Off the train running
Posted by Tall Ships America on May 7, 2010
We are officially a square-rigger, albeit by the smallest of margins. Today, as the afternoon sun’s plummeting progress toward the horizon had Rob the Bosun sweating, pacing and checking his watch, we cracked tight the foremast rigging, heaved-ho on the capstan, and tossed up our fore t’gallant yard. No problemo. Tidy up the decks. What’s for dinner. See you tomorrow. A very good day of work.
Since last week’s spell of rotten weather we’ve been blessed with nearly ideal conditions: sunny and mild; a sweater or so on deck, and two for work in the rig. I’ve spent the majority of the last few work days aloft in the sunshine, a blissful bivalve, tuning, seizing, and lashing away. Though days like last Thursday and Friday make a sailor wonder what possesses us to choose such a cruel, capricious career, these days following remind me that we are caretakers of a truly charmed way of life, though narrow the gate may be. Like Irving Johnson said, “It’s some kind of hypnotism.”
All of our yards are crossed, and we are beginning to fill out our pretty brig’s figure. Headsl’s and main topmast stays’l are bent on, and the flying jibboom and the spanker are all that remain. Bosun Rob and I spent the day in the headrig dressing and prepping the flying jibboom, and AB Isaiah led a team dressing and prepping the spanker boom. At the end of the day, Captain Wes called the hoisting and shipping of the spanker boom. It was a magnificent maneuver. The boom was on the dock, with its jaws facing aft. We hoisted the boom with a tackle at the main yardarm. The main yard lifts were fortified to bear the extra burden of the massive spar. Then, like it was little more than a broom handle, Captain Wes called for the yard to be braced sharp smartly to starboard, then avast. Using the yard like a sort of trebuchet, our abrupt checking of the braces transferred the momentum from the main yard to the boom at the end of the tackle, swinging the boom against the backstays and shrouds. It pivoted around, and, with the help of taglines, came to rest its jaws gently against the mast. You learn something new everyday.
Shipped the spanker gaff, though it was much less dramatic than the boom, and Isaiah led a team bending on the spanker, while Rob led a team of us to run out the jibboom and tune its stays. Then he sent out a team to bend on the flying jib. We are fully rigged.
We had perfect weather today for our shakedown sail. It was sunny, and the wind was blowing a happy 10-15. We set the fore and main tops’ls and were cruising nicely. Captain Walter was walking the deck and remarked to me that we were making nearly seven knots. “She sails pretty slippery,” he said. Weather like this is why man invented sailboats in the first place. A perfect day to be sailing on the lake with a big rig and not too much below the water. Welcome to sailing Niagara.
And tonight, to cap off our season’s inauguration was the world premiere of “Into the Deep,” A documentary about whaling that largely involves the Niagara as a prop. Though she is a replica of a naval vessel, a few vomiting smokestacks, some period whaling reenactors, and clever make-up here and there and she looked the part. It’ll be on American Experience on PBS on May 10th. Watch it. Thrilling shots from swooping helicopters, and some familiar crew faces in funny costumes. Not mine of course, I wasn’t here during filming.
Sailing season is officially swinging here in Erie. Now for more training sails and drilling, preparing for our coast guard inspection.
Photos courtesy of John Baker, Isaiah Young, Rob Aspinwall