Look for News Hounds

Tags

, , ,

News Hounds: An Accidental Newspaper Life on Martha’s Vineyard is now available in print and eBook formats at https://store.bookbaby.com/book/News-Hounds.

It’s an amiable account of a newspaper editor who found during a career of more than 40 years that the editorials and columns he wrote about life on a small New England Island were actually joint undertakings. Writing this book, I discovered what I ought to have realized years earlier, that I had conspired with a changing cast of partners in crime. They were the dogs, the small host of them that made our house their home, plus the odd and occasional cat and a selection of the beasts of the field, the air, and the forest, who claimed a shockingly large relative share of my attention and did a lot to smarten me up.

Look for News Hounds in print and eBook, at Amazon, dougcabral.com, or at your favorite bookstore. There is a smile in it.

News Hounds FINAL a back2.jpg

Your Day Could Go Either Way

You choose. Which beginning to your day would please you most? Rosy fingered dawn illuminates your quietly snozzling, comforter-ed self. Eight quiet hours – no bathroom disruptions – after your eyes closed, they open lazily. It’s 9 am. You’ve no place you have to be. Everyone’s left the house already – peace. perfect peace with loved ones far away –without so much as a sound. The day stretches without obligations ahead. In the distance, Bach is tootling softly, conjuring images of well behaved but eager satyrs and charmingly shy but desirous nymphs gamboling in the yard out back. The book you were enjoying when you dropped off is ready to hand, so you fluff the pillow and take up the volume, your morning’s activity plan well begun. I hope that’s how it is for you.     Or this, the giant dog breathes heavily in your face. It is barely six hours since you took to your bed, and your bladder has had its way with you, trimming the six to maybe five. Your eyes open inches from the Niagara-like cascade of drool that descends from Diesel’s flopping jowls – called fweys in our family. He wants, no, demands out. You say, Moll, Diesel wants to go out. No answer. It’s pouring, and it’s deafening, plus the wind is screaming, and the lights are flickering. Sigh. Heave. Diesel, a mastiff, steps on your bare toes in his 180-pound enthusiasm for the great outdoors. You slide the door open. Gusts of wind-driven rain greet you and Dees, an affectionate diminutive not right for a moment like this. You are dumbstruck, or perhaps poleaxed. Diesel blinks and stares out but won’t go. Finally, sufficient synapses close so that you move to slide the door closed. Diesel pokes his head between door and jamb. You widen the opening. He stares some more but does not advance. The rain is now puddling on the floor. You move behind the hairy, slobbering behemoth and shove. He collapses like a telescope. How can he do that at his size? It’s time to wake the kids. It’s time to make the lunches. Diesel decides he’ll begin his day later and resumes immediately his snoring, stretched out, dreaming, drooling rest upon the sofa, which now features a glaze of congealed canine saliva. Decidedly his sofa. You advance on the children’s rooms. Rise and shine, you say. Get out, they say. You find your way to the kitchen.
     Yesterday, you thought you’d make a prosciutto, mozzarella, fresh tomato and basil sandwich, a sandwich that would not attract the sort of scorn from their peers that the children report they must endure when their lunches are unpacked at school. We can’t even trade your lunches dad, they say, no one will take them. This morning, you think, the hell with all that. Peanut butter and jelly it is. Get up Al, you holler to the youngest daughter Alix. Stop it, she replies. Get up Critch – that’s youngest son Christian – you scream. Don’t you ever do that again, he answers. It’s nearly 6:30. They’ve got to make the 7 am to the mainland where their school is. We live about 20 minutes from the launching ramp. Critch is in the kitchen. Al has not descended or condescended, and her music player is so loud that the paint is peeling off the walls. Perhaps it’s the lyrics rather than the volume. You pull foul weather gear over your PJs and head for the car. Got to leave at 6:30, and it’s 6:29. You start to blow the horn. Suddenly, the pent up inner man finds his own melody. You honk and honk and honk. You try the panic button. The children, faces grimly hostile, clamber into the car. You, a broad smile on your face for the first time this morning, move the gear shift to drive. Morning children, you say.
      More or less, that’s morning for me. We have no nearby neighbors, except in summer, so I never gave a thought to the 6:30 horn medley, but it turns out my inner man’s escape has had a neighborhood-wide effect. Molly ran into Sheila the other day. She is a teacher who lives not so far away to the east of our house, a half a mile or a little more, I guess. The intervening distance is a hodgepodge of marsh, brambles and tortured scrub oak, about none of which am I enthusiastic. And, it turns out, I’m right. This characteristic Vineyard vegetation is not even useful for veiling the occasional inner man’s breakout. Sheila is very pleasant, but also sleuth-like in her amiable way.
     “Does Doug ever blow the horn in the morning to hurry the kids out of the house and into the car on the way to the 7 am boat,” she asked Moll.
Moll, staggered at the penetration of this woman, replied truthfully. She always tells the truth, you can’t stop her. “He does, has he disturbed you?”
     “Well, yeah,” Sheila says sweetly, “I’ve heard it and some of our neighbors have too. We wondered what was going on.”
      Which leads me to the point of all this, and that is, first, thanks to Sheila for alerting me to the misery I have caused, and second, I apologize to her and to all those friends and neighbors who’ve had to listen to my stirring music making when perhaps they were experiencing another sort of morning, on which they had no reason to be stirred. I have forsaken the horn. From now on it is the cattle prod for me. I don’t think screams carry the way horns apparently do. 

