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W. H. Macy

Inquirer and Mirror (Nantucket)
Vol. 50, No. 21 (Nov 20, 1869)
p. 1



      Tom Thompson, our shipkeeper in the South Seaman, was a gray-headed tar, who had cruised the watery waste over in all sorts of square-riggers, could talk familiarly of any European seaport, from Archangel to Cadiz, and was equally at home on the Pacific side of the globe, from Cape Horn to Kamschatka.

      Tom was an Englishman by birth, and received his early education in one of the mizzen-tops of His Most Nautical Majesty, William the Fourth. He was perhaps, as genuine a specimen as can now-a-days be found of the amphibious biped of and for whom Dibdin sang, and Dr. Smollet drew pen sketches which to-day appear to be the coarsest of caricatures.

      Seduced by considerations of wages and grub, Tom, like many more of his countrymen, had drifted into the American marine, and become an adopted Yankee. Thus it was we had the benefit of his nautical experience as shipkeeper, in the good bark South Seamen.

      "I never belonged to but one fore-and-aft vessel, and that was only for a few days," said Tom, one evening, when yarns were going round the group seated on the windlass and fore-hatches.

      "Where did you go?" I asked. "To the West Indies?"

      "No," said he; I came from the West Indies in a down-east brig; and, when the voyage was up, I found myself adrift, and set out to look for a chance to work my way to Boston or New York. I found a Thomaston sloop about ready to sail, with lime, for New York, and the skipper said that he didn't care about paying another hand, but, if I wanted to work my passage for my grub, I might come aboard. So I lugged down my bag of duds, and reported myself ready for duty. The whole crew was made up of the skipper and his son, a slab-sided hobble-de-hoy, or overgrown boy, with an old farmer-looking chap, who acted as cook, steward, and all hands. He was somehow in the family, too, and answered to the name of Cousin Zenas. I took the first good chance I got to ask the youngster what the captain's name was.

      "The cap'n?" says he; "oh! my father – well, his name's Ebenezer Lippincott; but here aboard, he's always called Daddy."

      "Indeed," says I; "and what may I call you?"

      "Oh, you can call me Sonny. My name's the same, Ebenezer Lippincott, junior.

      Nobody had asked my name, or seemed to care what it was. But, when we were getting ready to make sail, the old man sings out:

      "Stranger! you go forward and loose the jib!"

      I looked round to see who he was talking to, and perceived that he must mean me.

      "Ay, ay, sir!" says I, in my square-rigged sailor fashion. I was laughing to myself all the time I was loosing the sail, to think how quick they had found a name for me. I had been called by a dozen purser's names, in different ships; indeed, if you did but know it, mates, I'm sailing under false colors in this hooker, for Tom Thompson ain't the name I was christened by. But "Stranger" tickled me mor'n anything that ever I answered to.

      "Now, Stranger," says the old fellow again, "if you'll jist help Sonny and Cousin Zenas to h'ist the mains'l."

      "Ay, ay, sir!" says I, hearty enough, but ready to split with laughing. When we got it most up, Daddy got hold of the halyards himself, and gave us a pull. I tell you, lads, he made all crack again when he sagged down. He stood about six foot and a half, and his hands hung down chock to his knees, when he took 'em out of his pockets. He was just the chap to have in one of them little 'morf'dite brigs, to stand on the forec'sle and overhaul the foretops'l buntlines without going aloft.

      "Stranger, what is't that tickles ye so?" he says, after we had stretched the mains'1 up taut.

      "Oh, nothin', sir; only I'm glad to be getting under way again."

      "Well, you must be, for you look as smilin' as a basket o' chips."

      This only made me laugh the more, and Sonny, of course, boylike, laughed because I did. And the more old Daddy and Cousin Zonas looked sober, the more we laughed. All at once, I heard the cry:

      "Look out there! she's jibing!"

      And, before I had time to squat down, something took me side of the head, and knocked me end-over-end. Sonny had ducked his head in time; but I wasn't used to having a fore-and-aft yard taking charge of the quarter-deck.

      "Little more, 'n you'd laughed out'n the other side your mouths," said the skipper.

      I never dared to straighten up again while I was aboard that craft. I went about decks doubled up like a half-open jack-knife, with one eye peeled for that swingle-tree; and every time she rattled her reef-points, I stood ready to duck down and let it go over me, like them Juggernaut fellers in the East Indies.

