14-Argosy-Sept-2014

Oblivious to her tenuous situation Argosy quietly ponders her past.

Argosy on the Rocks
A Dowager Yacht Seeks Redemption
Story by Cobourg Kid

From her perch on a rocky knob, a ninety year old Bridge Deck Cruiser silently regards me. She has seen much better days. Hemmed in on all sides by tall pines, ferns and fragrant juniper, the open ground around her is incongruously laced with a collection of metal cast offs, items seemingly left over from a steampunk convention.

ARGOSY was born during the wicked winter of 1925-1926 by the peculiarly named Great Lakes Foundry and Machine Co. of Midland Ontario.

2-GLF&MCo-1938

Sometime in 1937 the tug Bayport steams up at the far end of the Great Lakes Company’s Pier while its charter boat, “Vacuna”, built in 1896 by Captain Nat Herreshoff’’s crew, sways in the wakes next to the shop. (Photo Courtesy Huronia Museum)

The firm’s owner, William Wilson (aka “Scottie”) Nicholson’s and his crew generally filled much of their days servicing James Playfair’s extensive Great Lakes freighter fleet or fabricating parts for his Midland Shipbuilding Co., however, during winter, when work slacked off and the lake boats lay dormant in the ice clogged harbour, Scottie set his mind (and his men) to constructing boats.

3-July-1929-Lemoyne-Midland

On June 23, 1926 Commodore Playfair watched as the 633’ foot Glenmohr, (soon renamed “Lemoyne”) slid into Midland Bay becoming the largest bulk carrier on the Great Lakes.

The new 47 foot, 10.5 foot beam, bridge deck cruiser was one of six ultimately fabricated by the firm. Always a lucky ship, ARGOSY escaped destruction not long after her keel had been laid when an overheated furnace set part of the shop alight. Thankfully the fire was doused just in the nick of time and the incident was soon forgotten.

Once complete Scottie used ARGOSY sparingly for fishing charters and private cruises until June 1929 when, just shy of the onset of the Great Depression, he sold her to Louis Orville Breithaupt, the newly minted president of the Breithaupt Leather Company of Kitchener.

4-July-1929-Midland

On a sunny day in June 1929, the Breithaupt girls pose on the deck of Louis Breithaupt’s newly acquired yacht. One of ARGOSY’S sisters (name unknown) rafts alongside while James Playfair’s mammoth steam Yacht “Venetia” (an ex WWI submarine chaser) oversees the festivities. (Photo Courtesy University of Waterloo Archives)

The Kitchener, Ontario based Breithaupt clan were no strangers to Georgian Bay. They had operated a branch tannery in nearby Penetang for many years and had cottaged in the Cognashene area since 1912. Once in Louis’s care ARGOSY spent the next thirty years safely transporting the family back and forth from Cognashene to Midland and Penetang, with occasional side trips to points north.

5-Argosy-Cauntly-Bluff-1929

The Breithaupt family stage an impromptu picnic at Georgian Bay’s Cauntly Bluff sometime around 1930. “Voyageur”, Louis Breithaupt’s father’s yacht, is moored to ARGOSY’S port side. (Photo Courtesy University of Waterloo Library and Archives)

While Breithaupt was a masterful CEO – his true passion was Public Service (in fact it was a bit of a family tradition). Having served at the Municipal level in the early 1920s, including several terms as Mayor of Kitchener, Ontario – he later went on to become MP (Member of Parliament in Canada) for the riding of Waterloo North from 1940-1952, after which he was asked to assume the Vice-Regal position of Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, a role he performed through much of the 1950s.

6-Louis-and-Sarah

Louis and Sarah Breithaupt entertain family and friends on ARGOSY – circa 1933. Not too many years later the yachts original windscreen and laced canvas cabin top would be replaced with an elegant fully enclosed mahogany salon-helm cabin. (Photo Courtesy University of Waterloo Library and Archives)

As for ARGOSY – she had been built to a William Hand “V” bottom design (possibly a modified version of his “Racoon” model) and was initially powered by a monstrous 6-cylinder Kermath engine. The combination proved perfect for dealing with the capricious wind and waves of Georgian Bay.

7-Hand-Owassia-MB21Jan3

Thus far we have not been able to precisely determine which of William Hand Jr’s many standardized yacht plans Scottie used to construct ARGOSY. Hand’s 50-foot “Racoon” model may be her precursor although there are others, such as Hand’s “Owassia” design that share a similar kinship.