Bernie Holzer – A sailor ends his long trick at the wheel

Bernie Holzer of West Tisbury, a Midwesterner who retired from a long oceangoing career as a merchant seaman to begin a 25-year second career as a purser and quartermaster aboard Steamship Authority vessels, died on August 10 in Boston. He was 80 years old.

Bernie was best known to Islanders and visitors who traveled on the ferries for his friendly, cheery personality at the beginning of each trip. He was the voice of the ferry line, reminding travelers that “there is no smoking on this vessel inside or out. That means you don’t smoke for 45 minutes,” that the travelers must “make sure you take all your belongings, and don’t leave anything behind, including your children.”

To his wide circle of devoted friends, made and cultivated over half a century, at first during years of visits between voyages on freighters and tankers, and later during his years as a permanent West Tisbury resident, he was a fixture in all of their lives, ever a cheerful, busy, dependable, first-to-pitch-in, gossipy, storytelling, heartwarming presence.

Bernie, who suffered with dementia, had fallen several days before his death, which was attributed by his family to the fall and the complications associated with dementia.

Bernie was born on September 4, 1934, in Toledo, Ohio, to Bernard and Teresa Holzer. He grew up in Toledo and began his seafaring trade as a coal passer on lakers, the Great Lakes freighters that carry bulk cargoes in and out of the Midwest. It wasn’t his plan exactly, but his father saw a chance to improve Bernie’s fortunes and took it, as any father might. The career path for 18-year-olds in Toledo at the time was narrow and discouragingly steep, and Bernie didn’t mind that. He and his buddies, he often recalled, were having a lot of fun doing the things that city teenagers enjoyed. His dad persuaded Bernie to apply at the union hall where seamen waited for jobs. And, the day came when dad hunted Bernie down to say that he’d had a call from the union hall. There was a berth available if he wanted it. Bernie told his dad that, of course, he certainly did, but to get it he’d have to drive a couple of hours to meet the ship. Bernie, who had no car, said it was a shame but he had no way to get there. His dad said, I’ll drive you.

“Bernie went to sea in an age when sailors spliced wire as easily and frequently as tying a knot in a rope,” John Christensen of West Tisbury, Bernie’s friend and a deck officer aboard merchant ships, says. “Before the push button age of hydraulic cranes and machinery, which even now belong to another century, Bernie was ‘spotting’ booms over the cargo hatches, reeving a ‘yard and stay’ rig so that cargo could be plucked from the hold using a single steam winch and landed safely on deck.

“Though able-bodied seamen usually served as helmsman as it came their turn according on watch, when steering up rivers in Vietnam during the war [and with bombs lighting the sky around his ship, as Bernie described it], when grounding could be fatal, shipmasters often called for Bernie to steer out of turn, and for long ‘tricks’ at the wheel until they were safely through. Bernie was surely an unselfconscious master of his trade.”

At 23, Bernie joined the army and served a two-year stint in Germany. Afterwards, his maritime ambitions shifted from the Great Lakes to the world and most of its seaports. He rose in the ranks to able-bodied seaman, in charge of loading and unloading cargoes. Casablanca, Odessa, Piraeus, Naples, Rio, Recife, Durban, Togo, Abidjan, Monrovia, Dakar, Manila, Da Nang, Rotterdam, Cameroon, Panama, Haifa, Saigon, Borneo, Singapore, Midway, Taiwan, Cadiz, Lagos, Hamburg, Yokohama, and Tanjung Manis, Borneo were a few of the seaports he visited. He shipped out on the S/S Austral Patriot, S/S Gibbes Lykes, S/S African Dawn, S/S Flying Clipper, S/S Gulf Queen, S/S American Leader, S/S American Reliance, S/S African Sun, S/S Mormactrade, S/S Export Buyer, and a host of others. And he kept a log of all his voyages, the dates, destinations, sign on and sign off dates, and the shipping companies. He also took a sketchbook and, armed with two years of training at the Toledo Museum of Art, he drew and painted what he was familiar with and appreciated — boats, ships, and, later, historic 19th and 20th century Vineyard and Nantucket ferries. Seafaring and history combined in his art, for instance in his brilliantly colorful rendering of the attack on the USS Maine in Havana, on February 15, 1898.

