|Jeanie Johnston Chronicle
1st Report from the ship by Denis Franklin MD
who sailed on the Savannah to Charleston voyage
during the 2003 tour of US and Canadian ports.
Denis Franklin MD is a retired Doctor and a Merchant Marine Staff Officer living in California who has had a love affair with the sea for many years. He is an ardent fan of tall ships and his knowledge of sailing and enthusiasm for Jeanie shines through his report. Denis is also an accomplished Chantey singer and musician and this report was written as a letter to his chantey singing chums at the San Francisco Maritime Museum at Hyde Street Pier. Denis has also sent in another report entitled "up and over" - read it here.
Jeanie Johnston's Voyage from Charleston to Savannah, May, 2003
Something was different, asymmetrical, about her yards which I finally realized had been caused by the addition at sea of stuns'l booms, but for some reason only to the portside ends of the yards on both main and foremast, for her courses, tops'ls, and t'gallants. The royal yards for her smallest and uppermost square sails remained unadorned and symmetrical. Bark rigged, Jeanie sports a fore-and-aft, gaff-rigged spanker and tops'l on her mizzen mast, stays'ls rigged fore-and-aft between her masts and a flying jib, outer jib, inner jib and foretop stays'l on a bowsprit. Each sail has a halyard, downhaul and port and starboard sheets, and the eight square sails have three or four buntlines and two clewlines apiece. Each of these lines comes down to its rightful belaying pin, and the pins are arrayed every foot or so through holes in the fife rails that surround each mast and line the inside of the bulwarks up and down each side of the ship. A person working on deck must be able to go immediately to the proper line to make whatever adjustment is ordered, day or night, in fair weather or foul, without necessarily being able to shake the line to see what wiggles up aloft.
Of course I paid for my eagerness by roasting in the superheated berthing space in a pool of sweat only minimally evaporated by the faint and slightly less warm draft coming down a duct over my bunk. John Gill, a man of my own age and interests and serving as Second Officer for this passage, later joked that berths in an Irish ship were made wide enough for one but strong enough for two, but I swear that even if I'd been offered companionship that night I believe I would have turned it down.
I learned, or at least think I may have learned, a couple of things about some familiar chanteys during the three days of sail training we underwent as, sailing a hundred miles out into the Gulf Stream we meandered north to Charleston, Jeanie's next port of call. One piece had to do with the line, "....roll, bullies roll, them Liverpool Judies will have us in tow". When square sails are no longer needed, as when entering into port, and the crew are on the foot ropes, hanging over the yard and drawing up the sail, folding and rolling it into a "sausage" with the help of the clewlines and buntlines, the last thing they do is grab canvass out, down and under and roll the sail upward. Finally, as the petty officer or leading seaman on the yard yells, "ROLL! ...ROLL!", the crew members make one last grab outward and downward and roll the whole mass of the sail up on top of the yard, where it is fastened with several short pieces of rope called "gaskets".
Another thing I learned about the rhythm of chanteys as I've heard them sung is that few would actually do for hauling on halyards (halliards the Irish spell it) or braces, which is done with a very short, sharp stroke of about one pull per second, and the shout from the sailor closest to the block is some two syllable call, such as "ready", followed by a chorus of, "HEAVE !" from all hands pulling the line. On the Jeanie the petty officers preferred the sequence, "Two-six ...HEAVE! ; two-six ...HEAVE!" As the line is brought to the appropriate tension and the yard is either fully raised or brought round to the desired angle, the sailor closest to the block shouts the command, "Come up!", and all those "tailing" the line let it go abruptly so that he or she has slack enough quickly to throw the first loop under the belaying pin, then four more figure-eight turns, jamming the last under the first so they don't work themselves off the pin. When I finished off a belay with a locking hitch on top of the pin I was immediately informed that was a yachtsman's trick and was not to be done aboard real ships, where the forces upon the sails and rigging were so much greater that a locking hitch could become so tightly jammed that it could not be removed at a time when failure to do so could produce a disaster. Though an axe might be kept ready to avert disasters caused by jammed line, to resort to cutting a length of one inch halyard could, these days, ruin a rope worth a couple of thousand dollars.
One of the strongest, most agile and industrious members of the crew was a woman from Cork named Freida. When she heard me play the harmonica one day she said it was too bad I didn't play the guitar as then I might have had some duets with her on her flute. Luckily for me the guitar she had in mind was gut strung and kind to my tender fingers, soft from neglecting my own guitars for years at a time. I was able to join her in the aft saloon in playing some jigs and reels, and the heat of the 'tween decks drove us out before my fingers gave in. Captain Coleman heard about us playing and said we'd have some entertainment in the evening on the fore deck, but it never worked out because I was either on forward lookout or the helm during the forewatch and Freyda had an opposite watch and was busy when I was free. Nonetheless the playing we got to do made me wish I'd actually learned more about alternate tunings from Ray Frank, as I really think they do sound richer with Irish tunes.
That voyage may take up to several weeks and on Monday I'll be calling Tralee to apply for the position. As you may imagine, they've had several doctors aboard as sail trainees and there will likely be no shortage of applicants, so my chances may not be very good. And then also I have made twenty ship crossing of the north Atlantic, several in the hurricane season of late summer. Once we were in 90 foot seas, which made the 990 foot SS America on which I was a bellboy feel like a toothpick in a maelstrom, but I'm quite sure Jeanie's owners would have her give any such violent storms a wide berth, rather than plow straight through as the scheduled liners did. If
not I'd better learn all the words to,
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