It’s launching day for our beautiful new-built wooden schooner at the Slauenwhite Yard on the shores of Mader’s Cove, Lunenburg County, in fair Nova Scotia. When did this auspicious event take place? We are still trying to pin that down. The Halifax Herald says 1987. But let’s not worry about this small point for now.
A recent image of the Amazing Schooner CALANOVA at the famous Dory Shop, ca 2020
The work on this soon to famous vessel is done. Tools cleaned and put away. Adzes, saws, chisels, hammers, mauls, slicks, mallets, gouges and all the rest sharped up and set aside for the next project. There she stands, resting on her keel, propped by posts, all shiny and pretty, calling out to be sea-set, a piece of classic sculpture, but of pine and oak not marble. This masterpiece of age-of-sail wooden ship building has long been framed, planked, decked, caulked and painted. The whir of saws and the ring of caulking mallets are stilled. We can hear gulls and crows swooping across the bay once again. Even the gentle lapping of the tide murmurs a small poetry to our ears.
Finishing touches getting done on CALANOVA before launching
The fine joiners have finished off the after cabin and focsle complete with varnished deck-beams, brass lanterns, and a cast iron wood stove. We can almost smell the rich coffee and chowders soon to be conjured on crackling birchwood within. The engine room is complete but awaiting a monster chunk of steel soon to be sitting there on her beds – then patiently raring to rumble. This faithful machine is on its way to the yard from parts distant by oxen and stout wagon. Steel shaft and a shiny bronze two blade propellor reflecting sunlight on the morning of launch day jut out of the stern-post just forward of the newly hung rudder. A proper bronze bilge pump at the ready. The yard is covered with wood chips and will remain so as these chips rejoin the earth from whence, like us, they came. New glistening spars are laying on sawhorses nearby and crisp white sails too, waiting at the sail loft, and eager to be bent on. Beautiful blocks hand made by Arthur Dauphine at the Block Shop in town are shackled in here and there. Coils of rope and wire shrouds are in a neat pile somewhere. For sake of simplicity the usual big iron wheel from the Lunenburg Foundry, makers of forged helms for untold countless fishing schooners on the North Atlantic and cargo schooners of Caribbean isles, is passed up for a trim varnished tiller. The schooner is all painted up like a little red wagon, and bilges swept clean of builders’ debris and checked for misplaced tools. Months of gathering timbers from the forest, then sawing scribing, carving, cutting, making mounds of wood chips, dulling and sharpening tools again have come to an end. The yard paint shop has been tidied up, paint brushes cleaned in kerosene, now dry hanging on nails. It is launch day for the amazing Schooner CALANOVA.
Schooner CALANOVA ready for Launch ca 1891
Schools have been let out for the big launch day. The kids were going to play hooky anyway so making a virtue of a necessity and demonstrating no small wisdom, the schools were closed for the day. This is the tradition for every major launching in these parts. Crowds have been gathering from early hours. Cars and pickup trucks and a few horse wagons lined the roads along the bay, folks sitting on the hoods and roofs waiting in anticipation, some with binoculars in hand. More than one picnic taking place beside the road. BBQ grills set up cooking away, roasting hot dogs, bacon wrapped scallops and corn on the cob in abundance. Lemonades and SCHOONER beer in iced galvanized buckets to be had for a nod of the head or a thirsty long glance. More than one jug of black Barbados rum getting passed around too, between calloused hands recently wielding an adz or plane, if truth be known. For the serious schooner sailors just back from the Caribe, a flammable intoxicant known as JACK IRON sears more than one throat. Stay away from that stuff, and keep that elixir away from open flame, or so the old timers tell us. No shortage of schooner skippers admiring the genius of Master Builder Slauenwhite, examining the exquisite lines of his model, already edging towards legendary status. The Himmelman family, who commissioned this worthy vessel, in attendance and in high anticipation of things to come. Sailing, racing, voyages over the horizon taking pride of place - in the visions of the mind. Her designated captain, one the most experienced captains anywhere. And a good dancer too.