Bernie found his way to the Vineyard after making the acquaintance of Lambert Knight of Vineyard Haven and sailing with Captain Knight in the West Indies. For Bernie, to make an acquaintance was to make a friend for the long haul. Visiting the Vineyard and the Knights, Bernie met Captain Robert Douglas, Shenandoah’s master. The two were close friends for nearly a half century until Bernie’s death.

In the early 1980s, Bernie bought land on a hilltop near a farm in West Tisbury and built a house. His property was near that of his friends — Ross Gannon, Matthew and Martha Stackpole, Bob and Peggy Schweir, Peter Anderson, plus this writer and his then wife, Joyce Spooner. He didn’t give up the sea immediately, but eventually the wanderlust diminished and, his seaman’s pedigree and seniority established, he joined the Steamship Authority. After navigating oceans over many decades, he began a long series of shorter passages between Vineyard Haven, Woods Hole, Hyannis, and Nantucket, work he retired from at age 72.

It wasn’t as if he’d come ashore, but his trading offshore voyages for alongshore trips surprised his friends. What astonished them was his marriage on December 28, 1987, at the Dukes County Courthouse in Edgartown to Simmy Denhart of Vineyard Haven, a schoolteacher in Tisbury. Bernie and Simmy met on a beach in the West Indies, and she admits that she wasn’t charmed at first, but ultimately, friendship and devotion were irresistible parts of Bernie’s essence. A few months after meeting, they were married.

Bernie’s small house was sparsely furnished. Simmy came with furniture, energy, and a sense of how a sailor’s cabin could become their home. They became a team, a team never without a project. They added on to the tiny house, added a studio for Bernie’s painting and a shop and a guest house, terraced gardens and stonework. They did the work together, often mentored by Ross Gannon, the boatbuilder. Bernie and Simmy were never bored. They traveled often, skied and sailed together, and read aloud to one another. A great reader of history and biography, as his sight dimmed, Bernie listened to books on tape, despite some hearing loss common to members of his family. Simmy sums up their years together this way, “It was a great ride.”

Until his fall, Bernie still went regularly to sea, although alongshore not deepwater. He went lobstering every Saturday with Bill Austin, Tom Reynolds, and John Christensen, in Bill’s boat. The four, friends for decades, got a few lobsters every time, although Bernie admits he doesn’t like to eat lobster. Rather, it was the friendship, not the lobster pots, he was tending.

In his seagoing days, when Bernie was between ships he made regular visits to all his friends. He’d fire up his motorcycle and cruise from one to another. He might stay for lunch. He’d hold the new babies, but when there was a hint of more profound entanglements, he’d say, “I got to go.” After years of shipping out from Boston, New York, San Francisco, New Orleans, and elsewhere, when Bernie wanted a ship his seniority meant that the choice of berths was his. So, if he needed to clear out, nothing stood in his way. As excuses go, “I’m shipping out from New York the day after tomorrow” always did the trick.

But, along with her loving companionship, Simmy brought Bernie a family. Her son, Evan, his wife, Pip, who live in Portland, Oregon, have two children, Alex and Kate, to whom Bernie became grandfather, and over time he perfected his latent grandfatherly skills, so that instead of shipping out, Bernie pitched in.

And, he extended his friendly, watchful nature to children who traveled on the ferries on which he served, especially the Falmouth Academy students who traveled every weekday to Woods Hole and back. He teased them, pestered them to do their homework, kept track of their flirtations, and even made reports to parents when his oversight led him to worry about them. Sometimes, he kept the truth to himself if he judged it prudent to do so. The children called him Bernie or Uncle Bernie.

What you want in a shipmate is a lot like what you want in a friend. I have a photograph of my son Matthew, Bernie, and me, sailing in a fall gaff riggers’ race out of Vineyard Haven, which we won. The weather was snotty and dead ahead — we ought to have stayed home — the current against us on both legs, and Vineyard Sound came over the rail repeatedly on the windward stretch to soak us thoroughly. Bernie said it was a treat, just a damp day offshore.

