“Sport. The pursuit of pleasurable occupation which requires exposure to weather, exercise of all bodily muscles, judgment, skill of hand, foot and eye, never to be followed without a degree of personal risk. Under such classification I put Sailing of boats.” -Henry M Plummer.
The Mascot rounding up to retrieve its dinghy, which had severed its painter in rough water off the Potomac River.
100 years ago this week, on November 12, 1912, Henry Plummer, his son, Henry Jr., and their cat, Scotty, passed through the locks of the old Chesapeake & Delaware Canal in their catboat, Mascot.
Plummer, an insurance man from Massachusetts, was on his way southbound from Buzzard’s Bay in Massachusetts to Miami down the Intracoastal Waterway in the years before that inland passage was completed. He wrote about this adventure in the now-classic account, The Boy, Me, and the Cat, which was initially published in mimeograph form, with illustrations produced with a pin over the mimeo master.
Henry Jr. and Scotty, hard at work on Mascot’s launch engine.
Now travel on the ICW is routine- hardly the novel, book-worthy adventure it was in 1912, when recreational sailing was still in its infancy. But at the time, Plummer, Henry Jr. and Scotty were some of the first to brave the trip. While much has remained the same for modern travelers on the ICW (weeks of provisioning, eventful emergencies, and run-ins with annoyingly un-savvy sailors), the crew of Mascot definitely brought their own style to the trip. In particular, Plummer was idiosyncratically determined to ‘live off the land’ during the journey, taking shots from the boat with his .22 caliber rifle, “Helen Keller”. His son would later complain of dinners consisting mostly of unpalatable seabirds, with his father, clearly a proponent of the school of hard knocks commenting in his logbook, “Old squaw stew for dinner, and Henry had to run from the cabin, allow(ing) he would desert at Norfolk or right then and there if I gave him anymore sea fowl to eat. Foolish boy, he needs starving. Scotty and I finished the stew.”
Mascot at the Delaware and Raritan canal, before entering the beginning of their Chesapeake leg of the trip.
Plummer brought his story to life with vivid prose, a quirky conversational tone and lots of hand-drawn illustrations that have helped contribute to the book’s timeless feel. Now considered a classic of the genre,The Boy, Me, and the Cat may be 100 years old this week, but the nautical tale of a father and son braving wind, tide, water, and wildlife to complete the adventure of their lives still seems as fresh and current today as it would have to armchair travelers of the late Edwardian period.