Sea History 049 - Spring 1989

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Getting Into the Spirit: SAIL TRAINING ABOARD SPIRIT OF MASSACHUSETTS by Mark Pendergrast

Ten days aboard a sailing schooner changes the way you think about the world. There are obvious differences from life ashore, such as the absence of phones, showers, stereos, and firm ground on which to plant your feet. And yes, you begin to think in terms of starboard, port, fore, aft, below and aloft. But it's more than that .... Such thoughts are far from my mind just now, however, at 4AM this July morning. My mind is fog-bound, since, as a member of the port watch, I have just staggered up on deck for another four hour rotation of bow watch, taking the helm, and being available for sail changes. I have had about three hours sleep since we went off watch at midnight. No one warned me I would work quite this hard when I signed aboard as the education officer for this Maritime Wilderness trip with a group of teenagers way back ten days ago. I only knew I would be sai ling on one of the newest of the tall ships: the Spirit of Massachusetts, a 123ft vessel built and launched at the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston. Only two years old, Spirit is owned by the non-profit New England Historic Seaport, Inc. Modelled after the Fredonia, a traditional Gloucester fishing schooner sent down the ways in 1887, Spirit' s three-fold mission includes charters, goodwill missions for the State of Massachusetts, and sail training. As part of that training, Captain J.B. Smith, a crew of eight, seven teenage trainees and I are on the last leg of our trip, which has taken us up the Maine coast to fog-shrouded islands rich in history , wildlife, and adventure. In only a few hours, we will be sailing into Boston Harbor again, gliding toward skyscrapers while planes thunderoverhead approaching Logan Airport. Then, almost inconceivably, we will be on land again, where we wi ll travel, not by boat, but by car over paved Going ashore from the big Fredonia-mode/ schooner helps get a highways back to our regular lives. Just now though, I have novel experience in perspective. Photos by the author. awakened and am standing bow watch. While scanning the horizon for ships or lights, I think back on all that has crammed Heidi and Susan. I think of them together, since they itself into our trip and on how this adventure has affected some of the trainees. usually are. Heidi Glowacki and Susan Darragh are both from John Buckley, 17, from Hingham, Massachusetts, is enthu- Charlestown. Neither had any sailing experience prior to the siastic, strong-bodied, already an experienced sailor on large trip. Nor were they quite prepared for life at sea. Heidi , at 14, and small boats. Still, he came aboard a bit unsure of himself. is the yo ungest of the trainees and was at first rather self-conA heavy sleeper, he is sometimes hard to roust for his watch scious about it. The first day, when crew and trainees were and sports a somewhat blank look for a while each morning as sp lit into two lines on deck to hoist the mainsail by means of we wash down the decks, polish the brass , put fresh water on the throat and peak halyards , Heidi complained that the line the bright work (all the varnished wood) . No one is quicker to hurt her stomach. It became a shipboard joke that she said vo lunteer for hard work, though-hauling on halyards, faking "Ouch! " every other word. She enjoyed my educationa l afterout the mainsheet, or laying aloft to help furl the main topsail. dinner talks by sleeping through most of them . Solid. Dependable. Susan, 18, came aboard wearing pearls and leather-soled Jam feeling particularly fond of John because he enjoys my flats. For several mornings, she took a mysteriously long time talks about the history of the islands. He was fascinated by in the head, until it was discovered that she was applying stories about the granite industry on Hurricane Island, our first makeup. Susan slept on deck the first night out, claiming she stop. The island, now home on ly to Outward Bound students, couldn't possibly stay in that claustrophobic bunk. She and at one time housed some 1,500 people and shipped granite for Heidi stood back and giggled nervously the first day or so some of our country's most famous and enduring buildings, whenever line-handling was called for. No one stays aloof for long on the Spirit of Massachusetts , such as the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. Hurricane Island supplied the granite for the 64ft columns on though. A boat, even one as large as Spirit, doesn't allow the the front of that church. Then one day in 1915, the granite com- room or the leisure, and gradually, during the next few days, pany folded, and in the ensuing panic to get off the island , Heidi and Susan became part of a cohesive team. On the sixth day of the trip, the two were assigned to the jib topsail halyard. people left meals half-eaten on their tables. Amy Abbot, 19, from Hanover, Massachusetts, the oldest The jib topsail has a lot of halyard, since it must be pulled from and most mature trainee, came aboard with some smal l boat the deck all the way up the forestay to the masthead. As Heidi sailing experience. Since she is of slight build-must weigh and Susan struggled with the weight of their sail, I offered to bare) y I 00 pounds-I was worried at first that she might be too help. "No!" Susan gasped . " No thanks! We're OK! " Their frail, but she proved to be just as tough as anyone else in work- style left a good deal to be desired. They fell on their behinds. ing the see-saw windlass to pull up anchor, or swaying a They lost their rhythm _ But they kept at it. And they succeeded. The entire crew cheered when the sai l was finally set. halyard or sheet to get it just that inch tighter. 30