DOWN TO THE SEA IN SHIPS


Portugues Fisherman 2
“PORTUGUESE FISHERMAN” Antonio Rodrigues by KSR

What brings us our endless fascination with the sea? Perhaps it is that we can never be quite sure what lies underneath that watery surface. Men have plowed the seas for countless millennia in all kinds of weather and in all kinds of boats. Vikings sailed to England, France and Russia for plunder, liked what they found and stayed to build new societies. The Danes made themselves at home in England, The Norwegians in France and the Swedes took a swipe at Russia. Native peoples fished and fought in small boats, large sailing ships traversed the navigable globe exploring new lands, and now we have gigantic floating hotels cruising the seven seas, (and sometimes getting stuck on reefs or clogging their plumbing). Last year alone Carnival Cruise line made unwelcome news a number of times. Maybe these monster ships are just too big. Man can’t seem to quench his wanderlust thirst while floating atop the water, and I must admit to doing it a great number of times, but I didn’t need a GPS to find my way to the dining room.

I have a long term fellowship with the sea, covering several generations of family association, most recently with my father, and my husband. When I was encouraged to find employment upon my high school graduation, I found it at the Matson Line for a whopping $95 per month. My Great-uncle and cousin held positions of some importance there and in a sad display of nepotism I was hired as a mailgirl. I didn’t see much of the sea in that position, but there were other perks, among which were introductions to some cute pursers at the end of a cruise while collecting their mail.

Lurline
SS LURLINE

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Fishermen of the world face other dangers helping to feed our overpopulated planet. In the mostly bygone days of cod fishing the Portuguese doryman lived a lonely life in his tiny boat along the Grand Banks separated from his home 3,000 miles away for six months out of the year. He left the mothership in his little dory and fought currents, FOG, freezing cold and rough seas while setting his gear with rudimentary equipment. If he became lost and drifted away, he was mostly on his own, usually not speaking another language if he should be rescued by someone other than his own people. Though he had a compass, it would have been relatively useless that close to the North Pole. As the saying goes, “He was up a creek without a paddle”. The 1960’s saw the end of the great cod fishing era. Fortunately for we fish and chip lovers, there is still enough codfish for a few more years.

doryman
Small Dory

large fighing boat
Mothership

HOME IS THE SAILOR

Home is the sailor, home from sea;
Her far-borne canvas furled
The ship pours shining on the quay
The plunder of the world.

Home is the hunter from the hill.
Fast in the boundless snare
All flesh lies taken at his will
And every fowl of air.

‘Tis evening on the moorland free,
The starlit wave is still;
Home is the sailor from the sea,
The hunter from the hill.

A.E. Houseman

Author: kaytisweetlandrasmussen83

I am a retired fine arts teacher, sculptor/painter, writer, and a native Californian. I love my family,dogs, horses, movies, reading and music, probably in that order. I have been married forever to a very nice man who is nice to old ladies, dogs and children.

18 thoughts on “DOWN TO THE SEA IN SHIPS”

  1. You have captured that weather-beaten parchment skin, the horizon-seeking eyes and sea-wisdom so perfectly. The oceans remind of the brevity and fragility of life, while yet enhancing it.

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    1. The sea, like flying, is unforgiving. It is also a jealous mistress, and those who sail find it hard to leave and adapt to life on the land. My father was one such man, and a cousin who was Commandant of the Matson fleet, refused to retire until he was quite old. It makes one very introspective.

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    2. My mother was from Portsmouth and came from a long naval line. One of my direct ancestors served on the Ajax< at the Battle of Trafalgar and was dined every year on The Victory As the last survivor of that battle. He had been pressed into the Royal Navy as a reward for beating off a French attack on a merchantman in the Indian Ocean! In the few years before his retirement, my grandfather served as Queen Victoria’s signaller on the Royal Yacht and at Osborne House. My Uncle Edgar was blown up on The Invincible in 1916 at the Battle of Jutland.and a first cousin, John, (30 or more years older than me) commanded a later Invincible, so you can see why this post struck a chord.

      My mother was very strict about tidiness, order and routine, essential when at sea, battling against raw nature, This did not prevent her from being generous, loving and forgiving. She told how my grandfather was sure he heard one of his children call out “Dad!” at the very time my uncle died. When a battleship went down with 4,000 hands, every family in Portsmouth lost someone and a gloom settled over the city, but they had to carry on.

      I have not been to sea much, nor did I follow the naval tradition, much to my shame. Yet somehow I feel the sea flows in my veins.

      The Turner records a shameful event when slaves were thrown overboard as cargo from a slave ship in a storm. The paintiing strengthened the hand of Wilberforce and others to abolish the slave trade in 1807, and slavery itself in 1833, in The Empire. It is worth noting that under the Common Law, slavery was never legal in England and there had always been a strong feeling of disgust concerning its practice and a long struggle against powerful commercial interests.

      “The state of slavery is of such a nature that it is incapable of being introduced on any reasons, moral or political, but only by positive law [ statute ], which preserves its force long after the reasons, occasions, and time itself from whence it was created, is erased from memory. It is so odious, that nothing can be suffered to support it, but positive law. Whatever inconveniences, therefore, may follow from the decision, I cannot say this case is allowed or approved by the law of England; and therefore the black must be discharged.” – Lord Mansfield in Somerset v. Stewart, 1772

      Yet to this day slavery and the slave trade are rife.

