Francis MacLachlan and Mike Eames were engineers and naval architects. That gave them a particular point of view. They realized that in a successful design, form follows function, the number of masts, the height of the rigging, the use of square sails versus fore and aft sails, each of these decisions was influenced by ‘what you wanted the darned thing to do’. The hull had to be built to Lloyds rules, a very detailed lists of specifications that was all about the strength of the steel frames and plates need to survive gale force winds and the survival of the vessel should it go aground.
Francis took on this exacting work. He drew up a set of lines on paper, working to what he decided was the ideal ‘look of the vessel’. He wanted a ‘clipper’ bow and a slight hollow in the hull forward. The artsy stuff but then he built a model (on exhibit at the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes) to check some technical decisions about the appearance of the hull where the steel plates were welded lengthwise, these are called the chines. As Francis says, “to test the plateability to prove what the drawings intend”. It is an artistic judgement wrapped up in the mathematics of naval architecture, and also a point of pride since it will determine how the vessel moves through water.
Mike Eames had a task that was somewhat alien to his soul. He was dedicated to making boats and ships lighter and faster. His hero was the eccentric and brilliant British yacht designer Uffa Fox who said, “weight was only of use in a steam roller”. They agreed that a ‘square rig’ that sent the crew aloft to set and take in the sails was the right choice. As in any sport, the physical challenge is a part of developing self-confidence. This contributed to the ‘function’. There were square rigged vessels in service, noticeably, the world circumnavigator, the brigantine Yankee. But Mike, a demon for details hit the books, especially, Underhill’s Masting and Rigging. We commonly say the brigantine St. Lawrence 11 is two masted but in fact each mast is made up of a robust lower section and a topmast. Their respective heights, and where they overlap each other, are subject to bending forces from the wind depending on the sails that are set – more maths. And to make Mike’s work more challenging, the horizontal yards that crossed the mast carried the square (really rectangular) sails adding more weight aloft that had to be compensated by adding weight to the hull.
And now there were two sets of calculations, hull and rigging that included pressure of the wind on the sails that had to be combined to determine the stability, the safety of the vessel in a wide range of weather conditions. Like a punching bag that when hit bounces back because of the weight at the bottom of the bag. Francis took on the detailed calculations; the weight of every piece of steel, the wood masts, steel rigging, ballast and after each calculation a change might have to be made to the length, bream, draft and height of the rigging. An iterative process that had to be done over and over to achieve the safety required.
Years later these calculations were tested in full public view during a royal visit to Kingston. The Royal Yacht Britannia was anchored in the harbour. St. Lawrence 11 was a part of the welcoming fleet. And then a rare phenomenon, a white squall, an intense downward burst of wind, localized to a small area of the harbour. As the brig heeled over the greeting party in front of city hall thought it was a part of the show. The deck was in the water, but with the masts heeled over, the sails lost their full force and the weight of the hull popped the brig back up. From a distance it looked like a well-practised ‘evolution’ put on to entertain the folks ashore.
Over the course of five years of so, 1951-57 MacLachlan and Eames exchanged over fifty handwritten letters. Many were nine or more pages in length and in ink with few strikeouts. They exchanged gossip, resolved differences of opinion, touched on the philosophical. They went through the disappointment of professional partnership that was not to be, but with a string of successful designs. And they remained friends.
The three brigantines are now at 150 years of combined service. In early August the Toronto vessels, Pathfinder and Playfair were in Killarney at the north end of Georgian Bay. The St. Lawrence 11 had just left Quebec City and is bound for Prince Edward Island. For the crew, the experience of being in sail will be remembered into their antiquity, as the halcyon and formative days of their youth.
Mike Eames, as a senior scientific officer in the Naval Research Establishment in Halifax was a leader in the design of H.M.C.S BRAS D’OR, the 150 foot hydrofoil that when launched in 1969 was for a while at 62 knots the fastest warship in the world. She can be seen at the Musee Maritime du Quebec on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River at L’Islet.
Francis at 88 and Rosemary, with family and friends from far away places celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary a few weeks ago.
On Tuesday mornings Francis, the sailmaker Andy Soper and Maurice have breakfast at a rotating selection of marvellous downtown restaurants in Kingston. “Of shoes, ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings” these are the talking points. And yes, every so often we solve a world problem, but not too often. The success of the Kingston and Toronto brigantine is a constant topic of discussion.
The Marine Museum of the Great Lakes has one of the largest integrated marine history collections in Canada, many designated as Canadian Cultural property. Tracing your roots, writing a history or earning a doctorate, the museum collections of artifacts, pictures, plans and archives are available to all.
Maurice D. Smith is Curator Emeritus, Marine Museum of the Great Lakes