Sunday, November 18, 2012

Into the Storm

   On November first, we added an impromptu raffle to our Sing Shanties Song Circle in order to benefit the sailors injured and displaced when HMS Bounty sank in Hurricane Sandy. During break several people ask me for more information about the loss of the historic replica: why she sailed out into the storm’s path, where the sinking had occurred, could she be re-floated, and could we ever know the whole truth? All the questions were good ones, but difficult to answer in simple terms. I attempted to make a few analogies, but felt that they were insufficient in conveying the whole of what the tall ship community was experiencing, both in coming to terms with Captain Walbridge’s decision to sail in such weather and the terrible loss now that so much had gone wrong. The following account is a detailed attempt to improve on my of-the-cuff remarks.

   You may want to put on the teakettle and settle in. There is no way to distill something like this, to boil it down into a cute post on Facebook, held by kittens.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Christmas at Sea - I

"For most of the nineteenth century, Thanksgiving outranked Christmas as New England's premier holiday. On shipboard, festivities usually centered on food, sometimes limited to the captain's table, sometimes available to all hands. As Christmas became popular, families on whalers reproduced the on-shore celebration by decorating the cabin, hanging stockings, exchanging gifts, and eating well.

Good cheer sometimes spilled over to the crew. On the John P. West in 1882, Sallie Smith made popcorn balls to help her husband's men celebrate Christmas. William B. Whitecar, who spent several Christmases on a New Bedford whaler, wrote that one year the captain observed the day by sending a cheese to the crew. Another year, there was no change in the day's routine. Yet another year, all hands received mince pie.
The last whaling ship left New Bedford in 1925.
Crews were resourceful about providing their own festivities for holidays and other moments when a celebration seemed in order. They toasted each other, sang and fired guns. Whaleboat races were common on the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving, especially when two whaleships met. But despite these efforts, accounts of holidays at sea, especially Christmas, have a recurring theme - how much the seafarer misses his family."
An excerpt from the Whaling Museum's "Life Aboard" page, an overview of North American whaling and life aboard ship: Holidays and Festivities on a Whaleship.

Some sailors had something to flee, nothing to leave behind or no one dear to bid adieu, but many left behind families, loved ones, friends and all that was pleasant and familiar to make what living they could crewing aboard cargo ships and whalers, not know if they would ever see them again. Filled with hopes and longings to be home for the holidays, the following two songs poignantly express their yearnings and prayers as they were homeward bound and the fate of others to spend their Christmas at sea.

Does anyone have the music for this forebitter by Ann Matthews titled Christmas Shanty?

Christmas Shanty

Look lively lads, haul on those ropes
At last we're homeward bound
With a following wind we have high hopes
To be home before Christmas comes around.

CHORUS: Pray God fill the sail with a favourable gale
Give us fine fast running seas
And we'll make it home for Christmas boys
To our wives and our families.

We've sailed across the seven seas
Such sights we all have seen
But now we long for our families
To tell them where we've been.

Around the world we all did roam
Many girls in many ports
But now at last we're headed for home
And our wives are in our thoughts.

And in our last few ports of call
When we've had our runs ashore
We've sought out gifts for one and all
And who could ask for more.

So weigh the anchor, set those sails
Don't slack along the way
With this good wind, unless luck fails
We'll be home for Christmas day.

Christmas at Sea

The sheets were frozen hard and they cut the naked hand,
The decks were like a slide where a seaman scarce could stand,
The wind was a nor'wester, blowing squally off the sea,
And cliffs and spouting breakers were the only things a-lee,

They heard the surf a'roaring 'fore the breaking of the day,
But t'was only with the peep of light we saw how ill she lay,
We tumbled every hand on deck, instanter, with a shout,
We gave her the main topsail and stood-by to go about.

All day we tacked and tacked between the South Head and the North,
All day we hauled the frozen sheets and got no further forth,
All day as cold as charity, in bitter pain and dread,
For very life and nature we tacked from head to head.

We gave the South a wider berth, for there the tide-race roared,
But with every tack we made we brought the North Head close aboard,
So's we saw the cliffs and houses and the breakers running high,
And the Coastguard, in his garden, with his glass against his eye.

The frost was on the village roofs, as white as ocean foam,
The good, red fires were burning bright in every 'longshore home,
The windows sparkled clear and the chimneys volleyed out,
And I vow we sniffed the victuals as the vessel went about.

The bells upon the church were rung with mighty jovial cheer,
For it's just that I should tell you how, of all days of the year,
This day of our adversity was blessed Christmas morn',
And the house above the Coastguard's was the house where I was born.

'Tis well I saw the pleasant room, the pleasant faces there,
My Mother's silver spectacles, my Father's silver hair,
And well I saw the fire-light, like a flight of homely elves,
Go dancing 'round the china plates that stand upon the shelves.

And well I knew the talk they had, the talk that was of me,
Of the shadow on the household and the son that went to sea,
And, oh, the wicked fool I seemed, in every kind of way,
To be here and hauling frozen ropes on blessed Christmas Day.

They lit the high-sea light, the dark began to fall,
"All hands to loose t'gallant sails!"; I heard the Captain call,
"By the Lord, she'll never stand it!"; our First Mate, Jackson, cried,
"It's the one way or the other, Mr. Jackson."; he replied.

She staggered to her bearings but the sails were new and good,
And the ship smelt up to windward, just as though she understood,
As the winter's day was ending, in the entry of the night,
We cleared the weary headland and passed below the light.