Bernie is survived by his wife, Simmy, and her son, Evan, and daughter in law, Pip, their children, Alex and Kate, all of Portland, Oregon; two sisters, Joan Whidden of Roanoke, Virginia, and Bernadette Bolen of Toledo; and many nieces and nephews.

A gathering of friends and family will take place on Saturday, August 30, at 5 pm, at Gannon & Benjamin Marine Railway, in Vineyard Haven.

Note: Excerpts from a column I called At Large, published on July 18, 2012 in The Martha’s Vineyard Times, appear here and in an earlier blog post.

Home from the sea

By Doug Cabral

Note: I published this on July 18, 2012, in a column I called At Large, in The Martha’s Vineyard Times, which I owned and edited. Word spread today that Bernie has died.

The ports: Casablanca, Odessa, Piraeus, Naples, Rio, Recife, Durban, Togo, Abidjan, Monrovia, Dakar, Manila, Da Nang, Rotterdam, Cameroon, Panama, Haifa, Saigon, Borneo, Singapore, Midway, Taiwan, Cadiz, Lagos, Hamburg, Yokohama.

The ships: S/S Austral Patriot, S/S Gibbes Lykes, S/S African Dawn, S/S Flying Clipper, S/S Gulf Queen, S/S American Leader, S/S American Reliance, S/S African Sun, S/S Mormactrade, S/S Export Buyer.

Bernie Holzer of West Tisbury has sailed into and out of all these seaports, and many more, many times. He has sailed over oceans on these ships and many more over more than 60 years. Of course, he’s been many, many times to Vineyard Haven, Woods Hole, Hyannis and Nantucket, as purser on the Steamship Authority ferries. Bernie is an able seaman, retired from the sea and Vineyard and Nantucket Sounds.

His record of achievement, besides seeing the world from the decks of freighters and tankers, includes painting precise, faithfully rendered pictures of seagoing vessels – most of them historic Vineyard and Nantucket ferries – and gracing his wide circle of friends with his visits. His attentions to his friends were not scheduled, because who knew when he’d get paid off an oceangoing ship or when he’d go looking for the next one. But they were orderly, dependable, and delightful, every one – genuine pick-me-ups for the visited, genuine gifts each time.

When Bernie dropped in on the new mothers in his circle, he was cautious. A confirmed and devoted bachelor, he held out until Simeon (Simi) Denhart, a schoolteacher, tamed him after his oceangoing days ended and while he was working on the ferries. There never was a more devoted partnership.

In his seagoing days, Bernie dropped by for coffee break. He might stay for lunch. He’d hold the baby, but he drew the line at babysitting. “I got to go,” he’d say, if the air seemed pregnant with a possible request from the mom to look after baby while she made a short trip to the store. He had other stops to make on his friendly rounds. And, as excuses go, “I’m shipping out from New York the day after tomorrow” always did the trick. After years of shipping out, from Boston, New York, San Francisco, New Orleans, and elsewhere, when Bernie wanted a ship his seniority meant that the choice of berths was his, and his name went to the top of the board. So, if he needed to clear out, nothing stood in his way.

Bernie grew up in Toledo and began his lifelong trade on lakers, the Great Lakes freighters that carry bulk cargoes in and out of the Midwest. It wasn’t his plan exactly, but his father saw a chance to improve Bernie’s fortunes, and he took it, as any father might.

The career path for 16-year-olds in Toledo at the time was narrow and discouragingly steep, and Bernie didn’t mind that. He and his buddies, he will tell you, were having a lot of fun doing the things that city teenagers enjoyed. His dad persuaded Bernie to apply at the union hall where seamen waited for jobs. And, the day came when dad hunted Bernie down to say that he’d had a call from the union hall. There was a berth available if he wanted it. Bernie told his dad that, of course, he certainly did, but to get it he’d have to make a drive of a couple of hours to meet the ship. Bernie, who had no car, said it was a shame but he had no way to get there. His dad said, I’ll drive you.

Approaching 80, Bernie, trim and fit in his seagoing days, is slight now, his blond hair is white, and the tone of his voice cackles more than it did when he welcomed passengers aboard the old Islander. A great reader of history and biography, his sight has dimmed a bit, so he listens to books on tape, despite some hearing loss common to members of his family. His is still the familiar voice you once heard and never forgot, telling you that you couldn’t smoke (“For the next 45 minutes, you don’t smoke.”), that you couldn’t have a beer until the ferry left the dock so you’ll just have to wait, that your pets needed to be kept off the seats and out of the lunch counter area, and that, before you disembarked from the ferry in Vineyard Haven, you needed to be sure you had all your belongings, including the “rug rats” or “curtain climbers” you’d brought along. The passengers, most of them, smiled when they heard this.

