A Sloop For Caroline

Readers will quickly discover that Caroline Abbott, the 1812 character I created for American Girl, loves sailing. Caroline’s family lives on the shore of mighty Lake Ontario, and Papa is a shipbuilder. The beautiful cover of Meet Caroline shows her on board her father’s newest sloop.

And chapter one opens this way:

Caroline Abbott leaned over the rail and laughed with delight. “Isn’t this wonderful?” she asked her cousin Lydia.  Sailing on Lake Ontario was fun any time, but being permitted to come aboard the sloop White Gull on its very first voyage was an extra-special treat.

Later Caroline confides a secret to Lydia:

“One day I’m going to ask Papa to build me a sloop.  I’ll be captain.”  It was her most precious wish, one she usually kept tucked away in her heart.

I loved creating this aspect of Caroline.  But I also knew that I had a lot to learn about sailing a sloop two hundred years ago!  I read accounts written by people in 1812.  I studied paintings of ships.  That was a beginning, but it wasn’t enough to let me bring Caroline’s sailing scenes to life.

Then I learned something amazing:  The Michigan Maritime Museum in South Haven, MI, owns a sloop built to replicate a real ship from Caroline’s time.  Even better?  Visitors can go for a sail!

Michigan Maritime Museum photo.

So while I was writing the first draft of Meet Caroline, my husband and I made arrangements to do just that. The sloop is named Friends Good Will, which was the name of the original ship.

I’m all set to board the replica sloop.

Sailing on Friends Good Will was tremendous  fun. It was educational. Most of all, that sail fired up my imagination. I pictured Caroline on a sloop just like this one.  I used all of my senses so I could describe the experience vividly for readers.

What does a sail sound like as sailors raise it? What does the wind sound like when it hits the canvas? I paid attention!

One of the crew (foreground, in the white clothes and hat) demonstrated how hard sailors worked to raise the heavy sails.

My husband pitched in too.

In Meet Caroline, Caroline’s happiest moment comes when the wind fades and Papa allows her to help him at the tiller.

Here’s Caroline taking her turn.  (Illustrations by Robert Papp.)

And here’s me, taking my turn while the captain supervises. See how I’m leaning against the tiller? It was a windy day, and I needed my whole body to hold the ship on course.

In the first chapter of Meet Caroline, British soldiers board the Abbotts’ sloop.  I walked through the action while on board, imagining where Caroline would be, taking lots and lots of photographs.  When I got home, I quickly wrote that scene while everything was fresh in my mind.

Here’s the hold, where Caroline’s cousin Oliver would pack the supplies he expected to transport around Lake Ontario. Papa sends Caroline and Lydia down here when the British board their ship.

And when Caroline wants to hear what’s happening on deck, she creeps up from the hold below.

Can you make out the rope-and-slat ladder in the center of this photo? It’s collapsed here, but one end would be thrown over the side. The British soldiers came aboard the Abbotts’ sloop on a ladder like this, and Caroline leaves the sloop the same way.

The real history of the original Friends Good Will gave me a lot to think about, too. It was built as a merchant vessel, but in 1812 the United States government took the sloop into military service. While Friends Good Will was returning from a supply trip, the British tricked the American crew by flying the US flag over a fort they’d captured. The British seized Friends Good Will, renamed the sloop, and put it into service for their own navy.

In 1813 the sloop was recaptured by Americans, but that December it ran aground during a storm. In 1814 the British burned the still-stranded ship during a raid.

I’m very grateful to the people who had the vision to replicate the original sloop—no small undertaking!—and the wonderful crew. Because of their work, visitors today can have a rare and special experience.

To learn more about the Michigan Maritime Museum and Friends Good Will, visit their website:  http://www.michiganmaritimemuseum.org/

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9 Responses to “A Sloop For Caroline”

  1. Labyrinth-Living Says:

    Wow! I have never lied being on a boat of any kind, but this made it sound wonderfully fun and exciting.

  2. Sydney Says:

    This is a wonderful post! My mom and I were reading Meet Caroline, and she absolutely adored your description of what Caroline was feeling on the sloop. My mom sailed constantly as a kid (they had their own boat), and she really felt what you said. Thanks!
    Sydney

    • Kathleen Ernst Says:

      Hi Sydney! Thanks very much for sharing your reaction. It means a great deal to know that your mom, who sailed so much when she was Caroline’s age, thought the description rang true. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post.

  3. Jess Says:

    I read all of thew Caroline books, and they were AMAZING! You are one of the best authors I’ve heard of, Kathleen! Congrats!

  4. Amelia Says:

    The Caroline books are so great, and know I want to go on a sloop, too!!

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