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Mystie 1910 Peterborough Canoe

Canoes used for sailing

These Canoes were primarily rigged and used in the American Canoe Association for Sailing Racing and Cruising (trips of more than one day with camping, fishing, and even hunting, outfit on board). All these canoes are significant, not only because they are old, but, because they are all National Championship Canoes and, furthermore, represent innovations in the rigging, hull, or both, primarily in the Cruising Class and the ACA Class.

None of these canoes is equipped with any kind of mountings for a rudder or other steering device. All were intended to be steered by balancing the canoe and the use of a hand- held paddle. See my manuscript on the HISTORY OF THE CRUISING CLASS, which describes these canoes and how they were developed and used.

MYSTIE — 16 foot x 32 inch open style cruising canoe. Used for cruising by sail or paddle with one or two people, paddling racing with one or two people with both single and double blades and "open canoe" sailing racing usually with one person.

This canoe has with it the original mast, boom and fittings, leeboard and fitting to mount the leeboard on the canoe, the old unusable sail, a Dacron copy of the original sail made by Mrs. Harm, the second owner of the canoe, and a cut down Dacron sail which I used to sail and race the canoe from 1993—2003. Also there are two single-blade paddles, originally with the canoe, circa 1910, and a double-bladed paddle with which Tom Zuk won the paddling trophy at Sugar Island in 1913.

I stood knee deep in the water, slid into the bottom of my canoe, sailed off Canoe Beach on Sugar Island and was magically transported back almost a hundred years to 1910, when this canoe first floated these same waters! Same tree I dodge so my sail won’t get caught -- I’ve been doing that myself for about 70 years -- and as my sail gently fills, watch that my leeboard doesn’t hit that rock sticking up from the sandy bottom. Only a blow directly from the north is strong here in Headquarters Bay. Over on my left is the old pier where the steamboat that services the Islands drops off women, children, camp outfits, food and supplies from Clayton -- I was carried on to the Island the first time in 1923. I can remember the steamer and pier from the 30’s and the big old black pilings can still be seen twenty feet down on the bottom.

Now I am out on the river and I see that old tug pushing a pair of barges down the Gananoque Channel loaded with timber or iron ore for Montreal and the other smaller steamer carrying farm products to Quebec. That rich old skipper is proudly guiding his steam yacht between the islands to his big Summer Estate and another fine big sailing, ketch-rigged yacht is running strongly down river on the brisk, southwest breeze. Those little boats being rowed, or sailed, out are St. Lawrence skiffs with farmers bringing fresh milk, vegetables, and meat to the campers on the Island — I can remember them from the thirties, honking their horns as my mother grabbed her pack and bucket and we climbed down the rocks to get our fresh camp food to add to the canned food we had brought and the fish we caught. And there are two sailing canoes coming out with newly arriving campers soon to be racing here!

I sailed around the race course and looked back at Sugar Island, Old Squaw Island and Island 47. They had changed very little and would not change much, except for the intrusion of a few small cabins, in the 89 years (so far) that I have been going there.

I pointed close into Headquarters Bay and took a few paddle strokes back into reality! As I pulled my canoe up onto the meadow amongst sailing dinghies, motor boats -- but still mostly canoes and kayaks -- shining in their fiberglass and epoxy painted skins, including a few I had made myself, I looked back across the river. That was a big freighter coming out of Gan, large motorized yachts over toward Gordon Island, beautiful big sailing yachts running downriver and noisy motor boats and jet skis buzzing around! The two sailing canoes had zipped into New York Bay as they had back in 1903 and here was Mystie just as she had been in 1910!

This canoe was a special order from the Peterborough Canoe Company, of Ontario, Canada. At this time, I have evidence that it was a special design by Farnham Dorsey and that he specified its construction. It has thwart-ship planking on the outside over long thin strips the full length of the canoe and some ribbing inside. The outside planking, or "ribs", are fastened to each other with mortise and tenon joints. This was uncommon even in those days, compared to the long longitudinal lapped planking outside over narrow ribs inside, and is designated by the letter "A" in the number on the inside.

Remember this canoe had to be ordered by mail, built, packed and sent by railroad from Peterborough to Gananoque. There was a man in Gananoque who did some work on the canoes for the ACA people and he may have put the special sailing rig on the canoe for Dorsey. The sail was made in England.

Dorsey had to go by rail from New York or Boston to Clayton, New York and then by ferry to Sugar Island then to Gananoque by ferry or another canoe to pick up his canoe. On departure, he had to check it through the customs official on the Island, sail it to Clayton and then ship it by rail to New York and by wagon (probably) to the canoe club. Think of how much easier this is now-a-days!

