"A Dream You Never Build" By Simon Fuller

The Brigantine Fair Jeanne was a dream of Capt Thomas G Fuller's. "Something you dream about but never build," he would say.


 Tom Fuller, as a youth sailing on the Ottawa River,  had long admired the abandoned steam tugboat hull of the G B Pattee II, on the shores of Quyon Quebec and dreamed of the possibilities of converting her into a sailing vessel. Even during his six-years of voluntary service to King and Country, commanding flotillas of motor torpedo boats in the English Channel, Mediterranean, Adriatic and Aegean, Fuller never stopped dreaming of building a square-rigger from the hull of that tug. His exploits during WWII included revolutionizing small boat warfare by employing "Nelson Like" tactics, rather than conventional torpedoing of enemy shipping. He and his crew surprised the enemy, boarded, captured and took into tow enemy ships (many of which included former tall ships converted to freighters) and turned their vital cargo over to the Yugoslavian Partisans. He became known as the "Pirate of the Adriatic" and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, three times. Returning to Ottawa, he quickly acquired the Pattee hull for $400 and set about converting her into the Brigantine Black Jack, realizing the dream of his youth!


After sailing the Black Jack from 1952 to 1976 on the Ottawa River, an adventure was planned to portage the vessel to the Lower Ottawa and on the Great Lakes for the summer of 1977.  Upon the return, he began to dream of designing and building a vessel that incorporated everything that he loved about the Black Jack with modifications that would permit world voyaging. So it was at the age of 70 that he began to put ideas to paper and begin to loft the lines of his next dream. "When are you going to build her" they would say- "no-no, this is something you dream about but never build," he would say- "Build her Tommy," his devoted wife Jeanne would encourage him.


If you are going to build a vessel of this size in your backyard- it might be a wise idea to name her after your supportive spouse. Then one day before Christmas 1978, "Bonnie Jeanne" was written into all of the title blocks on the drawings- suddenly, the dream had a name! Could it be? Would it be? How could he undertake such an enormous project with his poor health? If he started it, would he ever live long enough to finish her? Dad had been in poor health for years. The doctors told mum that she would have to get him away from the stresses of running his construction business, or they would not have much time left together (Dad was 22 years older than Mum).

What would the neighbours think about a shipyard in the village? - "it's only a dream that you never build" - the goal of the dream was to design and build a Brigantine so he, his wife and family could experience the "romance of the sea' and return to visit the Greek Islands, Adriatic, Aegean, and the Mediterranean where he had served during the War. 


 I remember the day that he found out from the Ships Registry Office that there were already six previous "Bonnie Jeanne" s registered. There was no way he wanted to have his dream known as "Bonnie Jeanne VII."  So like it was always meant to be, "Fair Jeanne" was conceived the same day that the telephone lines at Fuller Construction were alive with communications between various sites, the Head Office and family members.  Dad was rounding up materials to be sent to our backyard for the purposes of building a little shipyard. "Have you heard? It's happening, the dream is happening, he's going to build her!!!"


 Fair Jeanne's keel was laid in August 1979- the deadline for her to be ready for launching was spring, high water 1981.


 Now the normal water depths next to the shore where Fair Jeanne was built was less than a foot in summer.  There would typically only be a window of a few weeks in early May of high high floodwaters, in which to launch her- the Upper Ottawa water levels normally rise 2.5 meters during the second peak flood. The Spring of 1981 became one of the lowest recorded water levels, and by the middle of April, it was apparent that there was not going to be sufficient water to float the vessel by the beginning of May- this would have resulted in a loss of an entire year. Would Dad's health hold out to realize his dream? - All hands on deck!!

With more than a months worth of work still to do to complete the hull for launching - the calls went out to an army of friends, office staff, and trades who all set about working feverishly to sand and paint the entire hull. The white depicted in the photos is the primer - the familiar painted gun ports and green hull would have to wait until after she was launched. The water of the River, by this time, was dropping 50mm to 100mm a day! The entire building that had housed the vessel during construction was dismantled in one day! The first photo shows Fair Jeanne at the end of that day.  


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The original plan to launch her was to have sent her down a set of rails laid out down the beach, so she had been built in this position.  But the plans had to be changed to bring in a large crane to pick and swing her through three moves until the last swing could lower her into the water alongside the seawall. The day before the crane arrived, the water had dropped to a level 300mm less than what was needed to float her! The plan was revised to build a "push pad" on the transom of the vessel (which can be seen in the photo- such that when the vessel was lowered into the water and still partially hanging on the crane, she would be turned perpendicular to the retaining wall and another hydraulic crane would position the end of its telescopic boom,  against the "push pad" and like a hydraulic jack, push the vessel away from the seawall. As part of the plan, the ship's anchor was taken 200M and drooped into deep water from a small raft known as the "Charlotte W" (named for the first female Mayor of Ottawa who used to give Dad and other high-rise developers a hard time, but that's another story.) The combination of the hydraulic crane pushing and the Main engine in full forward while the 11-ton hydraulic winch tugged on the anchor was set to push, drive and pull the  Fair Jeanne into deep enough water to float her.  

