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by Paul Austin - Dallas, Texas - USA

The Maltese Schooner

Just imagine for a thin, clammy moment along the dock streets of San Francisco, shadowns dripping with wet fog laying down as puddles in the alleys, that instead of The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammet had named it The Maltese Schooner...what would he have written about it...

...Sam Spade opened his own apartment door with Brigid on his arm.  Inside the dark rooms, Sam saw Joel Cairo hiding in his kitchen.  The fat man Gutman was sitting in two chairs in the living room.  Gutman's boy hid behind the door until Sam closed it.  They were all there, and Sam had the package.

Joel Cairo was a small-boned dark man of black, slick, glossy hair, black eyes, Levantine features with chubby fingers.  His green cravat showed off a red ruby with four baguette diamonds around it.  His patent leather shoes protruded from spats, his chamoised gloved hands held a black derby hat, with the fragrance of chypre filtering the air.

To Spade, this queer little man was from another time and place.
Sam's two chairs filled up with the fat man, Mr. Gutman.  He was a jiggling collection of corpulent circles - his belly, his face, his tubular arms, all moving after each other like bubbles out of a pipe.  A conneiseur, a dealer in arms, a master swindler, and corpulent dealer in ancient artifacts, real or not.

Spade said in his laconic way to no one, 'Why are we here?'

Cairo laughed his high tinny scratching laugh, he didn't know what to say.

Gutman stared at Spade, answers he might give spinning past his mind like a Rolodex.  'I like you, Mr. Spade, I like a man who gets to the point.  Too many men are like website owners, they don't know what the point is, you see.'

Spade grinned with that face that would scare a cat.  He strode to a cabinet, took out a wrapped box.  He lifted the model ship out of the box, placing it down before Gutman so softly it made no noise.

Gutman smiled like a fat satyr.

'Ah, the Adventuress, at long last I have seen it.  I have pursued it over the centuries, Mr. Spade.  You have no idea of the history you put before us all.  I, only I, have the discretion, the expertise, the appreciation of history to understand what this grand model represents.'

Cairo said, leaning toward it, 'Excuse my intrusion, but I know how much it costs, Mr. Gutman.  It is always my profession to count costs and deliver valuable objects.'

'You know nothing, Cairo,' Gutman threw back at him as if his words were a dart.  'You are a child, worthy of nothing but delivering pizza.'  Gutman came forward to touch the model, without leaving his seat.  The model was entirely gold.

Brigid stood in front of Cairo.  'I want my share.  Give it to me, and I'll be out of here.'

Spade knew that was a lie.  'You'll never be out of here, darling.  You're in it up to your bad hose.

'Ah, Mr. Spade, a man I can admire as well as respect.  You are so right, as always.  Let me tell you the story of the Adventuress.  She was the grandest ship in the Atlantic, designed by the famous B.B. Crowninshield for John Borden II, the founder of the Yellow Cab Company, the same cab company by which we all came here.  She was meant for an Artic expidition to capture the rare Bowhead Whale.  And what a catch it would have been.  But the mission was sabotaged, by foreign agents who escaped.  However, Roy C. Andrews was also aboard, who jumped ship and found fossilized dinosaur eggs in Mongolia.  Surely, an adventurous man after your own heart, Mr. Spade.'

'I'd drink to him, but not in Mongolia,' Spade said without expression.  'Is that all?'

''Is that all?' you ask,' Gutman cried.  'Surely Mr. Spade, you know better than that.'  Nearly rising in his seat, his eyebrows danced when he said, 'In the year of our Lord 1914, Borden sold the Adventuress to San Francisco pilots who had the knowledge to understand her great speed.  For three decades, she sailed the Golden Gate waters, slipping underneath the fog and mist and winds, with unknown passengers and cargo in and out of the Bay under the very watchful eye of the Coast Guard.'

Gutman's eyes burned dark, just thinking of how many secret trips with secret cargo she might have made.  He could only dream of such a devious history and success, the fortune he might have stolen.

'We have come for our share,' Cairo demanded, shaking the diamond rings on his fingers when he pounded the table with his fat fist.  The model nearly tipped over, had not Spade steadied it.

Brigid then said, 'My share, too, Mr. Gutman.  This story is fascinating but my share is more fascinating,'

Gutman dismissed their demands with a wave of his fat hand.  'Now by 1950 the Adventuress lay at her dock in Sausalito.  She lay there with her trunk house the meeting place of many a bank heist gang, many an escaped convict, many a deal to make a man wealthy beyond his wildest dreams.  It lay there like a ruin but full of adventurous life.

'An unfortunate man named Freeman bought her for the outrageous price of $7000.  But the gods punished Freeman for such a pitiful price, by blowing 45mph winds on her voyage to Seattle.  Her sails blew out, the engine clutch threw and a leaking heater filled the cabins with fumes.  The ghosts of Borden and Andrews had reared their evil heads once again.'

'I don't believe in ghosts,' Spade said, his face a blank yellow pallor.

'I do,' Cairo said.  'My mother was a ghost...'

Brigid laughed.  Spade rolled his eyes.

Gutman could only go on.  'Be that as it may, a dreamer named Monty Morton bought her after several owners came to their untimely end.  Morton duped youngsters into coming aboard to repair the ship.  They did.  My dream, the Adventuress, which I have pursued for many years atop Tibetan monasteries, through caves in Tripoli, inside secret passages in the Morocco Casbah, along the underground tunnels of Paris can now, this very night, will be mine.  Now all my schemes to conquer the world will be realized!  The world will be mine!  Yes!