      It muckled me, though, to think that I had been fifteen years to sea, in all sorts of square-rigged vessels, and then had drifted aboard of a sarvin-mallet, to be chaffed and snickered at for a green-hand by chaps who hardly ever went out o' sight o' land, and hadn't blown the hay-seed out o' their hair yet. But then I thought that if I had 'em in a good ship, out in blue water, I should just be as ready to put the boot on the other leg; and fair play's a jewel, the world over.

      When it came my trick to steer, I thought I could outdo any of 'em, for I was always called a crack helmsman, but I found I missed the weather leach of the foretopsail for a guide. Besides, the little stump of a tiller bothered me, for I had always been shipmates with a wheel. But I got the hang of it after a bit; and, when Daddy relieved me, I began to feel that I was summat of a fore-and-aft sailor.

      Sonny had gong down to take a watch below, as he was going to take charge of the deck a part of the night; and the skipper hailed me.

      "Stranger! jist see how fast she's goin."

      "Ay, ay, air," I answered, proud of a chance to show my seamanship. I ran all round the quarter-deck in search of anything that looked like the log-reel, while the old man stared at me, and began to laugh.

      "What ye lookin' for?" he asked.

      The log," says I; "where is it?"

      "Log! we can't afford a log – a piece of a shingle's big enough."

      "Ay, but where's your reel and log-line?"

      "Don't want no line. Here, jist steer a minute, and I'll pace her off myself.

      I took the tiller, and old Daddy went forward. He picked up a bit of shingle, and shied it overboard, keeping his eyes fixed on it, as he came straddling aft, over the lime barrels.

      "I've got her now, all right," says he, taking the tiller out of my hands again. I had always thought I knew all about heaving the log. But I had to own up that I was a green-hand.

      When we got into the Vineyard Sound, it was coming on thick, and the wind hauling ahead, so he made up his mind to run her into Holmes Hole, as he called it, and anchor for the night. So Cousin Zenas and I got the anchor all ready, and we stood in, the old man seeming to guess well enough. where we were. By and by, we got in among a fleet of lumbermen and coasters, all lying at anchor, and I began to think it was time for us to come to. So I asked the skipper, by way of a hint,

      "How much water have we got here?"

      "Water?" says he; "oh, we've got water enough. The cask is more'n half full yet. I didn't come in here to get water."

      "No, I s'pose not. We had more outside. I was thinking, if we stood in much further, we wouldn't have enough to float her."

      "Oh!" says Daddy, with a laugh, "I understand now – you mean how deep is the water?"

      "Yes, sir."

      "Well, suppos'n you just try it, Stranger."

      "All right, sir. Where's your hand-lead?" And I began to think over the marks – white rag, red rag, leather with a hole in it, and so on.

      "There 'tis," said the old man, grinning, as he pointed to a long, slender spruce pole, with some jack-knife notches cut in it. I dropped my jaw, for there was no chance to show off my skill us a leadsman. I had to study my lesson all over again before I could give him the depth of the water, and, even then, he had the laugh on me again, for I made clumsy work of it.

      We lay in Holmes' Hole that night, and the next day we worked alongshore, a piece. But the old sloop leaked like a basket, and you know that a seaman likes working a pump-brake about as well as he does turning grindstone or sawing wood. I got sick of the voyage that day; and towards night we made a harbor again at a little place somewhere in Rhode Island – the old man called it Skunnit. It was Saturday night, so he thought he might as well lie still over Sunday. He let me and Sonny have the boat to go ashore on liberty, and on making inquiries among the people there, I found we were only a few miles from Newport, where I should find a square-rigged vessels enough.

      As I wasn't on the sloop's articles, I told Daddy, when I went aboard, that I would like to take my discharge, if it was all the same to him.

      "All right," says he, "we can get her along to New York well enough, but what you want to go ashore here for?"

      "To get to Newport, and ship in a bigger vessel. I'm a green-hand here, and I never like to stay where I don't know my duty,"

      So I bid a friendly good-by to all my sloop-mates, and shook the lime off my feet as I went over the side with my bag. That was the end of my cruise in the sloop Androscoggin, and my first and last in any craft of that rig. I don't mind so much whether a vessel be large or small, but her yards must be slung athwartships for me. – N. Y. Western World


Author: Macy, William Hussey
Title: A Square-Rigged Sailor.
Publication: Inquirer and Mirror (Nantucket)
Vol/No/Date: Vol. 50, No. 21 (Nov 20, 1869)
Pages: 1