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Sailing Senses Part 4 of 4: Sarcasm

Posted by Tall Ships America on August 8, 2016

By Intern Ben

Surely you can’t be serious.

            I am serious… and don’t call me Shirley.


The start of race four aboard Appledore IV featured the steepest of learning curves. Our minimal crew of seven, and the fact that only two of those actually belonging to the ship made for an interesting experience to say the least. The crew exchange in Chicago had robbed the schooner of its usual crew, one to the Draken Harald Hårfagre, another to El Galéon Andalucia, and the last to the U.S. Brig Niagara. As the

Monday morning broke aboard the ship, the regular crew started trickling out, and strangers started appearing on the gangway. Myself, a Chicago sailor from aboard the Red Witch, and the cook from El Galéon Andalucia. It was an interesting start.

The race continued into the afternoon and through the evening, and unlike many of the last races, the fleet seemed to group up as the race progressed, rather than growing further apart. Despite the schooner’s upwind advantage, it took most of the evening to finally pass Niagara, and most of the night to finally come abreast of Pride of Baltimore II, only to have them pass us with the wind shift.

Wednesday bloomed hot and humid, and the 20 knots of southerly wind that had been promised turned into something only a little bit better than a doldrum out of the southwest. We sweated through constant gibes and sail changes, and finally resigned to putting up an awning over the aft section to try to relieve ourselves from some of the torrid heat.

The captain came on deck to find several crew members lounging on the cabin top, glorying in our newly-made shade.

“Well, there’s our extra canvas.”

Through the light winds of the previous day and evening, all the talk aboard had been of how to maximize the schooner’s sail area. We’d had a main gaff topsail, a small sail that closes the gap between the gaff of the mainsail and the main topmast. We’d even taken the small sail out of the ship’s dinghy and sent it aloft on the foremast, a crude imitation of the same technique.

“Heck, at this point we might as well take our bedsheets and sew ‘em together for a spinnaker.”

It was also something of a sore topic for the original crew. In their haste from Bay City, they had neglected to bring aboard their fisherman sail– a large auxiliary piece of sail that goes up between the masts on traditionally-rigged schooners. With the wind on our quarter getting lighter, every inch of canvas raised meant more speed, and quicker relief from the oppressive temperature. Niagara had gone so far as to leave its cutter outboard of its rail, but with its sail raised in the hope of catching that much more breeze. Now it seemed our captain wanted to do them one better.

“Surely you can’t be serious…”

“Hell yeah, down-rig it, take the gaff from the dinghy and meet me on the bow.”

After a good deal of finicking, we’d come up with a jerry-rigged square sail. Captain Christopher affectionately christened it the fore-course, but the oblong rectangle that hung from the foremast was nothing short of ridiculous.

The sail in question... Photo credit J Clark

The sail in question…
Photo credit J Clark

Sarcasm is the sailor’s constant companion. It is his friend in all things. It gets him through the day, releases his anger, distracts him from his hunger and fatigue, and above all, gets him through these little bits of ridiculousness that pervade his profession.

However much we tease each other, we tease landlubbers more. One sailor I knew after being asked if the Chicago water intakes in Lake Michigan were floating circus tents went on to regale his passenger of the elephants and clowns he had seen the night before.

Intake "circus tents"

Intake “circus tents”

So it might have been funny to see a group of grown men putting up what amounted to a sun umbrella for a sail. Laughing about its size and shape and making as if to go below, gather shirts and sheets and start sewing new sails. But don’t laugh — that stupid sun umbrella got us a half a knot of speed!


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