Spade knew this was poppycock.  'The world will never be yours, Gutman.  You cannot have it.  The world belongs to the young who will take our place.'

'Never!' Gutman shouted out.  'The Adventuress will be my castle, my secret headquarters from which I give all men orders!'

Spade shook his head.  'Not a chance.  While you chased down fake clues and phony tips, the Adventuress was given to Sound Experience, where young men and girls are taught navigation and seamanship.'

'Young boys and girls!  I hate young boys and girls!  They're - they're so...young!  They keep asking for money.  They wear strange clothes.  They eat milkshakes!  Ah, the agony of giving this world to young people!  This is not for me.  I must protest, Mr. Spade, you are quite the character, I must say.'

Gutman roused himself in a furious disgust, leaving the room so hastily he forgot the model ship on the table.  Cairo waddled after Gutman, yelling for his money.  Brigid ran after Cairo to borrow some of his perfume.  Spade laughed at them all.  Then a young bellhop came in and took the model ship back to the Adventuress.

Spade laughed all night long, with coffee at the diner with Elvis, John Wayne and Liberace shoving quarters in the music machine.

                                            THE END


Of course, I've exaggerated the story of Adventuress somewhat, although the facts in my story are true.  This 133 foot ship was the great achievement of B.B. Crowninshield, himself the most famous descendant of a shipping and nautical family.

He came into the Crowninshield wealth in 1867, in New York, even though the family estate was in Marblehead MA.  Like any decent Boston dilettante, he attended MIT (like Herreshoff) but graduated from Harvard, in 1890.  His great-great-grandfather had procured the family fortune through the spice trade out of Salem.  His great-grandfather made another fortune from privateers during the War of 1812, and became secretary of the Navy, and his greatgrand uncle, George, built the first luxury yacht in the US, Cleopatra's Barge in 1816.  His younger brother married the heiress to the duPont fortune.

But Bowdoin Bradlee Crowninshield had wanderlust.  He was never quite the Boston Back Bay gentleman of the club, the yachts and the high society gatherings.  So, as Horace Greeley said, he went west.  He sold real estate in Montana.  Not much competition there, I suppose.  But that seems to have been too far from the shore and ships.

When he came back to Boston, at first in real estate, he started over as a lowly draftsman with the yacht firm of John Purdon, in 1894.  This may have given him the opportunity to draw small boats and large ships.  In short order, he put out his own shingle, gaining success early as a designer of yachts.  While he made a living designing working boats such as fishing schooners, tugboats, barges, lifesaving boats, and even a rowing shell, his interest and fame lay in fast yachts.

In an article in WB Magazine a few years ago, writer Polly Saltonstall says this about the Crowninshield style of yacht:

His yacht designs tend to be narrow and canoe-shaped with low freeboard, long overhangs, and short fin-like keels. These are also the characteristics of knockabouts, the name given to a type of small racing sailboat that competed in Massachusetts Bay around the turn of the century (WB196).

The original construction plans do not emphacize bulkheads, specifying only two, but use long bilge stringers.  The plans did not specify as many floor timbers as we would today.  These features mean the Dark Harbor yachts lose their hull shape and become waterlogged before they should.  This may have been done to make the yachts cheaper to build so that more yacht club members would buy them for club races.

Today, Crowninshield might be just as easily known for his own personal yacht, the 40 foot daysailing schooner, Fame.  I say this because the America's Cup racing captain Dennis Conner bought Fame a few years ago, creating plenty of stir among the wood boat crowd.

In 1910 Crowninshield was 42 years old when he designed Fame.  It was named after a boat the family had earlier.  The Rice Brothers had built Fame for $800 in only four weeks time.  Maynard Bray says Crowninshield himself sailed Fame from East Boothbay ME to Marblehead nonstop overnight against a fair wind.  Schooners aren't supposed to sail against the wind but the overlapping foresail, narrow waterline and full head sail may have helped her along.  If Crowninshield reduced the mainsail that may have helped keep the schooner's prow at the wind.

Crowningshield sold Fame when he entered WWI, and then bought her back after the war.  Later she was sold, leaving the salt water of the Atlantic for the fresh water of Lake Michigan.  Bray says this may have preserved her metal fastenings until recent times.

One of the smallest Crowninshield designs is called the Dark Harbor 12 1/2.  This is a daysailer in the style of the Crowninshield yachts, sleek and low to the water.  It is 20 feet overall with overhangs, a jib and a gaff mainsail.  WB Magazine sells the plans for only $60, although the keel requires through-bolting.

This daysailer is know to be fast, a superior light air boat and relatively dry in rough water.  While the 12 1/2 was meant to be built carvel, the plans specify cold-molding or strip planking also.  The deep keel might be made of plywood instead of hardwood, although I am not the one to be sure of that.  Lofting is required, with four pages of plans.  This is not easy boat-building but it would be a great beauty.

Having seen a few pictures of these gorgeous Dark Harbor boats, I imagine that touching the turn of the bilge with one's hand would be like holding Jayne Mansfield.

Crowninshield did not end his life in acclaim.  In 1900 he married Prsicilla Janet Macphail.  Adolphus McVey, the yaching editor of the Boston Herald made a sarcastic remark about Mrs. Crowninshield.  B.B., possibly recalling his days in Montana, assaulted McVey.  He was fined $10,000 for the assault.  But after 9 years, he ended up paying $448.

Later, in 1915 Mrs. Crowninshield was found dead in a bathtub of a Boston hotel.  The death was ruled accidental.  Crowninshield remarried the next year, living a long time afterward until August 12 1948.  He died in Marblehead MA.

Maltese Schooner


Paul is also publishing his books on Amazon.

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