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Maryland's National Register Properties



Photo credit: M.C. Wootton, 07/1983
MYSTERY (log canoe)
Inventory No.: QA-422
Date Listed: 9/18/1985
Location: Round Top Road , Chestertown, Queen Annes County
Category: Object
Period/Date of Construction: 1932
Architect/Builder: Builder: Harry Sinclair
Description: MYSTERY is a 34'-7" long sailing log canoe carrying two masts and a racing rig. She is double-ended, with a straight stem with little rake and a longhead bow, and a straight, sharp stern. Log-built with carvel-fitted rising planks, the boat was built by Harry Sinclair in Oxford, Maryland, in 1932. She has a beam of 8'-8 1/2" and has a centerboard. Originally sailed with a skipjack rig, the canoe now has a Tilghman racing rig and is noted for her very tall masts. The canoe is privately owned and races under No. 8. The hull is painted white and has been reinforced using the WEST epoxy system. MYSTERY is built of five logs and received her name because of the secrecy of her building. She has a longhead, a straight stem with little rake, and a straight, sharp stern on which a rudder is hung on pintles. The boat was built in the Tilghman fashion with carvel-fitted rising planks and wide washboards forming a half-deck. Her stern is overhung with an outrigger, or bumpkin. She carries a long bowsprit with heavy standing rigging. Her foremast is stayed with two shrouds and spreaders. Foresail and mainsail have clubs at the clew, and sprits. There is a large jib and, with the kite and squaresail, the boat carries almost 2000 square feet of sail. Her new foremast is said to be more than 70' long, but it is a "mystery." The mainmast is shorter, and unstayed. The foremast is the largest ever used in a canoe of 35' long or less. Significance: This vessel is significant as being one of the last surviving traditional Chesapeake Bay racing log canoes that carry on a tradition of racing on the Eastern Shore of Maryland that has existed since the 1840s. In addition, it is a surviving representative of the oldest indigenous type of boat on the Bay--the working log canoe--which was developed in the 17th century by early European settlers from the aboriginal dugout canoe. MYSTERY gains her significance for having been built during the revival of log canoe racing in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The vessel was built by Harry Sinclair of Oxford in 1932 for John D. Williams, who also commissioned the canoe JAY DEE. Because there was a great deal of secrecy involved in her construction the canoe was given the name MYSTERY. A later owner, John Whittum, sailed the canoe for a few years with a skipjack rig before re-rigging her as a canoe. Under Whittum, MYSTERY won the Governor's Cup in 1962. Several years ago the vessel created a stir with a new 60' foremast, the largest ever used in a log canoe of 35 feet or less, and in 1983 MYSTERY appeared for the Governor's Cup race with another new mast, this one reputed to be the longest ever, but again, the "mystery" of its height was not divulged.
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