Aboard the Niagara
Posted by Tall Ships America on May 6, 2010
I arrived in Erie the morning of Friday, March 26th , the official start of the Niagara‘s season. Chief Mate Billy Sabatini picked me up from the train station and had me at the Erie Maritime Museum, the ship’s headquarters, in time for breakfast and a quick costume change into my old familiar tarry carharts and work-sweaters.
I am working at getting comfortable again aloft. Upon leaving the Picton Castle I knew every foothold and handle in the rig, and could scurry up and stow royals and t’gallants on the darkest nights. Here, I am clumsy and unsure again. Like I’m moving through an unfamiliar living room with all the lights out, I make my way around the rig with small, cautious steps, feeling out the fuddocks and the cross trees, gingerly sitting atop the mast cap and getting situated for my task. A few more climbs coupled with a rig full of spars, shrouds, and stays, and everything should be fine.
The crew here are great. The fact that I am the only new hired crew member says a lot about this program. I am excited to sail here, and in this ship. I will learn a lot.
We have entered the early stages of uprig, but the process is slowed by the necessary sessions of orientation. No good having a ship to sail if all her crew are maimed or worse.
The first week of work is done.
Housed t’gallant masts, dressed the main t’gallant mast, and we’re almost ready to push them up through and haul the stays tight and cross some yards. Soon we will be running up the lines and that is where a sailor really gains an intimacy with the rig, and learns how everything works. They are the veins of the body of the ship. The spars and sails are the bones and organs, the lines are the veins, and the sailors are the blood. What is the wind? Complex carbohydrates? Neural electrical pulses? That’s not very romantic. Maybe the wind is the driving soul, the impetus, the unquenchable thirst inside all seagoing bodies that drive them further toward sea-bound horizons. There, that one’s dripping with romance. Anyways, I am enjoying uprig. That’s my point.
We took the ship out for a test run of the engines on April 2nd, which is apparently the earliest they’ve ever had Niagara off the dock and underway. Also, we fired off a cannon, something I’ve never done before. On the great list of new things to learn aboard this ship the cannon, though maybe not the most important, is certainly the most percussive, and is probably the most enticing to my implicit inclination to mischief. Thankfully, among the crew, my feelings regarding our grand arsenal have me in the majority. There were delighted snickers at the resounding echoes and resultant car alarms and nearly panicked bystanders ashore among all the crew after the inaugural cannon-fire of the season. Plus, we later learned our cannon had interrupted a wedding and a speech by Senator Arlen Specter. Plus the engines work, so mark the day off as a success.
Forecast: Hail with a chance of rigging. Sending up blocks now, getting all the necessary pieces in place before we can cross our yards. Last week the weather was 75 degrees and sunny. The past two days it has been a hair above freezing, windy, and constantly spitting rain, sleet, hail, and snow flurries. Not nice. But as they say the ship comes first and we can’t sail her till she’s a sailer again, so if we want to have our cake and eat it too, we have to crack some eggs and get to work.
Photos courtesy of John Baker, Isaiah Young, Rob Aspinwall