The Salty Spray is a forty-foot, two-masted, steel-hulled ketch that looks a bit like a pirate ship and sailed Lake Simcoe out of Innisfil for more than 15 years in the late 20th century. She was commissioned by Gilford resident Howard Franklin to a semi-custom “Spray” design and is featured in the book Spray by internationally renowned boat designer R. Bruce Roberts-Goodson.
The original Spray was the first boat sailed singlehandedly around the world (1895-1898) by Nova Scotian Joshua Slocum. Today, hulls built to its specifications are encouraged to include “Spray” in their names and are known as the ultimate cruising boats.
Howard Franklin, “Cap’n Howie” to his family, friends and colleagues, was an Air Canada pilot who had as strong a love for sailing as for flying. With years of experience building his own boats from his home in Gilford, he had the steel hull built in a shipyard in Meaford, hauled it to Innisfil and then spent fifteen years building what was to be his final and ultimate boat to his unique specifications, all while sailing it around Lake Simcoe. His desire to make this boat one-of-a-kind includes the tale of a trip to an Ontario cherry orchard that was being sold to developers. Rather than allowing the orchard to be burned, he had the trees cut down and milled, and the resulting cherry-wood interior of the Salty Spray is impressive. Docked at his home on the canal opposite Kon Tiki Marina, the outline of the Salty Spray can still be seen in the odd shape of the dock built to fit the beamy boat.
When this gorgeous ketch set sail – and it did every weekend once the ice was gone from the lake – a bevy of other boats always sailed with it. It was simply the biggest and most interesting boat around and was loved by every boater in the area.
But as enjoyable as Lake Simcoe can be, it is known throughout the province as an ornery body of water, where winds whip up out of nowhere, storms can be severe and water spouts are no longer even noteworthy. And once upon a time the lake got the better of Salty Spray. Cap’n Howie liked to tell this story:
“It was a warm and pleasant day (August 14, 1978) out sailing on Lake Simcoe, but I was concerned about the possibility of thunderstorms. About 16:30 [hours] and on our way home, the sky darkened and it was obvious we were going to be hit by a storm. Since there was little wind, I had decided to sail on jib-staysail and mizzen. The main was down and stowed. Soon the rain became heavy and visibility was down to 50 feet. Things were still OK, until all of a sudden, the wind velocity increased from 10 knots to about 80 knots in less than 15 seconds, and Salty Spray was knocked down. The storm was part thunderstorm, part tornado and we didn’t have time to release sheets. It all happened so quickly. In our knockdown, I think the masthead touched the sea and yet she rolled back up with no damage done, except to the captain’s pride. It was an unfortunate incident, which could have been much more serious if not for the incredible integrity of the Spray. I had 12 souls on board that day and everyone was OK.”
His trust in the integrity of his boat eventually took him away from Lake Simcoe to further adventures. When he retired, he sailed her down the Mississippi to the Florida Keys, where he lived and sailed for many years, taking the occasional trip out to the Bahamas and back. Eventually, his sailing days coming to an end, he sailed up the east coast of the U.S. to Maryland, where he sold his beloved Spray. Although Cap’n Howie has passed on now, to his family’s knowledge, Lake Simcoe’s Salty Spray is still sailing out of Chesapeake Bay.
Written by Beverley Else for the Innisfil Historical Society, a member society of the SCHA