As part of an extensive renovation in 1937 – Breithaupt (who had always worried about gasoline explosions) had the Kermath pulled by Scottie’s crew and replaced it with a new 160 hp Cummins Diesel. At the same time a new fully enclosed mahogany salon/helm cabin was added replacing the original partially open helm. A few years later, when war broke out in Europe, the patriotic Breithaupt offered ARGOSY to the Navy as a rescue boat, but she was not accepted – specifically because of the volume of yachts offered for that purpose exceeded demand.

8-Argosy-1938-Cognashene

This photo, a postcard, was found amongst Breithaupt’s correspondence with the Navel secretariat. Possibly shot by the masterful Midland photographer J W Bald it shows ARGOSY in her post 1937 form at a location somewhere amongst the ethereal channels and bays of Georgian Bays’ Cognashene community.

ARGOSY was again remodeled in 1951-52 when a fly bridge was added and the salon deck cabin remodelled yet again by the redoubtable Great Lakes Foundry crew. Later that year, the newly minted Lieutenant Governor used his updated yacht to arrive at the side launching of the Gordon C Leitch, a giant lake boat that had been constructed by the Midland Shipbuilding Co.

9-LO-Mary  Sarah-from Herb 1950s

High atop the Lieutenant Governor’s prised fly bridge Louis, Sarah and daughter Mary enjoy a beautiful day on the Bay. (Photo Courtesy Herb Breithaupt)

“ARGOSY remained with the Breithaupt family until December of 1960 when Louis unexpectedly passed away. The little ship subsequently passed through a number of caring hands including George Addy, an Ottawa based lawyer, who later became a Justice of the Supreme Court of Ontario and still later into the hands of Kennie Wells, a legendary Toronto based top 40 Radio DJ, and his soul mate Irma.”

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On a sunny summer morning in the late 1960s George Addy greets fellow boaters at a wharf somewhere in the Thousand Islands National Park. (Photo courtesy Nicole Addy Seoane)

Of the six yachts built by Great Lakes Foundry and Machine Co., ARGOSY is the sole survivor. Remarkably – two of Scottie’s creations had the honor of serving the British Royal Family. In Argosy’s case it was ferrying the Queen’s official Ontario Representative to functions on Georgian Bay, similarly ARGOSY’S youngest sister “Wausau II”, had the honor of bearing Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth ) and Prince Philip along the Ottawa River under the gaze of thousands of spectators during their royal visit to Ottawa in October 1951. Astonishingly a newsreel of that cruise still exists (just Click Here).

11-Wausau II Queen-Ottawa-2--Oct1

On a cool, overcast day in October 1951 “Wausau II” (ARGOSY’S youngest sister) exits the Rideau Canal in Ottawa carrying Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip while thousands of spectators wave and cheer from the banks of the Ottawa River. (Photo Courtesy Duncan Cameron/Library and Archives Canada)

Over the years ARGOSY traveled extensively on lower Georgian Bay, the Trent Severn Waterway, spent time on the Rideau Canal and called Ottawa home for a while. She has spent time amongst the islands of the St Lawrence, and completed several long haul voyages to Montreal and Quebec City.

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In this late 60s scene, ARGOSY squanders a misty morning snoozing at the Narrows wharf on Big Rideau lake. (Photo courtesy Nicole Addy Seoane)

Still later, the little ship spent time at Toronto’s Royal Canadian Yacht club and then, finally found her way back to Georgian Bay where she often cruised with “Mona II” (now “Miss Scarlett”) a lovely bridge deck cruiser built in 1929 by the long gone Gidley Boat Co. Of Penetang, Ontario.

13-Argosy-Docked G-Bay 1980s

In this placid scene shot at Honey Harbour, Ontario in the mid-1980s – ARGOSY waits patiently for her owners, Kenny Wells and Irma Geggie to take her on an evening cruise. (Photo Courtesy Irma Geggie)

Over the years ARGOSY protected her owners from wind, waves, two fires and two tornado strikes, she is indeed a lucky ship. But luck nor blessing can stem rot in ageing wood, repair ancient machinery nor make a once fashionable boat fashionable again – thus in 1990 with a failed gearbox and mounting woodwork issues the once glamorous cruiser was towed to Midland harbour where she took on a new life as a houseboat. Still later – when she became unseaworthy – she fell into hands that led her to storage in the back end of a marina, which for most old boats would have led to the scrapper.

