From the Vineyard Gazette editions of September, 1933:
Cap’n Harty Bodfish, slayer of seals, sea-otter, reindeer and right whales, leaned out of the offshore window of Cromwell’s store and took in the details of a yacht race. Beside him stood the hardware salesman from the far west, and sundry others, actually listening as if expecting to hear the clicking of the veteran whaleman’s intellect as he checked off the various points of seamanship thus exhibited.
“It’s all right,” he ruminated, half to himself, “it’s all right to chop away forefoot and quarters, narrow up the beam and lengthen the fore-reach. Yes, and it’s well enough to piece out the masts and spars until they have to rig watch-tackles on the moon to haul it out off the way when they stand along past, but ballasting and handling are the main things in spite of all that.”
“Well, you’ll have to admit that the speed of boats differs, and that any man can get more out of one than he could from another,” objected the hardware salesman, who didn’t know any better.
The others, knowing the old polar bear hunter, remained mum, expecting squalls, and they came, according to schedule.
“Difference in speed!” snorted the Cap’n. “Difference !*@?**& ! Who the devil are you going to prove it by? One man takes a boat out and gets three knots out of her by main strength and cussedness . . . Another fellow takes her and she logs ten. That happens to any boat that was ever built to sail, and what’s the answer? It’s handling, that’s all, and who’s to say that any slow boat wouldn’t perform better if the right man had charge?”
“But,” persisted the hardware salesman from the far west, totally disregarding the rising storm clouds, “how about the old ships that took three times as long to cross the ocean as they do today? We know that to be true, like the difference between the whaler and the clipper. It doesn’t seem to me that your argument holds good.”
The Northern Lights flashed from the eyes of the veteran floe-battler. “Still sailin’ by dead reckonin’, ain’t you? I tell you now that you nor no other man knows these things! Maybe it isn’t reasonable to suppose it’s all true, but let me tell you something.
“I sailed in the ship Mars, which was one of the oldest ships I ever saw. Even in her prime it was said of such ships that they were built by the mile and sawed off in whatever lengths folks wanted to pay for, just like chopping up bologna sausage. And they also said of such ships that they swapped ends with ‘em and that they sailed just as well. All hands believed it too and nobody ever argued the question.
“Well, I stowed her trip one season, which is ballasting and trimming as I’ve said, and I was in charge of the quarterdeck, when we came out of the Arctic, bound for San Francisco.
“Now it don’t make any difference what sort of a vessel a man may be sailing, he tries to get all the speed he can out of her when he’s bound for home, especially if he hasn’t been home for a year, and I’ll admit that we crowded the old packet just a little mite. But when we got to Frisco we found that we had made the fastest trip out of the Arctic on record. Beat it by considerable time, and in this old fashioned ship at that.
“And that isn’t all, by a darned sight. When we hauled her out, we found eleven feet of her false keel adrift and slawed around athwartships, holding her back all the time. Nobody knows what we might have done if that had been in place! Don’t talk to me about slow vessels!”
And the Cap’n shoved his hands into his hip pockets with such violence that it set his suspenders up as taut as a harp string, and the hardware salesman from the far west dove headlong into a galvanized ash can, marked down from $3.50 to $2.75.
Holmes Hole, the port of tall ships
from the east,
Molasses brigs from far West Indies
Of whalers, lumber barks, and all the
That made up coastal fleets in olden days
Those days when steam was feared,
untried and new;
And men clung to the ways of older
To spars and canvas, snowy clouds of sail
That wafted grandaire safe from
clime to clime
And safely home once more to anchor fast:
In this old harbor or beside the pier
Where jibboom lifting over his vine-
His ship was fitted new with sail
Today the ships are gone; along their
The steamers ply their way with
A lonely schooner lifts her slender
beside the pier — this touch still
makes it home.
Compiled by Cynthia Meisner