He was also the purser who befriended the 7 am troop of Falmouth Academy students from the Vineyard on their way to Woods Hole and school. And, because he was friendly with most of their Island parents and nearly every other Vineyarder who traveled with him, he made time to shoot the breeze with many of them and keep the students’ parents up to date on whether the kids were doing their homework on the boat, or not. Sometimes, he kept the truth to himself if he judged it prudent to do so.

Bernie found his way to the Vineyard with the help of Lambert Knight, a mariner of some considerable accomplishment. He and Bernie met in the West Indies when Bernie shipped as crew on a small yacht. Sort of a seaman’s holiday. The two crossed paths and became fast friends. Later, at the Knight house in Vineyard Haven, Bernie never refused a meal made by Lambert’s wife, Sally, a celebrated cook whose specialties, including extraordinary chowders and soups, arrived at the newly opened Black Dog Tavern in 1972, in the passenger seat of Sally’s sporty little roadster, with the top down.

When he came ashore — or rather when he left the deep water life — Bernie and Allan Miller built a little house at the top of a hill in West Tisbury. Since Simi joined up, the place has grown and become less simple but handsomer. Bernie’s done a lot of work on the place himself, tutored by boatbuilder Ross Gannon, who lives nearby. Now, he tells me, when they’re doing woodwork, he and Simi share the job. She lines up the wood on the table saw, and when she runs it through, he helps guide it off the saw.

Bernie still goes to sea regularly, although it’s alongshore not deepwater. He goes lobstering every Saturday with Bill Austin, Tom Reynolds, and John Christensen, in Bill’s boat. The four, friends for decades, get a few lobsters every time, although Bernie admits he doesn’t like to eat lobster. What he likes are his friends, and he tends those friendships, even if lobster is involved.

What you want in a shipmate is a lot like what you want in a friend. On freighters, tankers, lakers, ferries, sailboats, Bernie is the perfect shipmate, cheery, helpful, standing his watch, never complaining. I have a photograph of my son Matthew, Bernie, and me, sailing in a fall gaff riggers’ race out of Vineyard Haven. The weather was snotty and dead ahead, the current against us on both legs, and Vineyard Sound came over the rail repeatedly on the windward stretch to soak us thoroughly. For Bernie, it was just another damp day offshore.

A good and decent man – Donald DeSorcy, builder, R.I.P.

The common thing to do these days is to celebrate the widely known and often celebrated. A very few of these deserve to be exalted. What is uncommon is to mark one’s neighbors for their plain, unpretentious intelligence, generosity, and square dealing. The builder, businessman, and landlord Donald DeSorcy, who died July 17, was one of these.
When my wife Molly and I bought The Martha’s Vineyard Times in 1991, we set out to move the business from what had been its headquarters since its founding in 1984 to more spacious and visible quarters. News reporting demands more protein, fewer calories, less cholesterol, and an atmosphere that is bland and diligent rather than spicy. The old Spaghetti Pot restaurant building off State Road, Tisbury, where we were, had a let’s-order-pizza aroma that impeached the standard newsroom smells of perspiration, printer’s ink, stale coffee, bourbon, and cigarette smoke. Donald had just the building we needed.
He took a flyer on a young couple with a young business whose future was uncertain. He remodeled the building to suit us, priced the vast space so that we could afford it, and let us alone to do our work. The newspaper has now dwelt in what feels like its one and only home for more than 20 years. Donald, reserved, genial and wry, stopped by from time to time to chat, while making the working man’s rounds of his company’s construction projects in his tiny red pickup, a stub of a cigar stuck in the side of his mouth, mostly unlit. He was always fun to see and talk to, charming in his effortlessly direct way, and always wise, helpful, and encouraging. Subtracting one Donald DeSorcy is regrettable. Adding more like him is what we ought to do.

