Prelude

In the autumn of 1920, a group of newspapermen and businessmen in Halifax, Nova Scotia sponsored a series of elimination races of Canadian fishing schooners. The fastest of the Canadian schooners was the "Delawana", under Capt. Tom Himmelman.

The Canadians then challenged the legendary port of Gloucester, Massachusetts, and the United States of America, to a race between fishing schooners representing the two countries. Among the requirements: Gloucester had to reply to the challenge in one week, select a fishing schooner to sail in the race (the ship had to be a working fishing schooner, propelled by sails only (with no auxiliary engine)), and it had to arrive in Halifax within another 10 days to start the race.

When the challenge was received by telegram in Gloucester there were no suitable vessels in port. The fishing fleet was where it should be ... at sea ... fishing.

Then, as luck would have it, the Gloucester Fishing Schooner Esperanto sailed into port after being at sea for over two months. The Esperanto was not in the best of shape, and in fact was fourteen years old, but the old-timers in Gloucester remembered that Esperanto was an excellent vessel, on all sailing points to the wind, but especially so when going to windward.

The Gorton-Pew Fisheries Company (now Gorton's of Gloucester) had very little time to put Esperanto in shape, but they did have the schooner hauled out, had the bottom scraped and painted, rapidly repaired the spars and rigging, and adjusted the ballast. They bore this expense, and the loss of income from Esperanto while she was not engaged in fishing, as a contribution to both the port of Gloucester and to the United States of America.

The skipper selected by Gloucester to sail Esperanto was Capt. Martin Leander "Marty" Welch. Capt. Welch was born in Digby, Nova Scotia in 1864, had been sailing since he was 14 years old, and had been a captain for 33 years. Capt. Welch was highly regarded among Gloucester mariners as being cool under pressure, having excellent judgement, and possessing experience in both maneuvering a vessel in tight quarters and in wringing out every bit of speed possible. Any concerns in Gloucester about Capt. Welch's country of origin were quickly dispelled when it was noted that he had become a naturalized United States citizen (as had many of Gloucester's fishermen), and that two of his sons had served in the United States military during World War I. Marty's son Everett had been a Navy pilot during the war, and Martin Welch, Jr. had been killed in action, as a United States Marine, at Beleau Wood, France. Capt. Welch was also very eager to represent Gloucester, and his adopted country, against his former countrymen.

When the mayor of Boston sent his encouragement to Capt. Welch and the Esperanto crew, Marty sent a telegraph back in return that read, "Thank you for your good wishes. We are off to win the cup or blow the sticks out of her."

The crew was selected from the available Gloucester talent, and actually included many who were captains in their own right. The Esperanto's crew consisted of Captain Martin L. Welch, R. Russell Smith, Isaiah Gosbee, George E. Roberts, Harry P. Christianson, George Young, Benjamin W. Stanley, Roy P. Patten, Raymond McKenzie, James McDonald, Wallace Bruce, John Batt, John F. Barrett, Thomas Smith, Michael J. Hall, Stephen F. Whitney, Hugh Young, Benjamin H. Colby, James B. Connolly, John J. Matheson, Thomas S. Benham, Leon G. Murray, Lawrence F. Percival, Ernest Hendrie, Robert W. Sawtell, and Morril Wiggins.

All of the crew were volunteers, and in fact they would not receive any income while they sailed to Halifax, raced the Delawana in the best two out of three races, and then sailed back to Gloucester.

In 1920, newspapers were the only method available by which the citizenry learned of news, so James B. Connolly, a respected writer, was included as part of the crew, to report on the races and associated events.

When Esperanto sailed out of Gloucester harbor in October 1920, bound for the races, it was the first time that Capt. Welch had ever sailed the schooner Esperanto, but he would have some opportunity to become acquainted with her abilities on the 400-mile sail to Halifax. The citizens of Gloucester lined the harbor, cheered, waved flags, and tooted horns as the schooner Esperanto sailed away under full sail to represent them against the Canadians.

While sailing to Halifax, Capt. Welch and the crew sailed in both light wind and in a stiff breeze, and all agreed that Esperanto had the right stuff.

Comments