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San Juan Archipelago, Washington State, United States
A society formed in 2009 for the purpose of collecting, preserving, celebrating, and disseminating the maritime history of the San Juan Islands and northern Puget Sound area. Check this log for tales from out-of-print publications as well as from members and friends. There are circa 650, often long entries, on a broad range of maritime topics; there are search aids at the bottom of the log. Please ask for permission to use any photo posted on this site. Thank you.

29 June 2017

❖ WITH A BONE IN HER TEETH ❖ Schooner Gertrude L. Thebaud 1930-1948

Schooner GERTRUDE L. THEBAUD of Gloucester.
The BLUENOSE of Lunenburg defeated the THEBAUD
by 3 minutes, 50 seconds to win the
International Fishermen's Trophy, 26 October 1938.
Here the THEBAUD is seen with young Sterling Hayden
up the main mast just before the final race,
near the Coast Guard Cutter CHELAN.
Click image to enlarge.
Original photo from the archives of the S.P.H.S.©
"Summer, 1948. It was learned from official and reliable sources that the erstwhile Queen of the Gloucester Fishing Fleet and Last of the Flying Fishermen, had been abandoned as a total loss. The famous craft, the Gertrude L. Thebaud, was shipwrecked on the Venezuelan Coast and all hope of conducting salvage operations had been given up as too costly.
      While at anchor in a storm, the 18-year-old craft was rammed by another vessel, parted her moorings, collided with a seawall and subsequently foundered. She laid half-submerged in a seaport called La Guaira, on the Venezuelan Coast. Very little chance was seen of the black-hulled, magnificent white-winged racer ever again spreading her lofty white wings, as of old, in her glorious racing and fishing days, as a fisherman out of Gloucester, MA. 
      At the time of her tragic and untimely loss, the craft was owned by Mr. William H. Hoeffner of New York, flew the flag of Venezuela, was equipped with a powerful Diesel engine and carried a reduced rig, a three-sailed, stem head rig and a modified top hamper. The magnificent, grand old stager has left her bones on a hard lee shore, on a distant foreign strand, far from her native Gloucester home.
      The Thebaud was one of the most famous of all Gloucester fishing schooners, having been, in her time, a participant in the International Fishermen's Races in 1930, 1931, 1938, and, in 1933, carried the official representatives of the Gloucester fishing industry to Washington, DC, for a meeting with President Roosevelt. In the summer of the same year, the vessel voyaged to the World's Fair at Chicago as the rep and proud exhibit of the Bay State. In 1937 she voyaged to the far north, under the supervision of Capt. Donald B. MacMillan, the arctic explorer, and on the expedition west to Frobisher Bay. During WW II, the Thebaud saw active service as flagship of the Corsair Fleet of the US Coast Guard. 
      In 1944 the schooner was sold by her first owner, Capt. Ben Pine of Gloucester, to William H. Hoeffner of New York. She was converted to freighting and sent to the West Indies waters.
      We must now, although reluctantly, set down the final word of the picturesque, historic saga of a famous deeply mourned sailing craft, that has come and gone in our time. For the beautiful, 18-year-old craft has found her grave in Venezuelan waters. The sea has claimed her. The Thebaud has crossed the finish line for the last time; Gloucester's queen will never wet her bobstay again. She was the scion of a once large fleet of splendid, redoubtable American fishing schooners and with her passing, we sadly note the absolute vanishing point of a long line of speedy schooners of the engineless era and the T Wharf days; also the end, perforce, of International Fishing Schooner Racing. She represented the last vestiges of the era of the sailing fishermen. 
      In the spring of 1921, the drawing board of Mr. William J. Roue of Halifax, NS, produced the phenomenally speedy, extremely able, engineless Canadian fishing schooner Bluenose. Lofty and black-hulled, the Bluenose was an indescribably handsome craft. From the first day she spread her symmetrical white wings on the waters off her quaint old home port, Lunenburg, NS, the Bluenose proved herself a work-boater and met and defeated many fine schooners. The rise of her reputation was meteoric and she became known as the Flying Nova Scotian and The Pride of Lunenburg
      Yankees decided to build a suitable opponent for the Nova Scotia speed king, and the schooner Gertrude L. Thebaud was built. The craft was expressly designed by Frank C. Paine of Boston and constructed from selected material at the Arthur Dana Shipyard, Essex, MA. She bore on her bow, inscribed in golden letters, the name of her sponsor's wife, and across her shapely transom, the name of her home port, Gloucester, MA.
      To those present at her launching, 17 March 1930, the shapely semi-knockabout presented an unforgettable appearance, for the general sharpness of hull design and long knifelike underbody suggested great potential driving power. She represented an investment of approximately $80,000. The following were her principal measurements; 135' LOA, 98' L on sailing waterline; 25' beam and 14.8' draft.
      The vessel proved to be a true sailing champion in her own right as well as a bona fide fishing schooner. She carried a tremendous spread of sail and when in racing ballast hoisted eight sails, namely the four lowers, jib, jumbo fores'l and mains'l, as well as four light sails. These later were called balloon, fore gaff tops'l, fisherman's flying stays'l and main gaff tops'l. Under a billowing cloud of new, thrumming canvas she flew through the water with the speed of a torpedo and displayed prowess as a prospective challenger for the tall-sparred racer from Lunenburg.
The famous skipper of the schooner
was splicing a line after lack of wind forced
postponement of the second race in the
Championship Series with the
Schooner BLUENOSE.
13 October 1938.
Original photo from the archives of the S.P.H.S.©

      In her many tussles on the open sea, under the command of Capt Ben Pine and against Capt Angus Walter's Bluenose, she proved herself a sailing champion in her own right. These two superlative crafts staged many a spectacular contest.
      The Thebaud will be remembered by all who knew her as she appeared in the last of her racing days, sailing a fine race in all weathers, from a gentle zephyr to a whole-sail breeze and in a four lower breeze and a genuine snorter, real fishermen's weather, as we say. When ghosting in light winds, with the wind dead aft and her fores'l and mains'l swung out, with their sheets out to the knots, she carried her stays'l "scandalized" (changed about throat for clew), and with its sheet led to the end of the long man boom. The tops'ls were "sheeted home" to the gaff ends and the head sheets flowing, the working canvas distributed in a matter reminiscent of the double-jointed wings of an albatross.
      When sailing with started sheets and the wind quarterly, Thebaud sailed magnificently as this was her best point of sailing. Aye, she carried a bone in her teeth and churned the water at the forefoot to a smother of foam. 
      The Thebaud has tragically terminated her unique, eventful and dramatic 18-yr life and has seen the last of her glorious sailing days. Who knows what ghosts of the bygone crews who once manned her may revisit the grand old stager's tradition-shrouded grave, on languorous tropical nights, when gentle zephyrs whisper along the shore and the harbor lights shimmer on the peaceful, starlit waters?"
Text by Edward F. Moran, an essay from––Yankees Under Sail. Heckman, Richard, editor. Yankee, Inc. 1968.


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