My life in my palm

Tags

, ,

I applaud the Supreme Court decision forbidding police from rummaging in my cell phone the next time they arrest me. Indeed, I applaud every restraint imposed on the government’s intrusion in my affairs. The elusive balance between privacy and national security that everyone talks about but no one seems able to strike seems to have tilted steeply away from privacy and toward government nosiness, and that’s bad for humanity’s very essence.
You may say, what’s the difference between Twitter devotees and Facebook Tumbler, Instagram, and Snapchat mavens who put themselves out there without apparent compunction and the government, which doesn’t put much except blarney out there, but tows its surveilling net through the ocean of humanity gathering a big catch 24/7/365. But obviously, the Tweeters and Facebook posters are exposing themselves – unhealthy, incomprehensible, promotional, narcissistic, and inauthentic generally – while government is dredging for us, and without asking if it is all right.
Anyhow, excuse the rant, because that wasn’t the point of this post. Actually, the point is that I’ve often thought, if only a cop would come by, place me under arrest for suspicion of, say, loitering, seize my cell phone, and rummage through its accumulated data to see if I’ve been naughty or nice. And then, when he discovers that my digital life is innocent and incoherent, he turns out to be one of those genial community policeman type cops, so he shares with me what he’s found on my phone.
Because I certainly can’t find a damn thing on it, and I don’t know why there are 15 copies of the Black Dog Cafe phone number in my contacts collection. It the cop gives me some idea of what’s on that phone, it will have been a great help.
You see, I have a Blackberry, and it’s gone out of style, as I have. It doesn’t understand much anymore, and what it does understand it doesn’t share with me. No Siri. No vivid, intuitive interface, no apps, a three inch screen, and tiny buttons far smaller than my thumbs and thus the source of much confusion to people who receive my text messages.
Everyone says, get an iPhone, but I resist. Maybe it’s just because everyone says it, and nearly everyone has one, and absolutely everyone who has one is staring at it absolutely all the time. I don’t ever stare or scroll through the miniature icons and characters on the midget screen of my Blackberry, because really, who could make sense of it. When it rings, I answer, unless two days earlier I’d silenced the little monster and forgotten to switch sound back on. Then the next sound I hear is Molly’s voice – “Why do you never answer your phone? What’s the use of a phone if you never answer?”
Which is why I conclude that a little – a smidgen – of government intrusion, delivered when I ask for it, officer, might be a good thing.

Sanding, painting, taking stock

Tags

, ,

Here comes the annual moment when I must face unblinkingly the deterioration that a New England winter on her mooring has wrought upon Liberty, a gaff-rigged sloop built in 1986 of wood.
If you happen to have a boat, big or small, there is a perfect, inescapable annual moment for assessment and repair. That moment is now — spring. It’s time to haul the boat out of the water, set it on the land where you can get in touch with all its parts, including those that are hidden most of the time, to see what wind, weather, water, tides, and your own occasionally monumental stupidity have done.
Slime, grass, and barnacles have taken hold on the bottom. The paint on the sides is cracked, and what’s worse, the errors you made the spring before in preparing the hull for painting have endured. The rouge and blush you hoped might disguise all the dings and scrapes have washed away. The varnish is utterly missing in places — many places. She looks, and you feel, a long year older, and most deflating, unworthy of her.
On the other hand, if you are lucky, and at times I have been, no planks will be popping off, water won’t be rushing through the seams, and another year afloat may be assured with the application of some sandpaper, putty, paint, and varnish.
And, most important, the haul-out means that nothing is hidden any longer. You know where the soft spots are, where the blemishes reveal themselves, where the accumulated dents and scratches of years announce that the old girl’s got some age on her, but with your diligent help, she’ll totter on.
And, if you’re even luckier, one of the boys you’ve grown expressly for this purpose will be on hand to scrape and sand and paint. You are reminded that it was real foresight to have fed and clothed those boys, knowing that, as the years have passed, you would accumulate some leaks and wormy parts yourself and need the help.
Besides, getting together with one or both of the boys to do the scraping, painting, cleaning, mending, chivvying and general boat-keeping work is pleasing beyond words. And anticipating the fun that will follow the work is pleasant too.
The chores fall into two categories. The first is demanding and very important work: You have to sand the topsides and the bottom, then paint both. You have to grease the propeller, which has these tiny set screws and tiny grease fittings that try their best to get lost. If a tiny set screw finds its way to the ground, it’s lost. No two ways about it. Plus, almost every substance you work with is toxic to some degree, even lethal in the most extreme circumstances. During the annual haul -out, your life is on the line.
Among the worst jobs is changing the oil and the four filters — one an oil filter, the other three for fuel — on the engine. There’s a sequence of events that must be followed, or else the engine won’t fire off when you’re done. I’ve often gotten the sequence bollixed up, and when that happens it’s a matter of draining this and bleeding that before the engine finally clatters to life, signaling the end of the tough stuff.
Back in the water, the work becomes less onerous. Bending on sail. Cleaning the smelly bilge. Cleaning the mossy woodwork. Cleaning the sink and the dishes. Washing the towels and the seat covers that spent the winter aboard and smell like it. We can set up the awning over the cockpit, so that it is cool and breezy.
Even though it would be splendid to get out sailing every day, it’s splendid enough to haul-out, to clean and reorganize, to sift through the remains of last season, and look ahead — to know that nothing is hidden, everything is attended to once more.