1-Argosy on the Rocks

Masked by disheveled paint and bright work, ARGOSY’S lines still exhibit William Hand’s masterful deep V plan.

But through luck, fate or divine intervention ARGOSY managed to survive. Her current master (a onetime neighbour of Kennie and Irma) pulled her from oblivion about four years ago, moving her back to Honey Harbour. Unfortunately his dreams of restoring her have been thwarted by the reality of too little, too little time, too little resources and in too little protected storage.

15-Aft-View-2-Sept-2014

A stern view of ARGOSY discloses the same problems and the same opportunities.

For the past year ARGOSY’S master has been hunting for someone who has the resources to restore this wonderful and unique old craft. But time is running short, she must find a new home.

But as we all know, a boneyard boat with no provenance, no matter how pretty, has little if any allure.

To correct that I have, over the past eight months, poured hours of work into finding, interviewing and documenting the memories of the various family’s that once owned ARGOSY.

Surprisingly all were delighted to talk about her at length and I quickly discovered that they shared a commonality, without exception they expressed love for the old girl dearly and explained they (or their parents) had parted with her only reluctantly. It’s thanks to their memories that whomever acquires ARGOSY will surely have a more detailed and interesting provenance than 98 percent of classic boat owners.

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ARGOSY ghosts into the sunset during a late afternoon cruise. (Photo Courtesy Nicole Addy Seoane)

At one time the Great Lakes were festooned with hundreds of white sided motor yachts all boldly slicing through the rollers like a well-honed knife; but no more. Canadian built boats of this age are now very rare seabirds.

It’s difficult to be precise but there are probably less than ten pre-1925 wooden yachts still in existence in our country, most quartered in British Columbia and none (that I found) other than ARGOSY that have any Royal connection.

17--Miss Scarlet 29GidleyHenri Aube

“Miss Scarlet” a 1929 Gidley Bridge deck cruiser is one of the few survivor’s from ARGOSY’S era. This wonderful Gidley Yacht once spent many hours cruising alongside ARGOSY on Georgian Bay adventures. Fully restored she now resides in the Thousand Islands area. (Photo Courtesy Henri Aube)

For those that love boating history ARGOSY has woven a fascinating tale through the waves of time, perhaps it’s your time to add to her journey.

Those who want to be part of this historic and important boat’s next chapter are encouraged to contact the owner at [email protected]

Respectfully – Cobourg Kid
_________________________

Thanks to Cobourg Kid for sharing this story with us today. I know he has been working very hard behind the scenes preparing the full story on this old wooden boat, which now includes more that 15,000 words.

If there was ever a Unesco World Heritage Site designation for small wooden cruisers – I’m sure ARGOSY would be included. Sadly, too many of these old wooden cruisers are being lost to the ravages of time.

Texx
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24 Responses to “Argosy On The Rocks”
  1. Chris B

    Thanks Kid. neat story and photos, great way to start my day. Hope she finds a new caretaker.

  2. JFunk

    As is all to frequent, these truly beautiful wood cruisers of yesterday provided many years of faithful service only to suffer the same sad fate. The high cost of restoration and maintenance imposes a slow death sentence.

  3. Troy in ANE

    Wonderful story, very cool boat!

    I don’t even know where to begin. I can only hope that this story strikes a chord with someone out there, be it an individual, a museum, corporation, or whomever may be able to save her.

  4. Greg Lewandowski

    What a wonderful and interesting story of this storied old girl. As was noted on this forum last week, we are loosing many of the “greatest generation” of boating enthusiasts. This story points out that the watercraft they loved are also being lost. I really hope that Argosy will not be another one of them. Thank you CK and Texx for sharing!

  5. Sean

    Great boat, great history and a great challenge!. Lets hope he final chapters have not been written. Thanks for the story.

    C’mon 649!

  6. Bill Hammond

    Perhaps a Syndicate is what is needed to preserve this beautiful ship. Thanks for telling us the story CK!

  7. Kentucky Wonder

    Thank you Cobourg Kid for the research and presentation of this craft’s story. Inspiring, really.

    The name struck a chord with me, and the publication date is a serious coincidence with an experience involving another ship named Argosy….After the American Civil War, a steamship named USS Argosy was carrying troops up the Ohio River, returning them home to Cincinnati. During a storm, the ship ran aground and its boiler exploded, killing ten men. They were laid to rest on the bank, near what today is Magnet, Indiana. Every Memorial Day, a woman whose ancestors donated the ground for the grave, cleans the graves and places fresh flags and flowers on them. Without her, the graves would be overgrown, and the story of the Argosy and her men lost to time.

