gradually more and more yachts are seen on the Chesapeake, especially since gas engines have become so popular. [Still], few yachtsmen realize the beauties of this great Bay--a perfect paradise for the cruiser. A short dash outside now and again is very proper to relieve the monotony, but . . . cannot compare with the beautiful, ideal, peaceful existence of the cruiser who takes advantage of this perfect mixture of water and land. . . . Visit this land of Canaan and you will fain take the advice which Alsop gave in 1666, and "dwell here, live plentifully, and be rich."
The Cruises end here. In 1918, George bought Hackett Point near Annapolis to use as his base for cruising the Bay. It wasn't an immediate hit with his family, however. Georgine recalls that when her mother visited for the first time, she found all of the house's radiators piled in the living room. Hackett Point was succeeded by a small cottage in St. Michaels, andOmoowas succeeded byOmooII, a 50-foot motor-yacht--a concession to his non-sailing wife and daughter. But the Great Depression was knocking at the door, andOmoo IIwas soon put on the auction block. But George continued to visit the Chesapeake from his home in Ardmore, Pa., throughout the rest of his life, sailing small boats and those of his friends. At mid-century, he contributed to Fessenden S. Blanchard'sCruising Guide to the Chesapeake, which was published from 1950 to 1968.
Robert, who became head of the family's publishing house, George Barrie & Sons, after George Sr.'s death in 1918, poured his attention and his fortune into the family business--until the Depression and a changing market for books depleted both and the business closed. Robert was a keen racer, his granddaughter Eugenia recalls, and the family spent many summers at Watch Hill, R.I., where Robert was a frequent winner in a succession of yachts.
As for their book,Cruises Mainly in the Bay of the Chesapeakefound a steady readership through three editions into the 1950s. Today, few copies remain in circulation, and those have become rare and expensive finds--usually selling for more than a hundred dollars. Happily,Cruisescan be found in its entirety on line, thanks to the efforts of Craig O'Donnell, a Chestertown newspaper reporter and Bay history enthusiast. To find a link to the book, go to our website,ChesapeakeBoating.net.
"How surprised and pleased they would be to know their book is still being read and admired," Georgine Barrie remarked.