And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by
— from the poem Sea Fever by John Masefield (1878-1967)
In my 6th grade class I stood behind my desk trying to remember the next line of the poem my teacher, Mr. Roberts, wanted each of us to recite. This was my third and last attempt to get a passing grade. Mr. Roberts in an effort to jog my memory, stood up on his desk and then walked towards me using my classmate’s desktops until he stood tall in front of me. It worked and my mind clicked on the one line of the poem, Sea Fever by English poet laureate, John Masefield, I still remember though the rest has faded away.
From that day, I have had an infinity for tall ships. Their history and romantic stories both in books and screen have filled me with a love for such vessels. So, it was with much delight to receive as a Father’s Day gift from my two daughters a 2 hour daysail on a tall ship coming to the Festival of Sail in nearby Oswego, New York this past weekend. Wanting to travel light onboard in what turned out to be cramped quarters, I put on the Nikon 18-200VR lens and boarded the tall ship Privateer Lynx, a replica of a ship used during the War of 1812 between the United States and the British empire.
The Privateer Lynx is manned by young and seasoned sailors. After boarding, the captain, Jamie Trost, welcomed and instructed me and 39 other guests for the daysail on the mission of the Lynx, safety information and encouraged everyone to help in the operation of the ship. With the wind slight, the Lynx left port under power until we cleared Oswego Harbor’s breakwall. Some of the guests helped to raise the sails which then filled and moved the Lynx silently over the calm Lake Ontario waters.
As Captain Trost manned the helm and strongly voiced his orders to the Lynx’s crew, he gave a running history lesson of the mission of privateer ships during the War of 1812. The US Navy at the time only had 16 ships which was badly outnumbered by the mighty British fleet who were blockading important ports on the US eastern seaboard. Privateers were nothing like the pirates you see in films. They were built and outfitted by wealthy businesses for profit. Entitled by the United States to attack and rob enemy vessels during the War of 1812, vessels such as the Lynx, costs of commissioning their crews was borne by investors hoping to gain a significant return from prize money earned from enemy merchants. Since the goal of their mission was to capture ships, privateering is considered a less destructive and wasteful form of warfare.
It did rain off and on throughout the voyage with solid gray sky making photography a challenge. To compensate, I did my best to minimize the sky filling the frame as much as possible with the subjects I photographed. Raindrops on the lens was a different matter as I had to continuously wipe them off. When the rain did stop, I was able to get these portraits of some of the crew of the Lynx.
The weather was being stubborn and the winds died down on our return trip to port. The captain reluctantly giving the order to engage the engines and furl the sails. Back on shore, I took this portrait of the Lynx as it waited to take another group of adventurous guests out to share its history, crew and the joy of movement by sail.
I think it fitting I end this post with the complete poem which started my love of Tall Ships all those years ago.
I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.