On the Water and in the Air, 4:30 pm

As we left the Fishtown Chapel right on schedule at 4:30, we had the option to stay to try our hand at rowing a whaleboat, or climbing the rigging, or both. Most of us chose both. The sun had not arrived, as hoped for, but the drizzle had stopped, leaving the boat seats and ratlines wet and a bit slippery, but not enough to deter any who wished to row or climb. Wyn and I were among those who went rowing first, and we got in the boat directed by our friend Mary K Bercaw, who has conducted whale boat intros at Mystic for years.

Smooth return in the whaleboat on Wednesday

Smooth return in the whaleboat on Wednesday

Wyn had rowed on a crew in college, so Mary K put her on the first oar, with me right behind her, so we could hopefully set a good example for the three oars behind us.  Mary K stood facing us all in the stern, where she could call out commands and use her steering oar to correct our course as needed. The oars are a lot larger than I expected, and very heavy and thick, tapering at one end for the hands to grasp and surprisingly thin at the blade end that propels us through the water. It’s very satisfying to row this buoyant boat that feels so steady even with amateurs like us rowing it. Only Mary K knew where we were going, but hardly anyone else was out on the river, so all we had to worry about was matching our stroke to the person in front of us, and then responding to those commands by which Mary K ordered us to hold our oars up, hold them at ease in the water, or push them forward, which we would do on one side while the other side was pulling, the push-pull combo helping us to turn surprisingly quickly.

The sky and river were matching shades of gray, and the temperature in the forties was just the right chill to balance our exertion. We all enjoyed this very much. It would be fine to be a crew member with Mary K as a coach. I know that the Mystic team often races a New Bedford team; maybe I will get to cheer them on if there is a race in June in New Bedford after the Morgan brings us to port. For now, I was thinking of my dad Walt Wallace, who rowed the sixth oar for the University of Washington crew when they won the national collegiate championship at Poughkeepsie on the Hudson River, not too far south of here, on June 25, 1941.

One foot at a time in the rigging

One foot at a time in the rigging

As soon as we departed the whale boat, we walked over to the Joseph Conrad to see how it felt today to climb the rigging. The moist conditions did not seem to matter, and it was much easier the second time. Wyn, who had gone only a few rungs the day before, today, with Susan Funk alongside, got more than halfway up to the standing platform. I had a guy named Jim next to me and was able to move much more steadily this time. I knew from the beginning to put my two feet in opposing rungs, and for some reason I now had no trouble raising my left leg high enough for each new step. I was not frightened this time and I moved deliberately up to where the rigging narrows sharply—and where you go can go any higher only if you are willing to climb back up and out over the edge of that platform, something I had definitely decided not to try. It was just fine to stand on this perch I had reached and to look out over the calm river and a few times look down to the deck before stepping carefully back down.

I will definitely try to go at least this high on the Morgan, even while it is moving, if the ocean is relatively calm and the conditions are otherwise propitious. I would love to feel the ship sway to the pulse of the ocean and to feel the rhythms of nature animating the ship in such an intimate way. (I had not been able to take my camera while rowing or climbing on Saturday afternoon, so Paul O’Pecko kindly took the photos in this section when the Wednesday cohort came in for their Training Day.)

We had stowed our gear in the Mystic print shop while rowing and climbing, and when we returned to retrieve it we found a tidy little stack of this hand-set letter-press keepsake:

Nineteenth-century press for a nineteenth-century whaleship

Nineteenth-century letter-press for a nineteenth-century whaleship


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