Sarah Francis

by H. Joseph Seward, 2020


From the Bonavista Peninsula forest came the timbers and logs used to frame and plank boats of various sizes. Men using axes and bucksaws cut and hauled the logs to the Gin Cove Shipyard.

There, under the supervision of a master shipbuilder, a new vessel took shape. The keel laid, and stem and transom attached, and the first strake of planking, the garboard, was scarfed into the keel. With the planking and decking completed, caulker’s, using oakum, caulked the seams, which were then filled with pitch, making them waterproof. With the masts, rigging, hatches, and companionways installed. The schooner was painted and ready for launching.

On one late spring morning in 1916, men using wooden mallets hammered wedges under the keel, raising the hull of its building blocks, leaving just a few more blows before the schooner was free of its building blocks.

Sarah Miller, the wife of the vessel’s owner John Miller, broke a bottle of rum over the bow, and using a traditional benediction, said, “I name this schooner the Sarah Francis. May God bless her and all who sail in her.” She was named after John’s wife, Sarah and his son Francis. The men working below gave the final few blows to the wedges, freeing the schooner from its blocks, and she slid smoothly down the slipway into the calm waters of Random Sound.

The Sarah Francis was one deck, two-mast schooner 51 feet in length, 16 feet in width, and had a depth of 7 feet. She registered 30 tons. After launching, Sarah Francis sailed to her homeport of Kerley’s Harbour, a now-abandoned village near New Bonaventure, Newfoundland. For the next 24 years, she was used in the fishing trade. Probably around Renews and Fermeuse on Newfoundland’s southern shore. From 1920 to 1940, she was on the Mercantile Navy List.

In 1940, John Miller sold the Sarah Francis to his brother Henry A. Miller, also of Kerley’s Harbour. It seems the schooner was left to deteriorate, and in 1944/1945 Henry Miller sold the Sarah Francis to Kenneth Smith of Southport, Trinity Bay, Newfoundland. She was towed to Southport, where Kenneth spent the next year repairing, installing masts, and getting the schooner seaworthy again.

On her first voyage to St. John’s, a 25-horsepower engine was installed; that engine was damaged and replaced with a 10-horsepower Acadia single-cylinder engine. She was used transporting salted codfish to Mifflin Brothers in Catalina, Trinity Bay and moving material and goods from St. John’s to ports in the Southwest Arm and Random Sound.

In 1948, Kenneth built a 65-foot schooner, the Hubert G. Smith; with its construction, the Sarah Francis was tied-up at the dock and not used very often. In June 1950, my father, Martin Seward, leased Sarah Francis from Kenneth Smith. With himself, as skipper, Ulysses Lambert, Alexander (Sandy) Lambert and me, we sailed to the Southside of Trinity Bay to prosecute the Turbot fishing season.

Up near the clouds, the seagulls soar,
But down below, Sarah Francis sails once more.

As we cleared the harbour and several times tacked across the Southwest Arm, we finally cleared the Eastern and Western Heads and Green Island, and Dad set the course to take us to our ancestral home of New Perlican on the southside of Trinity Bay. Dad called me back said, “Take the helm; I’m going to help bait the trawls, see where the compass is pointing, keep her on that course and keep the sails full.” I do not remember if Dad came back to check-up on my sailing ability; I am sure he must have. At 15 years old, I was on a voyage of discovery. Eat your heart out, Capt. Cook and Sir Francis Drake.

About a mile from New Perlican, Dad came back, took the helm and piloted us to our anchorage.

After securing Sarah Francis, we boarded our 25-foot motorboat and left to set-out our trawl, a long string of fishing lines each measuring 50 fathoms in length.  Our trawl was 375 fathoms in size. At every fathom, a three-foot sid was attached to the mainline with a baited fishhook at the other end, which attracted the turbot. Each end is anchored with a heavyweight, and at the surface, each end is marked with a distinctive flag. We hauled and reset our trawl daily, motored to our schooner, cleaned and salted out catch, cooked supper, and prepared for the next day. On Monday of the third week, we left at dawn and steamed out to the nearest trawl marker buoy location but could not find it; after about an hour of searching without success, we explored further out the bay looking for the other buoy, again nothing could be found. We searched until dusk, but no sign of our trawl was found. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, we steamed all the Trinity Bay South area, but our trawl was never found. We were a dismal crew when we returned to Sarah Francis. Dad then decided to call off the search and to return home the next day.

On Friday morning, we hove anchor and sailed across the bay to Southport. As we sailed into the Harbour, little, did I know my career as a professional fisherman was over!

Sarah Francis was used in the mackerel fishing industry for a year or two. While anchored in Southport harbour during a storm, her anchor chain broke, and she drifted unto a rock puncturing a hole in her hull. Kenneth decided she was not worth repairing, and she ended her days decaying on the Southport sand bar.

The Seward family left Southport in October 1950, and it was several years later before I returned.

Up near the clouds, the seagulls soar.
But down below the Sarah Francis sails no more.