A Secret Revealed
received this letter from one of our viewers, Sandra Hume, who
Signed Sandra Hume
To all that go down to the sea in ships and especially to those of the Maritimes of Eastern Canada this story is told to you of how a crooked ship was pulled out of the mud and made one of the fastest sailing vessels of her time, or any other time for her record of 364 miles in 24 hours has never been broken by any cargo vessel of her size and class. This is a true story and one that the ship building world of a hundred years ago would like to have known. It was told to the writer on the trail trip of the little S.S. Brant. A wooden steamship of about 100 tons built by the writers father at Charlottetown for the dominion government in 1899.
There was at Marsh Creek Saint John, N.B. one among several ship builders who was not satisfied with the type of ship he was building. Although they were good stout ships they were not fast enough to suit him or make money for their owners. So he made a model of a ship that was a complete departure from the ordinary sea going vessels that were being built at that time. She was a freak and a freak in more ways then one for she was as ugly as sin. Among those who came to either praise or condemn her was a draftsman from a large shipyard on the Saint John River. Many builders and captains after much argument and discussion said that she would be a "Dud" and would not sail or steer well. But the man from the Saint John shipyard saw she had the possibilities of being a very fast ship if the mast were placed properly, and that he would confer with him, the builder, after she was launched. Well in launching, "her disaster struck", she went off the launch way into the mud on the opposite side of the river and became a badly twisted vessel. So after she was pulled up the man from the Saint John River yard was sent for and eventually he straightened her except that the keel was 6 inches higher in the center than at either end. That made the ship hollow on the bottom.
As he was a good Mathematician and after much measuring he overcame the defects by putting in three false knees and setting the masts in different places and at a different rake than the model called for. So the secret of changing the masts made her a very fast ship and a mathematical triumph for the man from the Saint John yards and the Captain. This is the famous ship called the Marco Polo watchword was "Hell or Australia" in 60 days (that from Saint John, N.B.) After she made her fastest voyages from Liverpool to Australia and back the Marco Polo was counted a wonder in the shipping world. And she certainly was for her record has never been broken. Of her wondering around the world the writer has no sure record. After 32 years she finally ended her proud career as a lumber carrier. Being damaged in a storm in the St. Lawrence she was one day sailed ashore because her bottom was dropping out and only her cargo of lumber kept her afloat. She landed on the north shore of Prince Edward Island near Cavendish Capes.
Now, the man from the Saint John River shipyards was named John White and the writers grandfather. He was the son of John White of North Point and Charlottetown, P.E.I. So the secret of the Marco Polo with her crooked keel and towering masts is at last given to the public after a 100 years of silence.
Many have wondered why the Marco Polo was so much faster than than several ships that were built of the same model. The secret was "changing of the masts" and the "Crooked bottom"
John White knew and Capt. Forbes knew but they kept their secret. She was a wonderful ship and could carry an enormous amount of sail for her size. So she became to her rest as the men who built her and the men who sailed her have done, and thousands of other wooden ships like her. For they play a small part in the commerce of the world today.
John white died in Saint John, N.B. in 1860 at the early age of 44 years, leaving grandmother and two daughters and my father John age 13 years. Before he died he told the family to say nothing about the alterations to the masts until the Marco Polo was either lost or worn out.
The writer was born in Souris, P.E.I. in 1876 and the last except one brother of a family of eight. Father John White died at Charlottetown 1928.
Elbridge Frederick White