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Sample Lesson Plans

The History of the BALCLUTHA

The History of the Schooner C. A. THAYER

The schooner C. A. THAYER is a wood-hulled, three-masted schooner designed and built to bring lumber from the forests of the Northwest to the fast building turn-of-the-century cities of California. Built by Hans Bendixson in 1895 at Fairhaven, the THAYER is 156 feet long and 36 feet wide, large for a three master. She could carry 575,000 board feet of lumber.

Owned and operated by the E. K. Wood Lumber Company and named after a partner in the firm, the THAYER carried lumber from the company mills in Hoquaim, Washington, to San Francisco, San Pedro and San Diego. She occasionally went to Guaymas, Australia and Honolulu.

Getting the lumber from the forests of Oregon and Washington states was a dangerous adventure. There were no wharves along the rugged redwood coast. Schooners usually had to sail through fog and inshore swells to anchor in shallow coves or dogholes, though the relief that these dogholes offered from the wind and waves was slight.

The men who sailed the coastal schooners were well seasoned sailors, veterans of the deep sea trade lured to coastwise service by the hopes of good food, good pay and frequent stays in port. They expected the work to be dangerous. Coastal waters were tricky and dogholes treacherous. The slight mishandling of a vessel could prove disastrous. And the danger did not disappear once a safe anchorage had been made. It was then time to load the lumber.

Mills usually operated high on the bluffs, some 75 feet above the water. Wooden slides or chutes were built to carry the lumber to the vessels decks. The lumber is sent down the chute, near the end of which a man operates a brake to check the lumber as it leaves the chute. As each man gets a piece of timber he runs with it, lays it down exactly where it belongs, and returns to the chute. When the hold is full, the deck is loaded, the larger part of the cargo of a lumber schooner goes on deck. The work goes well enough when water is comparatively smooth; but when the vessel rolls, the chute during some moments is high above the deck. This makes it difficult for a man below to catch a timber at the right instant and get the right hold. If he makes a single slip, or if the man at the brake does not apply it in time, he may be injured or killed. (Captain Carl Rydell Historic Ships of San Francisco, pp 58 - 59)

The C. A. THAYER, although large for a schooner, was not immune to the perils of coastwise sailing. Twice the THAYER had serious mishaps while carrying lumber from the companies mill to the southern ports. In November 1903, the THAYER landed ashore on the north spit of Grays Harbor. She later floated off with only the loss of a rudder. In 1912, she ran into severe weather just off of Eureka. The seas were so rough that her seams opened. The crew escaped safely, but the C. A. THAYER had to be towed into San Francisco for extensive repairs.

Besides carrying lumber, the C. A. THAYER spent many years as a fishing vessel. Her first 13 years as a fishing schooner were spent transporting salmon from Alaska to San Francisco. In 1924 the C. A. THAYER moved to the Bering Sea and fished for cod.

Sailors were paid based on the seasons catch. If, for any reason, be it foul weather, shipwreck or other mishap, no fish were delivered, no sailors got paid. Even in a favorable year, wages were low. Sailors were paid 1 1/2 cents per pound of fish.

Living conditions were harsh as well. All sailors slept in the focísíle. It was a dungeon with no portholes, dimly lit by cheap kerosene lamps. A breath of air fluttered through a small scuttle but brought little relief to the unwashed herd occupying cramped bunks. Bedbugs, fleas and lice shared the quarters, and the stench of rotten fish and stinking bilge water nauseated nearly everyone. (p. 63)

By the year 1912, steam powered schooners were making a place for themselves in the coastal trade. Sailing vessels were at the mercy of the elements, while steam schooners, with more control placed firmly in the hands of the shipmaster, could maneuver in and out of dogholes with little trouble. During the following years, sails were slowly replaced by steam. In 1950 the C. A. THAYER was the last sailing ship in commercial use on the Pacific Coast. While the THAYER was still an efficient vessel, she was retired.


Most of the knots we tie today are old, even ancient. Over the centuries, they have been invented, refined and perfected, fitting many different needs. There are 4 basic areas that determine the type of knot to use.

Relative strength: Knots weaken rope. The strength of a knot depends on how much or how little it reduces the strength of the rope. The tighter the frictional pressure in the knot or the sharper the turn (or curve), the weaker the rope becomes.

Speed and ease of tying: Often times you will need to be able to tie or untie a knot quickly.

Bulk: The bulkier the knot, the more it will damped a jerk. Other times, a knot may to be too bulky for the space allotted.

Reliability: Not all knots will hold in all positions. Some knots will slip unless there is even pull from both ends. Other knots will hold fast in any circumstances.

There are certain guidelines for choosing and tying knots. There are specific knots for specific uses.

Stopper: Stopper knots, such as the overhand or figure 8, prevent the end of the line from slipping through the eye or a hole.

Hitches: Hitches, such as the larks head, cleat hitch or the clove hitch, secure a line to something, i.e., a spar or deck ring.

Loops: Loops, such as a bowline, can be dropped over an object, such as a bollard.

Bends: Bends, such as a sheet bend, join two ropes to form a longer piece.

(Cotton clothes line works well as knot tying line. Each student should have 2 feet of line.)

Ship Talk and Ship People

Ahoy  A greeting
Avast  "Stop. Quit what you are doing."
Captain First in command on the vessel
Chantey Songs used on board a ship while working
Doctor  Ship's cook
Greenhand Inexperienced hand on a ship
Salt  An experienced seaman on a ship
Scrimshaw The detailed decoration of bone or ivory

Parts of the Ship

Aft In the rear, towards the stern
Amidship In the middle of the ship
Bow  The whole forward end of the ship
Bulkhead Partition or wall on a ship

Galley Kitchen

Hatch An opening on deck
Hull The whole body of the ship
Poop deck The high deck at the stern
Port  The left side when you are facing forward
Starboard  The right side when you are facing forward
Stern  The back end of the ship
Swab To wash or mop

Rigging Terms

Aloft In the rigging, above the deck
Bight A loop or bend in the rope
Bitter end The very end of a piece of rope
Furl To roll up a sail
Haul Pull, as on a line
Hawser  A large line used to tie the vessel to the dock
Line Rope
Rigging The ropes and spars necessary to hold the sails in place
Splice  To join the ends of line, or make a permanent loop (eye) on the end of a line, by weaving the strands together
Tackle  The line rigged through and around pulleys (blocks) to increase the effect of the pull

Knots and Other Miscellaneous Nautical Words

Bowline A knot that forms a temporary loop at the end of a line
C. A. THAYER A lumber schooner built in 1895, now moored at Hyde St. Pier, San Francisco
Ensign A flag
Gale A wind over 34 knots in strength
Maritime  Having to do with sailing and the sea
Moor To tie to a dock or buoy
Night watch  Staying up through the night to insure the safety of the vessel and her crew


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Version 2.00, 08 October 2009