Memories of Elsie L.

The Elsie L. By Phyllis Anderson
Photos provided by Sandra Anderson

William E. (Bill) Anderson, he loved his Elsie L! She wasn’t just a schooner, she was a spirit, and at the risk of being maudlin, (which I am not) – his soulmate.

She came from our father’s strong desire for another schooner when our beautiful, garish, and saucy tancook schooner “Kingfisher” left home.

He acquired the plans for Elsie L. from a marine architect in Boston. The sails for “Kingfisher” were made by R. Hersler, who sailed on Kingfisher with him to help him become the prime sailor he became. That was in the 50’s and early 60’s and I believe he also made the sails for “Elsie L”.

The Elsie L. was built by Ray Stevens on the western shore, and Dad and brother Michael spent a lot of time watching over her construction.

My sister tells with a chuckle, the story of her name; She was in our kitchen making dad a cup of tea and said to him “what are you naming our new boat?”. He looked at her rather sheepishly and said “Well, your mother doesn’t know about the boat yet, so I guess it will be the Elsie L.!”.

The “L” does have significance. Lydra was mother’s second name. The name Lydra comes from the Greek meaning “beautiful one; noble one” and the Elsie L. lived up to that in her day.

The schooner races were definitely the highlight of the summer sailing season. My memory is of the time in the 60’s and 50’s when Lunenburg, Chester, and Hubbards each hosted the races. Each schooner in a class of its own, proudly displaying its beauty and eagerness to test its speed against the others, in a friendly, fierce competition. Followed afterward by the, what should have been done and what was done, wind analysis, and other nautical references, along with a little liquid conviviality. (Much like golfers after a round of golf).

I didn’t go to the races with my dad. The men and young men did! Not being weighed down by the mantle of feminism. I didn’t mind. After all, on a smaller schooner there is only so much room! But I remember he had a great crew for those races:

Dave Waterbury – Kentville
Fred Ramsay – Mahone Bay
Ronnie Ramsay – Ottawa
Charlie Haliburton – Digby
Jim Newsom – Canning (and Ontario)
Bob Barnstead – Halifax
Richard Rhodenizer – Mahone Bay, who sailed Elsie so well.

And last but not least, brother Michael, who loved her so much.

I remember sailing with dad and Jim Newsome. He was a great friend of dads. It started out as a great day, but later, when we were far out to sea, it became so foggy you couldn’t see a thing. The sea swells were oily black, smooth, ominous. I remember becoming a little sea sick from going up and down with the swells, my father remarked that it was my mother’s cucumber sandwich, and he suggested I climb up on the bow, spit and listen for shoals. I did not!. We were gone so long mother called the coast guard! When we arrived in Chester Basin it was about 4am. A beautiful stary night and the water alight with phosphorus.

Elsie L – Maiden Voyage

We also had a great family sail out to Shaw’s Island for a picnic. Something I thought, there were so many of us it was like those competitions where you tried to see how many people you could fit in a telephone booth!

She must have been an agreeable mistress to a single master, for on occasion dad would take her out alone, as he sued to do with Kingfisher. Then mother would really worry. Mr. Bayer, who lived in Oakland, across the bay from us in Mahone Bay, would call and say “Elsie, you can put on supper now, Bill is coming up the bay.”

There are many memories, some strong, some funny, some vibrant. Others faded, floating around somewhere in the recess of our mind. But one comes to mind (having lived in NFLD for over 40 years) of brother Michael calling me one morning during the schooner races in Lunenburg. At the yacht club, the Newfoundlanders were cooking breakfast and they were having “fish and booze” and we’d better get down there – to sample the booze!

Memories of sailing up the bay, wing on wing, with the excitement of being down to the rails. Being on a broad reach. And our most cherished memory of dad with his hand resting on the tiller, Michael up the top of the main mast and mother making tea in the galley.