    Let’s hope Cobourg’s Argosy does not suffer the likely fate. I hope someone with the requisite financial resources sees today’s story, and is called to action to save her.

    • Cobourg kid

      Thanks KW the word “Argosy” arises from the area now known as Italy it actually means a “large or rich merchant ship” In this case we think Scottie named the boat on honor of James Playfair the midland shipping magnet . Plaifair provided a significant snout of work to the Great Lakes shop and without that I don’t think Scottie would have ever been able to finance the building of any yachts.

      Sad story about the USS Argosy but as I mentioned in the story Argosy ( the yacht) was always very protective of her crew

  8. CDA Duck

    Great story on an old girl. Too bad we can’t save them all.

    Here’s another one in the middle of nowhere Montana, between Bozeman and Virginia City. I said “just a 90 day wonder!”…..the Admiral wasn’t amused. Tried to get brother Wes to buy in, but he’s up to him armpits in an old triple.

    Too many boats, too little time. The boat Gods need to be more kind to us!

  9. Doug P in the PNW

    Great story.
    Hope she is saved. A great boating area.

  10. floyd r turbo

    Masterfull job of research CK. Would love to see this yacht taken back to the Breithaupt era. With vast and beautiful yachting waters in Ontario, I can’t imagine someone with deep pockets not picking this as a worthy project for cruising in the Great Lakes. Single screw might make operation a little dicey for a new skipper .

  11. floyd r turbo

    Here’s another neglected yacht I passed by on my 400 mile BikeMaine loop near Troy who so graciously put me up for 2 nights and took me out for a fantastic ride around Boothbay Harbor area in American Beauty. Wish we could save them all.

    • Troy in ANE

      Hi Floyd R Turbo hope we can do it again this year!

      Here is what she looked like this winter.

  12. Cobourg kid

    Thanks for all the positive comments folks!

    As mentioned there are extremely few pre 1925 canadian built cruisers still in existance and even fewer that have Argosy’s spellbinding story, a tale that spans well beyond the brief version of her life that we have painted today.

    Yes I agree “we can’t save them all” but as a nautical community we do need to continue or work to save a few of the most unique and wonderful examples of these well crafted yachts for future generations.

    Argosy fits that bill, she is not only a time capsule she is also (in my estimation anyway) a Canadian touchstone.

    To me loosing her means that my great country looses just one more icon that has the power to inspire and remind Canadians of how we became a great nation in the first place.

    Over the top, yah a bit, but you will have to forgive me, you see over the past nine months of research the old girl has almost become a family member to me.

  13. floyd r turbo

    Checking out the video on the Wausau II, that is a great looking yacht as well.

  14. Cobourg Kid

    Floyd we believe that WAUSAU II was also a William H Hand design too. Built around 1936 she had a storied career . Prior to ferrying the future queen in Oct 51 she had been inducted into the Royal Canadian Navy navy during WW II and was temporarily renamed was HMCS WAUSAU II till At wars end she was returned to her owner, Colonel Courtney, who is in fact the captain in that video. Sadly WAUSAU Ii was accidentally destroyed by fire in or around 1979.

  15. Dane

    This sounds like a perfect project for the ACBS scholarship fund.
    The work could be done at a shipbuilding school with the school taking ownership of the boat and after completion the boat could be sold to help recoup costs.

  16. Mike O'Brien

    Quite a few 1920’s boats in B.C. She. The Canadian Fleet pics on the Classic Yacht Association website at classic yacht.org

    • Cobourg Kid

      Thanks for the link mike , you are absolutely correct the BC coast is very lucky to have a robust collection of 20s yachts sailing regularly in her waters , but according to the owners profiles on the CYA site probably about 1/4 to 1/2 of the pre 25 boats in the Canadian chapter are not Canadian built, not that those non Canadian built boats are any less interesting or important ,

      Thant said based on my research ( which included the CYA site) I would wager that Argosy is definitely one of the the top ten oldest private yachts in Canada … which aside from anything else makes her kind of special too.

  17. Gary Paterson

    Thank you so much for a great history lesson about a great old vessel. Irma Geggie and the late Kenny Wells are my aunt and uncle and I have some very fond memories cruising about on Argosy when I was kid. She was a very special boat and all the family loved spending time on her.