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      1. Very impressive history Richard. I’m sure it was a source of great pride for your mother. We toured the Victory with a shipload of other tourists years ago. I never got over the shock of finding that Nelson was transported home in a rum barrel. Somehow it seems sacreligious, though not more so than that the news was carried back to Falmouth on the HMS Pickle.(Pardon the black humor)We have just spent the morning at a meeting of our cemetery board and I’m feeling a bit silly.

        We always hear of the “romance of the sea”. I think it is because we somehow realize that it is a dangerous profession or recreation. I never want to live too far away from it. Maybe we are all descended from finny creatures after all.

        I once searched the public records at Portsmouth to find family names who departed on the Mayflower. A daughter scoffed, and I told her it may hold more interest for her as she grows older.

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      2. I never knew about HMS Pickle. It really is ludicrously funny. The fact that Nelson turned the tide in the Napoleonic Wars, crippled the French fleet in a series of brave and brilliant battles and was instrumental in rescuing Europe from subjugation makes it even more so. It is hard for us to imagine how real was the fear for ordinary folk over many years from invasion from just across the English Channel. The adulation continues after two centuries, even though he was a flawed genius, a man of tragic vanity.

        Obstinacy and restlessness under authority are very much in the English character, as is the debunking of hero-worship, yet it took the US to establish clearly the basic principles of freedom and democracy. How was it, though, that George Washington felt free to own slaves despite the adoption of the Common Law in the Constitution? Perhaps revolution is not the way to go about things; it diminishes the moral obligation in the individual mind to obey the rule of law.

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      3. Perhaps Washington felt above the law. Or maybe his wooden teeth hurt him so much he forgot the law. And what about Thomas Jefferson’s liaison with his black servant? Oh my, great power corrupts.

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  2. Glenys and I recently went to an exhibition ” Turner and the Sea” in the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich and saw this:

    It’s remarkable how abstract Turner became in his later years.

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  3. The painting is fabulous. There’s a certain humility visible in the bearing of those who truly have been “to sea”, as well as what one of my captains called a “highly developed sensitivity to foolishness”. I wouldn’t for a minute try and put anything past that fisherman shown in the photo.

    And now I’m well and truly giggling. You remember the locket with pics of my dad and mom? and the photo of my grandparents at my third birthday party? The family name of our clan was – Matson. Of course there’s no direct connection with those on the west coast that started the steamship line, but still – quite a coincidence. When Grandpa Matson left Sweden he did come on a ship, so there’s that.

    I’ve always loved Houseman’s poem, but I haven’t read it for a while. I found myself wanting to tidy up the rhythm a bit. Do you ever look at a painting or sculpture and think, “You know, that could be much better, if only….”?

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    1. I am convinced our paths have crossed somewhere in the past! They say we are all related, and surely in some way or another–we are. A seafarer must of need be humble in the face of such awesome power. As far as foolishness goes, that too is true. My father was a card player without peer as a result of so many hours of “down time” on the ocean! He could not be outsnookered though we all certainly tried it. I don’t think my fisherman spent too much time at a card table.

      Check out the close resemblance of Stevenson’s “Home is the Sailor”to Houseman’s.

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  4. Wow! Your painting is superb. He’s alive that fisherman. Love the anecdotes too esp the line about the sad nepotism 🙂

    My dad was a fisherman too, a watcher of the wind and tides. He’d catch us fresh bream and flathead and cook them for us. He was always in his shed mixing up the latest bait concoction to entice them to his hook. Garlic chicken breast had the greatest success rate. When I was about nine years old a neighbour drowned while fishing and thereafter I used to wait in agony till dad got home safe.

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    1. Some sailors can never give up the sea. My father took on the job as fishing guide at a resort in Oregon after retirement. Too bad he never knew about the garlic chicken breast. He may have decided to eat it himself though.

      During the War years when my father way away my mother was in distress much of the time since mail was so sporadic and it only takes a few minutes to sink a ship.

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  5. Tonight, AK, I showed Ron your blogpost.
    He loved your watercolor and carried on a bit about it.
    He said, ” Aunt Kayti is a charming person in every way.”

    So true.
    We are blessed to know you.

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  6. As a child I used top watch the first of the herring boats sail into Scheveningen harbour. The wives used to wait on the quay all dressed in their billowing dresses. Those were only powered by sail then and called ‘botters’, no engines. Some that have been restored are still being sailed and used. The first herring of the year would traditionally be given to the queen(or king)

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  7. Ok, since we all have some “naval history” in our veins ( My God Richard! ), I must join here too. I will write a blog post chronicling my escapades. Suffice to say, my father Hugh sailed out under the Golden Gate at the age of 17 on a merchant marine ship in 1943. In my 40’s, I accompanied him on his 22 ft sailboat under the Bay Bridge and thought I was going to meet my maker.

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    1. Uncle Sam always classes that first passage out under the Golden Gate during the War not knowing what lay ahead as a high point in his life. Scary for your Dad and him and all the rest of those boys who left home for the first time. It is not a fun trip under the bridge on a small fishing boat looking up at the underside of the Golden Gate. I sailed under it with Dan Mervin and Sam and was seasick all the way. Bumpy Potato Patch outside the Gate where the tides meet the ocean.

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