The harbour is filled with beautiful schooners who have sailed in for the big event with flags flying. Dories skitter back and forth from schooner to schooner, sometimes even to shore, but these dory guys do not seem much interested in anything ashore. Except for one thing. The launching of the Amazing Schooner CALANOVA. This subject holds all our interest.
Schooners assemble from near and far, sailing in from places like Day Spring, Mahone Bay, Halifax, Gloucester, Quebec City, Rockland and Peggy’s Cove, Rio de Janero, Blue Rocks, Bridgewater, Gray Rocks, Boston, Banff, Bequia, Barbados, Hillsboro Bay and Montego Bay for the epic launch of CALANOVA ca 1921. You had to be there.
The skids are greased. The many shores holding her upright reduced to ‘just enough’. Empty beer bottles from the night before under the schooner all gathered up and gotten rid of. The wood chips have been mucked through for stray caulking irons and other small forgotten tools. In town the saloons, blind pigs, beverage rooms, fish stores and the RCMP cop-shop are all empty this hour. Reporters at the ready, notebooks and pencils sharpened. Not the notebooks, just the pencils. Riggers and sailmakers too have come to see what happens next. Now that this epic job is done there is nothing for them to do for a spell. A couple tugs mill about smartly in the calm waters of the cove, clutching in and out sending out swirls of propwash. It is rumoured that the crowd might be infiltrated by a few nautical spies from Gloucester, Boston and Halifax…’catch us if you can’ is all we are thinking.
This may or may not be CALANOVA….need more research and confirmation.
No helicopters today. The band has stopped playing. The school choir has given their best in Oh Canada, Farewell To Nova Scotia and Barrett’s Privateers. Stompin’ Tom had a good lively set, got the crowd going he did. The sword dancers from Cape Breton did a great job. The Premier of Nova Scotia, the good Mayor, the MP, MLA and head of the Board of Trade as well as representatives from the Maritime Alliance of Marine Trades have all given stirring speeches. Makes one proud. The Prime Minister sent his deputy to do the same. The Governor General had a scheduling conflict with a dedication in British Columbia and regretfully cannot join us today. So sad.
All eyes are on the littoral edge with an elegant schooners stern dancing in stillness above her reflection in the calm waters as the tide makes up to receive this the oceans newest sister. His Worship the Good Reverend steps up to the podium. He is to invoke a blessing just before setting the vessel into the sea. He pauses. All is quiet. And then like Melville’s Father Marple invoking the voyage of Jonas, all are drawn into witness and covenant into this marriage between forest, salt ocean road and the creative blossoming of the designer, builders and those that called forth this schooner in commissioning her building. We too are called upon to be of this vessel, make her ours, and thus it has been ever since.
CALANOVA ready for launch. Get the speeches over! Pass the rum. Head for salt water! Anchor at the ready.
A glass bottle of spiritous liquors is fracture on her stem, foamy liquor flying about making a mess and a mustache on the waterline. Some regret this – and for a range of reasons, often contradictory. Some say devil spirits should be banned as they once rightfully not so long ago were, others say what a waste of good stuff. Rudder stayed, with strong arms and broad shoulders axes and sledges are slammed into the last shores, they fall away, and our new christened schooner slides down the greased ways and joins her natural element in the saltwater bay, and the Amazing Schooner CALANOVA is launched and afloat for the first time in the brine that surrounds our entire world unbroken. A friendly neighborhood tug comes along side to take her to the fitting out berth nearby.
In CALANOVA goes! Watch the waves!!!
Our schooner joins the sea. The amazing Schooner CALANOVA meets her medium. The story begins to grow. Stay tuned.
The CALANOVA getting wet!!! Watch out for the tidal wave!
THEODORE TOO standing by to do his duty
A tug bringing CALANOVA over to the Dory Shop for rigging and outfitting. And oars. Need some oars.
And the tug transferred to the Bosun School gang who all said, “gimme that schooner!” towed the final stretch to the outfitting wharf by faithful and Lunenburg built dory and the next generation of old salts to sail out of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia that seabound coast.