No fun

Tags

,

Alessandra Stanley, in a TV review in the New York Times, was pleased by the new BBC series, Three Musketeers, in part because the writers had taken a bit of naughty liberty with the Dumas story, let a little 21st century air into the story set in 17th century France, and made some fun of the foppish monarchy that would before long forsake its guilded carriages for crude tumbrels. And, why shouldn't the writers have been a little sporty, because, as Ms. Stanley says, “purists are no fun.” Ah, well, it was just comment on a TV series. There are so many of them, so many reviews too.

As it happened, I've been rereadiing Christopher Hitchen's meditation upon Thomas Payne's Rights of Man(Atlantic Monthly Press, 2006), a small book that had a small reception, by a penetrating polemicist and essayist. Perhaps Ms. Stanley had in mind those stuffy old Puritans, or perhaps the indefatigueable Islamist jihadists, or Vladimir Putin. If so, she's right. But today, the zeitgeist wrestles against the purists, no matter what their views are. It's a moment for what feels right for me, and nothing is immutable, unambiguous, itchy, confiining, or not fun.

But Payne was onto something, and he was definitely a purist. His influence spurred revolutions in 1776 and 1789, the first of which we'll celebrate soon. Payne's book, as Hitchens says, is “not just a paean to human liberty … it always kept its sights raised to a point somewhat beyond the immediate political and social horizon … [it] is both a trumpet of inspiration and a carefully wroght blueprint for a more rational and decent ordering ofsociety, both domestically and on the international scene.” Of course, it hasn't always been fun, and it's cost a great deal of blood.

 

 

Charles W. Morgan Redux

Tags

, , , , ,

There are a couple of bits to add to the last post, which described one leg of Morgan's 38th cruise. I spent a 19th Century day sailing aboard her. More than 170 years after she began nearly a century of whale hunting, her travels this summer have an historical not a commercial purpose. She will raise the profile of Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut, which has funded this living and sailing exhibit with milions in donations and hundreds of volunteers. And, she will remind her audience along the New England coast of a maritime industry, launched and grown here, when the world needed whaling's products to improve the lives and fortunes of communities across the globe.

How did this relatively small, niche nonprofit, not dedicated to vast, global problems, realize what was by every reasonable measure a grand idea? I'd say passion and courage did it. Here are three examples.

Matthew Stackpole is a descendant of whaling families at Nantucket. His father, a newspaperman, novelist, museum curator, and historian, wrote an authoritative examination of the birth of the whaling industry in America called Whales and Destiny(University of Massachusetts Press, 1972). To understand this industry and what Edouard Stackpole called “A Whaling Kingdom Without a Country”, his book is the place to start. Anyhow, his son is steeped in whaling's history, its impact throughout the world, in the Charles W. Morgan's unique, surviving importance as a memorial to an American industrial era, and to life under sail, something he has experienced firsthand throughout his life. Matthew Stackpole helped raise the millions necessary to reconstruct – actually to revive – Morgan, and he has spent years talking to donors, to historians, to anyone who would listen about the value of the Morgan project and especially the value of rebuilding her so that she could embark on a 38th voyage. His was a passionate commitment.

Then there is Ralph Packer, a Martha's Vineyard resident similarly in the thrall of marine history and coincidentally the owner of a marine towing company and a substantial waterfront presence on Martha's Vineyard. On his own, to press along the notion of this early 19th century sailing vessel, authentically rebuilt, should sail again, Packer offered to supply at no cost a tugboat to shepherd Morgan on her summer-long 2014 cruise along the New England coast. Then he added space for her to moor at his Martha's Vineyard dock for a week, when islanders and visitors could inspect her and learn something about her history and the history of her industry. To make this latter offer, Packer had to spend three years getting permits to dredge the harbor in front of his wharf and then to do the dredging, all on his dime. That's a passionate commitment too.

Finally, there is the leadership at Mystic Seaport, which was not challenged by the ambitious goal of rebuilding the aged whaleship. That's a perfectly understandable museum-like project. Mystic has done such things in the past. But, here, challenged by the passions of those – like Stackpole, Packer, and others – there was another possible step – more expensive, riskier, horrifically more complicated – namely, to let Morgan, a National Historic Landmark, go sailing again. Making that decision took institutional courage on an exemplary scale.

