Old Hampton Tales of Sea and Shore: Hampton Beach As Of Yore, part two

By Thomas Leavitt

Part 6

The Exeter News-Letter, Friday, March 10, 1899

"Hampton Beach As Of Yore", Section 2

Among the Nashua men when they had arrived at the railroad station in Hampton, there developed a difference of opinion as to which hotel they should go, and it resulted in the party dividing, one-half going to the Boar's Head Hotel and the rest to the Winnicumet House. No sooner had they got settled in their quarters than each faction became zealous partisans of the hotel at which they were stopping.

The hotels since their enlargement had been "running" only three years, and many people came for the first time that year (1846). Often they would stop their carriage and consult as to which hotel they had better stop at and sometimes they would inquire of people passing them. After these men arrived very seldom would a carriage stop in the road without one of them, from one or both hotels, coming up to give the required information, always in favor of their hotel. They sometimes accompanied the stage coaches to the station to assist the drivers in "striking" for passengers.

But their chief interest and rivalry was manifested in regard to the sailing boats. Mr. David Nudd had that season a new boat for the use of the Boar's Head Hotel. She was a small schooner of about twenty tons burden, a fine, rakish looking craft, and she carried a cloud of canvas, a part of which were a "stay-sail," which was hoisted high up between the tops of the masts, and a gaff topsail, spread over the top of the mainsail.

These were of great advantage to her in the light breezes generally prevailing in summer, and would often carry her along when there was no wind to fill her lower sails. Her name was Tremont and she was a fast sailing boat. Her skipper was Thomas Hale Leavitt, who lived on the place now occupied by Mr. Henry Wingate. He was about thirty years old, and was a fine specimen of robust young manhood, frank and hearty in expression and manners. He knew his business.

The Winnicumet boat was a nondescript. She was built of the same material and by the same method of construction as the common Hampton fishing boat, the Peter Wherry. Like the wherry she was picked at both ends. Clear white pine boards about ten inches wide and a half an inch thick were used for planking, each successive board lapping about an inch over the one below it, constituting what is called "lapstreak." She was five or six feet longer than the wherry and proportionately broader and keeper, and carried two sails, while the other carried one.

This boat was built by Capt. John G. Chase, of Seabrook, for a fishing craft, to venture farther and in rougher weather than could be done in the ordinary fishing boat.

He engaged the best boat builders in Seabrook, I think Abram and Enoch Chase, and Richard Fogg, of Hampton Falls.

They laid her keel in the open air under a large tree.

Mr. Fogg had a theory (as most people have who reflect) as to what the lines of a boat should be to make her sail fast. He suggested his theory to the Chases, and after much arguing, drafting and figuring, they adopted it, and his theory was embodied in that boat.

In due time she was launched, was christened O.K., (Orl Korrect) and she bore a white pennant at her mast head with those letters painted on it in black.

She proved to be the fastest sailing boat of her time owned on the New Hampshire coast. Her skipper was Capt. George Gookin. He was then 36 years old. He had followed the sea from the time he was fourteen years old, and had risen from the forecastle to the quarter desk.

A few years before the time I am writing of, he had accepted the position of mate (practically captain) of a Mississippi river steamboat, the duties of which took up the whole year except the three summer months.

He came to Boar's Head the first time in 1844, and like it so well that he ever after made it his home. His life and experiences had furnished him with the materials for many tales, and his God given faculty of telling them made them very fascinating. In many respects he was a remarkable man, and there are many things I wish to tell of him, but I reserve them for a future article.

These two parties of Nashua men practically monopolized the sail boats, and, of course, they were eager for a race at every opportunity. But Capt. Gookin was not, and made use of every expedient to avoid it. At last both parties suspected him and with doing so. Then he took his into his confidence and acknowledged the truth of their suspicious, but explained to them that the O.K. stood no chance of beating the Tremont with her large and lofty sails in the light winds then prevailing. But he told them if they would have patience and wait for a wind strong enough to compel the skipper to take in his stay-sail and top-sail they should have a race, and win it too.

But the gentle breezes persisted until one night the party came to him and said that he must take them to the Isles of Shoals on the morrow and give them that chowder he had promised them, but on the day after their stay would be up and they must leave for home. At half-past eight the next morning we started with a kettle and wood and all materials for a chowder, except the fish. Before we reached the "Shoals" we stopped and caught some fish and then sailed on and landed on Smutty Nose Island.