Urania, the small island that the Brashears bought
in 1899, after renting a cottage for three summers
on Lake Muskoka. The cottage and boathouse are still
there, beautifully restored by Jim Grand of Gravenhurst,
ONT Photo credit: Ken Robinson
steam launches reached its peak in the decade before
1900, declining thereafter in favor of naptha launches
and gasoline-powered boats. In order to deliver the
boats to the Muskoka Lakes, they had to be shipped
by railroad flat-cars. This affected the design and
dictated that the beam not exceed the maximum width
that could be allowed by rail -- about nine feet.
At the turn
of the 20th Century, the Davis Dry Dock Co., Ltd.
of Kingston, Ontario, Canada was famous throughout
North America for its boat-building capabilities.
In particular, it had established a special reputation
for producing quality steam yachts and launches for
the affluent cottagers in the Muskokas.
Muskoka yachts, such as Phoebe II, were particularly
graceful and had a characteristic profile; fine bow
lines, canoe stern, forward enclosed cabin with curved
windows, a center section with roll-up side curtains
containing a wood-fired boiler and compound condensing
engine, an aft-enclosed cabin with a head and wash
basin on the port side, and generous fore and aft
decks. Hulls were generally painted white, while the
cabins were constructed of varnished mahogany. Deck
fittings were nickel plated, giving a very pleasing
overall effect. The yachts were outfitted for day
cruising only; the window sash weights were allowed
to swing free such that overnight sleeping in any
kind of roll would have been impossible!
of the Phoebe's early day trips on Lake Muskoka in
And so it was
that Matt Davis built the Phoebe II, a 48-ft. wood-burning
steam launch with a 9-ft. 1-in. beam and 4-ft. draft.
It is planked with 1-in. southern pine over very stout
frames with a heavy keel and boiler stringers, a fairly
straight stem and a compromise (canoe) stern. It is
a luxury day-boat with a glass and mahogany-paneled
wheelhouse forward, and a similarly enclosed aft salon
reflecting the ambiance of an age of relaxed elegance.
The engine room is located between the two.
is where the helmsman holds forth and controls the
boat with bell signals to the engine room. The aft
salon has fore-and-aft seats along each side with
a drop-leaf table in between. It can comfortably seat
a party of ten to 15 people. The open-sided engine
room houses a boiler and compound steam engine that
drive the launch at speeds up to ten MPH. A common
top runs nearly the entire length of the boat with
open decks fore and aft, and a lazarette (storage
space below decks) aft.
By 1914, the
era of steam-driven small vessels was all but over.
During World War I the Davis Company produced life
boats and small ships' boats of both wood and metal
for the war effort. In the post war years the company
never regained its stature as a builder of luxury
II is the correct name of the launch - it was carved
into the keel. However, two nameplates on the bow
(possibly recovered from the original Phoebe) carry
the name, Phoebe, without the numerals. As a result,
the boat became known simply as Phoebe
on page 10