ONE OLD BOAT (continued)
Last week we covered the ancient history of the Francis boat.
The more recent history begins with my uncle George Francis Sheridan who was born in the
Kalamazoo lighthouse in 1911. His father - my grandfather - George Henry Sheridan was at
that time the keeper of the light. Last week I visited with Uncle George in Detroit. I
asked George - now a spry 94 years of age - what he remembered of the Francis boat. His
voice and memory clear and sharp-he smiled and launched into his recollection: "It
always lay in the sand just to the east, in the low area by the old fish smokehouse. Until
it was brought into town about 1930 I had never seen it in the water. The wooden parts had
pretty much weathered and rotted but the metal had hardly a rust spot," he said.
Between Uncle George's recollections and further research the next chapter of the Francis
boat history began to unfold. The Society archives contained photos and a 1973 letter from
John Bird to his niece Jan Van Dis relating his recollections. John (born in 1899) was a
younger brother of Carl Bird, local boat builder. John relates in his letter: "the
boat was dug from the sand near the old Saugatuck lighthouse by Carl, your Dad and I and
assisted by one or two Sea Scouts. In the winter of 1930-31. we skidded her across the ice
on the old harbor lagoon and took her to Carl's shop by sleigh, towed by a car, where new
wooden parts were fabricated and installed. The letter also relates that Captain Leonard
Britton named her the Gallinipper, or "giant mosquito" (She was actually the
first of two Sea Scout Gallinippers - the second was powered and appeared about 1950 but
was not the same boat). The Gallinipper was given to the local Sea Scout troop who at that
time were an active group and thrilled to have the boat.
By the late 1930s the lifeboat had been converted by Carl Bird to a sailing lifeboat with
a center-board trunk and steel center-board, and stepped masts creating a modified
schooner rig. Due to hull design and weight she was not a great success as a sailing
vessel and by the middle 1940s was no longer in use.
In 1958 Cary Bird and David Van Dis, resolved to restore the Francis boat again and
started work. Unfortunately, Cary Bird died at the start of the project and the work was
shelved for the next 45 years. Now four decades later the restoration - financed by the
Saugatuck Douglas Historical Society and interested individuals-is proceeding and
wonderful bit of our history is being preserved.
by Jack Sheridan