Thursday, September 2, 2010

Tall Ship and Hurricane Earl

As many of you know, I crew on the tall ship Kalmar Nyckel, a reproduction of a Dutch pinnace that was originally built in 1625. As such, she predates the steering wheel and the jib sail. We have been in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where we rode out a four day noreaster with only minor damage (I repaired the Delaware state flag). We were due into Martha's Vinyard, but the Vinyard is no safe haven during a hurricane, so we diverted to New Bedford, Massachusetts. We are snug at the State Pier amid all the scallop boats. The Schooner Ernestina is also docked here, and we hear another tall ship is due in today some time.

A hurricane warning has been issued that includes us. I have been expecting this. My gut instinct has told me that the forecast has been too far east all along, and the forecast has been slowly creeping to the westward over the last several days. Much depends on other factors, but Hurricane Earl is a large hurricane that restrengthened to Category 4. I am off duty until 3 this afternoon, after which time I don't know when I will have a chance to check email or post. I do not have a camera, as Nikon did not honor their warranty and replace my camera when it died after only three months.

I have paid the obligatory visit to the Seamen's Bethel, the church made famous in Moby Dick. You can also read Jeffrey Woodward's excellent prose/poem about it in issue 3 of AtlasPoetica, available free online at: Click 'Read Atlas Poetica' and choose issue 3. The church still serves as a non-denominational place of worship and remembrance. They are attempting to raise money for restoration, so feel free to send them a donation. Here's a prayer that the current storm will not require the erection of any more cenotaphs upon its walls.

I have found New Bedford's waterfront to be much as Melville described it. Although I do not think I have met any cannibals, I have met Spaniards, Portuguese, Azoreans, Celts, Americans, African Americans, Quakers, and more in the 24 hours that I have been here--and I have not walked far. Just up the hill to Johnny Cake Street with its cobbles and historic signs. While most of my off duty crewmates have been in pursuit of beer and air conditioning, I have walked these old streets and listened to poetry rattling off the stones.

Most of the ports I have been too are nearly dead, populated more by yachts and souvenir shops than by fishboats, but in New Bedford I am surrounded by a forest of fishboats, mostly scallop boats. The Vila Nova do Corvo I has left her berth, I don't know why. I hope it is merely to a new berth and not out to sea. The Voyager, Curlew II, and Santa Maria are all rafted up with a host of others too densely packed for me to read their names, but the Fisherman has gone and so have some others. More boats are coming in: yachts from all the islands around: the Elizabeth Islands, Martha's Vinyard, Nantucket.

The harbor staff have been setting more mooring buoys to accommodate the influx. So far they have space enough to accommodate all comers. What will happen when the harbor is full and the hurricane gate is closed? Is it even possible the harbor will fill up now that fishing is in decline here as elsewhere? Once New Bedford and Fairhaven across the river were home to half the 700 whalers that hunted the seven seas. The forest of fishing booms I see now is not so impressive when I think about the leviathans of Melville's day.

For now the hurricane gate stands open, an ancient lighthouse at the entrance, welcoming all comers, just as New Bedford has always welcomed mariners from every nation and every sea. I was the only visitor to the Seamen's Bethel this morning. I sat alone in the pews and contemplated the cenotaphs. The dates spanned nearly two hundred years from the early 1800s to the 1990s. There in the humid silence it was easy to imagine their wights adrift forever in a stormy sea, looking always homeward for the light and open gate.


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