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Sailing Sense Part 2 of 4: Anger

Posted by Tall Ships America on July 29, 2016

By Intern Ben

Pride and Denis neck and neck

Pride of Baltimore II and Denis Sullivan neck and neck at the start of the race

Anger is often associated with sailors. It is often conjured up by the stories of old military vessels. The bosun’s fury, the cat o nine tails — these have the appearance of anger, but are more dutiful than wrathful. Popular culture has developed this image of the constantly angry mariner. Worse yet the pirate maddened by rage screaming profanity at his crew. None of these are quite accurate to my recent experiences. What, then, is anger to a sailor? To be sure, there is much to be angry, or simply exasperated about.

In Fairport Harbor we boarded Denis Sullivan, a 3-masted topsail schooner. The wind was favorably out of the south. This allowed us to sail off the dock primarily under her unique triangular topsail called a raffee. We quickly made it past the seawalls and out into Lake Erie. The wind on our beam was so favourable we had to take in topsails and luff the main to keep from crossing the line early. Pride of Baltimore II quickly caught up and we crossed the line sailing abreast.

The race went well until the wind shifted to the east, greatly profiting the ships with square sails. We quickly came to see the Niagara passing us way off to the north. The race continued through the night and the day bloomed bright and cloudless. The results were soon in, and despite our best efforts,  Sullivan had been the last ship to cross the line. Much to our delight however, the adjusted handicap times put all the finishers within minutes of each other and Denis Sullivan came in second place.

The race done, we quickly took in sail and started again under motor power. Tuesday was sweltering and the flies never ceased in their attacks as we wound lazily up the Detroit River, on to Lake St. Clair, and finished the night with rain on the Saint Clair River. By Wednesday we were on Lake Huron, and by Wednesday night we were anchored on Saginaw Bay.

Ben Denis Sullivan

Wednesday night at anchor passed easily enough, but the standing order was to wake the captain for anything worse than 25 knots of wind. The morning was windier still, and after a standard cleaning if the boat, it was time to man the windlass and heave anchor. That is when the real trouble began.

The first few fathoms came easily enough. The chain wound quickly and flaked down into the chain locker. Too quickly in fact. The call soon came to heave handsomely. After a couple minutes another hand came to take a spell in my place. In another few minutes, I was back in again and pumping the handle, again, perhaps a little too fast.

Suddenly all action stopped. We four working the windlass looked at each other, the first mate looked at the windlass. The chain had fouled in its lead, wedging itself between the windlass and its mounting. That was when anger started.

For more than an hour the crew labored on the windlass. They even went so far as to take the mechanism apart to work slack into the chain by way of the anchor burton. Now the chain was not held by its wraps on the windlass, but by a simple metal hook and eye splice. Each creak as the chain took strain sent us ducking behind hatchways and masts for fear of hook, line or the chain itself parting and causing injury by its elastic snap-back. Each creak and moan of metal on metal and rope on wood frayed our nerves and shortened out tempers.

Then suddenly the chain was free, the windlass reassembles, and the hands back to pumping. Despite the hour long interlude, the anchor was up in relatively short time. However, the wind and waves were still rising as the anchor was finally pulled out of the water. The first mate leaning out from the fore shrouds manned the anchor burton as the 500 lbs of iron rose slowly in the foamy lake. Then the rollers caught us and every swell sent the anchor banging against the wood of the bow, and each bang was accompanied by a shout from the mate.

The anger in sailing is not between the crew. It can be, but it’s most common form is different. This anger is the joint exasperation, the unifying anger at all the things that are outside the sailors realm of control. Seldom are we angry at each other, often are we angry together.


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