Dorsey was a man who was apparently financially well off. I have an article about his retirement as Vice president of an oil Companiy in 1954. That would indicate that he was about 20 when he won the decked championship in 1901 and 30 when he won the cruising in this canoe and a prominent canoe sailor (See my History of the Cruising Class). He was in close competition with George Douglass. An article written by Dudley Murphy stated that he was a newcomer to Winchester in 2001 and that year won the decked canoe, Sailing Trophy, at Sugar Island with a new full formed, draft sail as opposed to the batwing sails of the time. So we know he was an innovator.

Dorsey won the Decked Sailing Trophy in 1901, the Open Canoe championship in 1909, 1910 and 1913, and many races before and after that. With most of the sailors of that time, he also competed in paddling races, novelty events and canoe tilting. We know that Dorsey sailed an open canoe Sideboard, and a decked canoe named Celeritas in 1908. In 1909 he raced a decked canoe named Fly and won the Open Canoe Trophy with a canoe named Emerald. I don’t think he changed the name of one of those canoes. Rather, I think that he thought, like the rest of us, "If I had a better canoe, I could really beat these fellows!", and ordered this new canoe sometime between 1909 and 1910. He continued to win the Championship until 1913. The letter I received from Mrs. Harm, the woman to whom Dorsey gave the Canoe, affirms that he won the Championship with it and raced it for three years after which it was considered a "freak" and "outlawed". (The canoe and its special rig were totally within the rules then and still are.) The Peterborough Canoe Company changed its numbers so many times that no one seems to be able to confirm when it was built.

The canoe has its own special way of hoisting and lowering its rig as required by the rules. The whole mast is pivoted in a rotating thwart and is moved from horizontal to vertical, allowing the sail to be a sleeve sail (the earliest one I have encountered on a canoe). There is also a specially designed fixture for holding the lee board which fastens to the thwart and allows the lee board to be easily adjusted with the foot from the inside of the canoe as so many of us like to do. The metal fittings for this had to be designed and specially cast just for this canoe.

Dorsey sailed both decked canoes and open canoes on the Hudson River and was listed as being a member of the Knickerbocker Canoe Club but he also sailed in Massachusetts, with Dudley Murphy and Paul Butler at the Winchester Boat Club on Mystic Lake (which has been my home lake for the past 38 years and I have sailed Mystie there). Could "Mystie" have been named after this Lake?

Dorsey continued to attend the Meet at Sugar Island until about 1930 and knew me as a child. At that time he was back in New York and Dorothy Atkinson asked him if she could use his old canoe and he gave it to her. She used it on Lake Erie and on the Finger Lakes (a letter from Dorsey in 1930 is attached to this history). Dorothy Atkinson Harm wrote the ACA in 1991 seeking to donate the canoe to be preserved. The ACA office, in one of its most erudite moments, passed the letter on to me. I answered the letter and after a series of interesting letters and phone calls, arranged for the canoe to be specially packed and delivered to me (for which I paid $500 of my own money). I promised to exhibit the canoe and put it in a museum. Some drawings of the rigging and my measurement of the original sail are attached.

I rigged the canoe, did some minor repairs, had a Dacron sail cut to almost the same dimensions of the original sail, and sailed it at various functions. The canoe, when I got it, weighed 72 pounds, which is about average for a 16 ft. Peterborough. To help me with carrying it around, I took out the floorboards, which got it down to 68 pounds, but when I soaked it enough to stop most of the leaking, it was over 70 again. The rig seemed very fragile to me and I was anticipating trouble when the first hard puff hit me. The little old canoe just nestled down, tipped very little and accelerated with the puff. Very easy to sail!

I sailed Mystie from 1993 until 2003, exhibiting it at Blue Mountain Lake and other places, and raced it in the Ladybug Trophy in 2002 and got second! (later that year I won the Nationals in the 1935 Willetts), showing that the old canoes preformed very favorably against today’s sophisticated, tall-masted rigs! I also sailed it at Sugar Island for the 100th Anniversary in the "Antique Canoe Parade". In fact, it was the antique boat parade! Shirley Proctor showed up with Dudley Murphy’s 1903 sailing canoe, Banshee, later.

It is so hard to believe this that I almost left it out. The only damage to the canoe occurred when it was lying overturned, well up from the beach, among other craft at Canoe Beach during the 2003 Encampment.

Pictures of the canoe are attached and I will find more and add them to the report.

On July 25, 2008 I took "Mystie" to the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton, New York, very near the pier where she first entered the U. S. A. nearly 100 years ago, around 1910!

1930 Letter from Farnum Dorsey

1991 letter, Dorothy Harm offers to Mystie toACA.

ACA (Larry Zuk) Reply to Dorothy Harm's letter

Dorothy Harm letter.

Dorothy Harm letter.

Dorothy Harm: canoe shipped.

Mystie sail & rigging

Mystie sail dimensions.

Details of leeboard and mast thwart.

1996 & 2002 sailing photos.

Tribute to Farnum Dorsey and Tom Zuk.


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