They’re … tall. And with the lens I have, that makes them kind of difficult to photograph. I really need to look into the 35mm F1.4 autofocus lens for my D40, but that’s going to be a few paychecks down the road … but I digress (oh look, a chicken!)
We made a rare Sunday crossing of the ditch for the Sail Jacksonville event on the waterfront downtown. The primary draws for me were the Bounty replica, pictured here, and the Pride of Baltimore, on which I had the privilege of doing a story when they were in town several years ago. Not under sail, unfortunately, but on the boat underway coming up the St. Johns river none the less.
I find tall ships just fascinating. Like so many sailors, there’s a romance about a tall ship that calls to us all. They’re majestic, and they remind us of the adventure that drew men to the sea. From shore, they look enormous, but once aboard, you realize how small they are. Once down in the crew quarters, particularly on this replica Bounty, you’re reminded of how small, cramped, and austere the accommodations were, and that was for the officers who had a private cabin. Crew members slept in hammocks slung in the common dining area, conditions that were well documented in “Two Years Before The Mast”. Crews spent weeks on board these ships, often with little potable water, rancid meat and hardtack biscuits as their staples. It’s little wonder that Captain Cook’s crew mutinied, marooned him, and grounded and burned the ship off Pitcairn Island. Still, given the opportunity, I’d love to go to sea aboard one of these admittedly more modern replicas.
Imagine climbing the rigging to shorten sail, reduce the amount of canvass spread to the wind in pitching seas. These masts rise a hundred feet or more off the deck, and if you’ve ever been aloft on a sailboat, you know it’s a scary experience the first time. My only time was to change a masthead light on a mast less than half as tall as this, and I wasn’t ready to go again anytime soon. But underway, in the ratlines, then out on the spars to furl the sails? That takes a some intestinal fortitude. I’m sure like most scary things, it gets at least routine over time. Still, it’s a place that is certainly unforgiving of any carelessness or neglect. Don’t get complacent in the rigging.
“All I ask is a tall ship, and a star to steer her by,” said John Masefield. These replica ships have modern radios, GPS navigation, radar in the rigging, and Coast Guard Approved life rafts. When Pride of Baltimore sank off Puerto Rico, the crew was certainly very happy to have them. Three crew members lost their lives when the original pride went down on May 14th, 1986. But the sailors who rode these ships when they were the only way to cross the ocean had little more than a compass, a sextant, and their instincts to find their way around the world. Sometimes it seems just amazing that they ever found their way to tiny islands in vast oceans by anything other than accident, but find them they did. A testament to the skills of exceptional sailors. They’d probably either scoff at our satellite-delivered straight lines between point “A” and point “B”, or they’d embrace the technology like they embraced the wind that was their only form of propulsion.
Pride of Baltimore 2 leaves tomorrow morning on a cruise to Bermuda. There was a sign up at the gangway saying volunteer crew was wanted, and under the right circumstances, I’d have handed the car keys to Andie and boarded this afternoon. But these weren’t the right circumstances, and Jenni would have gotten here tomorrow and wondered where the heck I was. On a slow boat to Bermuda would probably not be the right answer, and I’m very much looking forward to her visit anyway.
But perhaps one day, I’ll find myself on board a ship like Pride of Baltimore 2 or Bounty, hauling lines, finding the courage to climb the rigging, maybe even being fortunate enough to take a watch at the helm. All I ask is a tall ship, and a star to steer her by.
Or more recently, “As the son of a son of a sailor, I went out on the sea for adventure …”