HURRICANE EDNA ENDS ERA OF SAIL (December 5/97)

When Hurricane Edna devastated this area in the summer of 1954, one of its victims was a schooner that for nearly three decades had plied the waters of the Bay of Fundy.

Dubbed the “FBG,” the two-masted auxiliary schooner Fred Boyd Gibson Green was moored on the west side of Kingsport wharf on the evening of September 9 (11?). The hurricane winds split the hull open and ripped the deck from the FBG, throwing it on the beach. The schooner came to rest onshore less than 100 meters from were it had been built 26 years before.

The FBG was built in Kingsport in 1928 by master shipbuilder Fred Green and mariner Boyd Gibson, standing in stocks where the parking area is today at the head of the wharf. Launched the following year and captained by Gibson, the FBG carried cargo for over a quarter-century from Parrsboro and Joggins to Minas Basin ports such as Canning and Windsor and up the Bay of Fundy as far as Grand Manaan and Deer island. The FBG never left these waters while it was in service.

For decades after it was totaled by Hurricane Edna the FBG lay rotting on the Kingsport beach. It was here that I first saw its skeleton. The sea, sun and winds eventually wiped away all traces of the ship, but not before I became familiar with its remains; clambering over it over as a teenager, I imagined all sort of things about pirates, buried treasure and exotic cargoes. The truth about the FBG, I eventually learned, was a lot less glamorous. During its lifetime the schooner was used mainly as a carrier of coal and fertilizer. Its most exciting adventure was the honeymoon cruise of Captain Gibson and his new bride across the Basin to Parrsboro for a load of coal.

Puzzled over the FBG’s designation as an “auxiliary schooner” I asked local marine history buff Leon Barron for an explanation. “This means the FBG also had a 10 h.p. engine and didn’t depend entirely on its sails for power,” Barron said. As well as possessing a copy of the FBG’s certificate of registration, Barron has collected a number of interesting tales about the ship. Leon told me, for example, about the FBG’s connection with another sailing craft, the Hattie McKay. Built at Parrsboro in 1896, the Hattie McKay was wrecked on Medford beach in 1927 a few miles from Kingsport, possibly in a storm similar to the one that did in the FBG. The engine from the Hattie McKay was salvaged and used in the FBG.

After the FBG was wrecked Captain Gibson removed and stored what was left of the rigging, gear and woodwork. Some of this salvage was used in the construction of a sailing ship at Parrsboro in the 1960s. Retired Captain and boatbuilder, Alden Coffill, used the steering wheel from the FBG when he constructed “The Sou’Wester,” a 70-foot two-masted schooner that was launched into the Minas Basin in 1970. Later sold and rechristened the “Freedom,” the ship now runs out of New York as a charter boat.

This summer a downsized replica of the FBG was started at Avondale in Hants County. Using the original plans for the FBG the Avon Spirit is identical except for its length which is 10 feet shorter. The Avon Spirit was officially launched and christened in August and then put back in the boathouse for completion. Next summer the Avon Spirit will be cruising the waters of the Minas Basin, perhaps retracing some of the old routes sailed by the FBG.

The FBG was the last cargo schooner operating in Nova Scotia; with its demise it could be said that the age of commercial sailing ships in Nova Scotia came to an end. The old FBG still sails on, however. In the Avon Spirit, in the Freedom, in the hearts of men for whom the age of sail was a golden era.

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