And they heaved a mighty breath, every soul on board - but me,
As they saw her nose again, pointed handsome out to sea,
But all that I could think of, in the darkness and the cold,
Was just that I was leaving home - and my folks were growing old.

 Words: R.L. Stevenson. Music: Tom Lewis
(Recorded by Tom Lewis on 360° All Points of the Compass)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A wee bit about Dreg Songs

This morning, my friend Bob Walser, posted a photo to his Facebook feed with a picture of some artifacts from last summer, with the caption "Remembering Scotland last June, and the wonderful people who brought Dreg Songs back to life."

Of course I had to inquire what Dreg Songs were and I thought you might like to know too.

Until the late 1800s the Firth of Forth was well known for it's Oysters, Dreg Songs were the songs that were sung to Charm the Oysters into the nets. It was thought these songs were lost until the day when a collection of early recordings were handed in to the Library of Congress here in America.

The following video is a must see and will tell you much more than I could ever hope to. It can be found on the Caledonia Mercury site.

For more information you can visit Bob Walser's site and follow a few other links to learn more about these fabulous songs! Enjoy :)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Join us for December 6 Song Circle with Award-winning Storyteller, Captain Dano Quinn

Climb aboard with award-winning storyteller Captain Dano Quinn as he leads us in song and maybe spins one of his colorful and original seafaring yarns, collected over 30 years at sea! 

When asked to share his bio with us, Dano writes, "I was born at a very young age, in fact I was an infant at the time, to two parents; my Mother & Father... I grew up in Mystic, CT. I fell in the water while crabbing when I was 5 years old and never came back out! I'm a licensed Captain of both sail and motor vessels and have been working aboard ships for over 30 years. The first half of my career was all in tall ships so I come by my shanty singing honestly. I'm also a story teller with a unique spin. I recite original humorous sea stories in ballad style. I've performed at the Fisher Poets Gathering in Astoria for the past 6 years, I've won the Seattle Maritime Festival "Stories of the Sea" Contest 4 times, and have also won the Northwest Folklife Festival Liar's Contest."
For more about Dano Quinn, here's the link to a recent article about Dano on Three Sheets Northwest by Deborah Bach: Salty stories and tall tales on Dano Quinn CD.

Please share this link and flyer with your family and friends. Holidays are a busy time, so be sure to save this date, Thursday, December 6 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. to join us at the Uptown Community Center for a fun and festive gathering. Please bring your favorite holiday finger foods and sweet treats to enjoy with hot cider, coffee and tea. 

Already thinking about your Christmas gift list? Consider giving our Sing Shanties and Songs About the Sea songbook as a very special gift from Port Townsend. We will have them available for purchase.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Another Tall Ship in Distress

W.N. Ragland
From the log of the Schooner Ragland: Postion: 43*11.2 N 126*12.1 W

"I am sad to report that at 2045 last night we were dismasted. Miraculously all aboard are alive, well, and relatively unscathed.

Shortly after sundown we notice an opening in a seem going up the length of the foremast. We call “all hands” to douse the fore course. We are sailing along with just the foresl’e, broad reaching in 20kts of breeze and 6-8ft swell. Not 5 minutes later, with the fore boom prevented over, we suffer a partial crash jibe which spits the foremast open. It totally delaminates. We fire up the engine and once again call “all hands” to drop the foresl’e. We wrestle the sail down, but not in time to save the mast, the hoops of the sail and gaff saddle are the only thing holding the mast together. As soon as we have tension off the sail, like a slow motion lightning strike. “CRrrrrrrACK” the 100ft foremast comes crashing down. Everyone runs for cover. We barely have to time to realize what has happened and mutter “Holy Shit” when again with that ear-peircing, gut wrenching CRACK! The main-mast followed suit, simply not able to hold itself up with the weight of the foremast pulling it down. And just like that, the Schooner W N Ragland was dismasted.

Not a moment was lost, nor a beat un kept, as the entire crew rallied in to action. We took a head and injury count. All accounted for. One bloody lip. Amazing! Flash lights, headlamps, knives, bolt cutters, wrenches, plyers, wire cutters, hack saws and anything else that seemed useful was pulled up on deck as the crew worked tirelessly to cut the rig free. Every single last shroud, stay, halyard, sheet, brace, and sail had to be cut. Everyone worked in unison. It took us two horrifying hours. I simply can’t describe the horror of seeing the jagged, splintered stalk of the foremast thrusting out of the water with every passing swell or the sound of the mainmast crashing again the hull each time the boat rolled.

When the task was done, not a trace of the masts to be found upon scanning the surrounding waters, and all lines on deck coiled and tidy so as to not wash over board and foul the propellor, our only mode of transport left to get us safely home, we put the engine in gear and began motoring south.
In silence, we convened. Some went straight to the liquor cabinet, others went straight to bed, 3 unfortunate few stayed up to take watch for the next four hours. Most importantly, we were all still there. And no one was hurt.

So we’ve plenty of diesel and a reliable Caterpillar engine. We’ll motor the rest of the way to San Francisco.

It is a true tragedy we have had to endure, but as Emyl so aptly put it… “some books need only begin with a tragedy.”

Monday, November 5, 2012

One More Day aboard the Lady

Just this last weekend, Hank Cramer and friends joined Lady Washington for a glorious sail. Kit Cramer shot this excellent video of the trio performing One More Day, on the foredeck, at the windlass.