Launch day began at 6 AM when the crane arrived to set up. It seemed like all of the members of the Britannia Yacht Club and residents of Britannia Village arrived at the same time to witness the event. The vessel was calculated to weigh 90 Tonnes and the Crane had a design capacity of 125 tonnes ( if piking directly over the back of the crane) -The Fair Jeanne is over 7M wide, so by the time the crane picked her up from her centre line, the crane was at its limit (tipping)- in those days this was the biggest crane in Ottawa. By the second picking and resetting of the vessel, all of the bearings in the crane's turntable had broken, with the result that the crane could only pick the vessel up but no longer rotate. The smaller 25-tonne hydraulic crane was attached to the stern end of the lifting beam and acted as the control on the "tiller" to swing the vessel and the larger crane that she was suspended from. 

Needless to say the water kept dropping throughout the day as the work dragged on with each new challenge. If we stopped, we knew that tomorrow would only bring confirmation that we had lost the window to launch her that year and Dad's dream could be in jeopardy.  But by sundown, even Dad was thinking the day may have gone on too long.  The crew were tired. We had been working non-stop for more than 14 hours. We all grouped together and, after breaking for a rest, food and refreshments – we confirmed our resolve to make the last pick and swing- but there was an engineering challenge to overcome. The entire area where Fair Jeanne had been built was reclaimed land from the riverbed.  We were standing on 3M of fill held back by the masonry seawall.  The crane had to be set up so close to the seawall in order to swing the vessel clear of the wall to launch her- that concern was identified that the weight of the 125-tonne crane suspending the 90- tonne Fair Jeanne could topple the wall out toward the lake and all of the earth under the crane would slide into the lake. The solution was to place all of the steel "I" beams that were the foundation of the building that housed the vessel, to build a working mat perpendicular to the wall to spread out the loads imposed by the crane and vessel.  But how to move all of that steel? The beams were 8M long and weighed 100KG/M. 40 Beams would have to be picked up and carried twice the length of the vessel and placed under the crane and on top of the wall. This is where all the spectators came in (at least those that had remained throughout the day).  It was like something out of the movies depicting  prison chain gangs, of ten of fifteen people straddling a beam,  bending down in unison to picking up a beam and then walking like a centipede to transport each beam to their new duty.

It was well after midnight when the bow of Fair Jeanne swung out to the Lake and her namesake, Jeanne Fuller, christened her - "I name this vessel, Fair Jeanne, God Bless her and all who sail in her."

Then in an instant, the roar of the cranes throttling up for maximum power raised Fair Jeanne into the air one last time as she swung out over the seawall and was lowered into the water. Aa soon as she was low enough to clamber aboard, a score of crew boarded her.  The engine was fired up and the anchor windlass took up the slack on the anchor line.  Dad was at the helm for the first time- the "push" crane was in position, and the order was given for "Full RPM."  As the vessel's engine controlled the pressure in the hydraulic system, when the engine was brought up to full power so was the hydraulic winch capable of 11 tonnes of pull!  With almost two feet of her red waterline showing,  she pulled away from the seawall slipping through the silt and into deeper water where she was afloat!!


The last picture shows her in the harbour at BYC later that morning.  Alongside her, but upon the hard, is her sister ship the Black Jack.  It is worth noting the size comparison as they are almost even in freeboard (deck height) even though Black Jack is out of the water!  This was the first summer that Black Jack did not sail since she was converted into a Brigantine.  It was the prospect that she may never sail again that was the inspiration for finding a new purpose for her.  So it was that Fair Jeanne's Launching was the start of the Dream to launch Bytown Brigantine so that others could experience what we that were so fortunate were able to experience growing up "before the mast," finding out what we were capable of in the flower of our youth.


Fair Jeanne spent the summer of 1981 on the Ottawa River doing sea trials and being rigged. She had her first full sail that Thanksgiving - She was commissioned the following June- and began her Odyssey - She not only made it to the Greek Islands but returned again sailing over 100,000 Nautical miles during the next 12 years that Dad and Mum sailed her until Dad's death in May 1994. It was Mum's desire to see Fair Jeanne join her sister ship, affording the youth who sail with Bytown Brigantine the confidence to follow their dreams.

To all of those who were there that day, 40 years ago, -we know that dreams can come true with vision, determination, and knowledge, coupled with support from loved ones - Dad's was a life well-lived, with no regrets.  All of us fortunate enough to share in his dream, were inspired and  have a wonderful example to live by.


- Simon

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