Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Inside A Whaler's Trunk

A trunk filled with letters, logbooks, sextants and other possessions of George Elliott, the first mate on whalers that embarked from Stonington, has turned up in Cheshire, Connecticut, and is being auctioned next week. The Hartford Courant reported:

As first mate on many of his voyages, Elliott maintained the daily logbooks and apparently kept them after returning home to Stonington. Entries on some pages include tiny hand-drawn whales, indicating the ship had killed one. Each is followed by the number of barrels of oil the creature produced.

The Courant quotes a maritime historian as saying the contents of Elliott’s trunk are interesting but not extraordinary. Whaling was so commonplace in the region – not just from New Bedford and Nantucket but also from New London, Mystic, East Haddam, New Haven, Bridgeport and even Hudson, New York, way up on the Hudson River – that logbooks and other old items turn up every few years.

One of the passages from Elliott’s logbooks that the Courant quoted caught my eye:

I should have observed that there is always such a current getting down this river that it is impossible for a vessel to sail up against it except it be with a fair wind.

It reminded me of this observation about the Connecticut, from the account of Adriaen Block’s first journey up the river:

The reaches extend from northeast to southwest by south, and it is impossible to sail through them all with a head wind.

Sailing is sailing, I guess, whether it was in 1613 or 1833.


Blogger Sam said...

Ah, but sailing is not sailing like the days of old, folks, since hey didn't have a nice little diesel to push you out of a jam. If you have unfavorable winds, you sat there for weeks. Imagine a a ship or schooner of maybe a hundred feet long, over 15 feet deep, and several hundred tons, just you and the wind.

What we have today are nambsy-pamsy "sailors" of Clorox bottles with high tech GPS, Westerbeke engines, and usually less than 25 tons of displacement. It is difficult to relate to the old days because we are so used the easy life.

I have more respect for sailors like George Elliot because they sailed huge, heavy vessels in the cramped and dangerous waters between Nantucket and Stonington. The sheer weight of these ships was mind-boggling. The Charles Morgan of Mystic Seaport fame is 313 gross tons and probably could hold over 450 deadweight tons under a full load of whale oil.

So you didn't want to get grounded or your ship could literally split in half. If the curent started taking you the wrong way, you had a few hundred tons to contend with, an incredible amount of inertia. That's the reason why those big sailing ships had such huge anchors.

Sheesh, give me a break. Very few sailing boats such as the schooner Shenandoah really carry the traditions of a century ago - like no diesel engines! Aside from these exceptions, nope, "sailing ain't sailing" as it was.

11:54 PM  

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