 

Whaleship reborn

During her 80-year whaling career, which included 37 globe-girdling voyages, the Charles W. Morgan never visited Vineyard Haven. Built in New Bedford in 1841 and now preserved, reconstructed in authentic detail, and relaunched by the Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut, the Morgan, Captain Kip Files, arrived at the Tisbury Wharf Company’s dock at Vineyard Haven on Martha’s Vineyard Wednesday, after a splendid day’s sail from Newport.
Vineyard Haven is one of several stops along a promotional route that will have her visit such New England ports as New London, Newport, New Bedford, Boston, Provincetown, and cruise over the right whale sanctuary at Stellwagen Bank.
After a longish tow from her Ft. Adams dock, at the end of a hauser from Ralph Packer tug Sirius, Captain Paul Bangs, Morgan dropped the towline and added sails as she approached Gay Head. Robert McNeil’s Cangarda, a restored 19th century steam yacht, joined a growing flotilla of small craft, sail and power, trailing the Morgan, delighted and astonished at this visitor from two centuries ago. Bailey Norton of Edgartown was aboard Cangarda. He is a descendant of Thomas Norton, captain of the Morgan on her first whaling voyage.
Rounding West Chop, Captain Files chose to take a hitch into Vineyard Haven Harbor, before turning around clew up his sales and take Sirius alongside to move her to her mooring at the Tisbury Wharf Company, which has been dredged and deepened especially to make a comfortable berth for the whaleship, which draws as much as 17 feet.
The cluster of smaller craft, some of which had trailed Morgan from Rhode Island Sound, but also including Vineyard Haven craft, including the schooners Charlotte, Malabar, Perception, Alabama, and Ishmael (never seeming so brilliantly named) followed her. Crowds watched her progress east in Vineyard Sound at West Chop, and Islanders gathered at Coastwise Wharf and Tisbury Wharf, and anywhere else that served as a vantage point, to welcome Morgan in her 21st century incarnation.
Morgan is a barque, which means three masts, with square sails on the foremast and the main and fore and aft sails on the mizzen. She was launched originally as a ship, which means square sails on every mast. Today, in addition to two jibs and a staysail, plus mizzen and mizzen topsail, she carries a course foresail, with two topsails and a topgallant sail above. On the main, there is the course, two topsails, the topgallant and a royal at the very apex of the rig. By contrast, Shenandoah, Vineyard Haven’s square-rigged centerpiece since 1964, carries two square sails on her foremast, a topsail and a topgallant. She’s known as a topsail schooner.
Nantucket was a prosperous, world-famous whaling hub. New Bedford became the world capital of the whaling industry and the richest city in North America in the 19th century.
The Vineyard, apart from shore whaling by Wampanoag Indians, lived on farming, shore fishing, and coastwise schooners passing north and south through Nantucket and Vineyard sounds. Its contributions to the 19th century heyday of American whaling were crewmen — Azorean sailors, Gay Head (Wampanoag) Indian harpooners, and Vineyard sailors, mates and captains. The Morgan’s visit memorializes their vital places in her celebrated commercial history.
The Vineyard and Gay Headers were represented Wednesday by Elizabeth James-Perry, a Wampanoag descendent for whom the trip was a spiritual recapture of sorts, and Matthew Stackpole of West Tisbury, a professional fundraiser for Mystic, who has helped raise millions of dollars for Morgan’s reconstruction. Another Vineyarder, the craftsman, boatbuilder, and artist Frank Raposa, who is among his many talents an expert caulker, joined the Morgan construction team in Mystic when it came time to caulk Morgan. And, Gannon & Benjamin, the Vineyard Haven boatbuilders, constructed one of Morgan’s whaleboats, hanging in davits today.
Morgan’s maiden voyage, 35 in her crew, took her back and forth across the Atlantic, around Cape Horn to the Arctic and back again around Cape Horn, to her New Bedford home port, three and a third years in all. The captain was Thomas Norton. He and many of the crew were Vineyarders. Fortunate and profitable throughout her career — despite howling storms, Arctic ice, hostile natives where Morgan stopped for water and provisions, attacks by Confederate raiders — Morgan, an early factory ship, came home with a variety of products in demand worldwide and especially sperm oil, the premium lubricant and fuel for lanterns and machines until petroleum was discovered and refined. As many as six of Morgan’s 21 captains during her whaling career were Vineyarders and many of her skilled crew, harpooners and boatsteers were Gay Headers. Morgan was a profitable business that enriched her owners and investors, and created livelihoods for captains and crewmen.
Morgan, a National Historic Landmark, the oldest operating American commercial vessel still afloat, and the last wooden whaleship remaining in the world, was decommissioned in 1941 and became a Mystic Seaport exhibit. Today, she did what she knows how to do very well – sailing fast, handling well, getting where she was going efficiently and with an easy motion that her passengers, most of them at least, found comfortable.