When I had gotten up on deck at night on the ship, I could feel the damp deck through my socks, doing my best to avoid the few shallow pools that remained from the hosing of the deck, quite like trying to avoid shallow tide pools on a beach after the ebb. Now, four hours later, I had padded up out of my bunk after waking up at 6, eager to see the ship in the early morning light. I now saw the ship as a massive sculpture, catching the light of the morning sun as high up the mast and as far out the bowsprit as the eye could see, its pristine brightness offset by the answering shadow shading any surface of the ship not directly touched by the sun.
A few of the crew were out to tend to this or that, but it was refreshing to have a moment essentially alone with the ship and the sun before the day began. I then rested in my bunk until the 6:45 call, getting up right away to shave at the one sink (we knew there would be no shower) before breakfast in the blubber room.
Juls Johnson, our cook, had prepared a meal fit for kings—or so it felt to most of us. Eggs Benedict with all sorts of homemade scones and pastries, with fruit and juice and coffee to keep us fresh and buoyant. The mid-morning snack, the midday lunch, and the afternoon offerings were equally fresh and inventive (there were so many choices for lunch I did not even see the tuna with black beas that many Voyagers spoke of later). I am grateful that Juls took time to pose for a picture while laying out the breakfast feast, and I will now always associate her with Alfie, the cook I most remember from my summers on the waters of Puget Sound now more than fifty years ago.
Alfie was the legendary cook on the Thea Foss, a company yacht that had once belonged to John Barrymore. Thea Foss was the female founder of Foss Tug and Barge whose story had inspired the Tugboat Annie television series I had seen a child. I was able to spend a week on the Thea in the San Juan Islands during the summer of my sophomore year of high school. One morning my friend Dick Forman and I got to take the outboard motorboat to go fishing for salmon. As we returned, we accidentally gunned the motor rather than cutting it back as we approached the yacht, the bow of the boat catching a davit, capsizing us, but doing no lasting damage except to our youthful pride.
[It is 6 am now, as I write this in my New Bedford hotel room, so I’ll shave, shower, and go down for breakfast.]
After breakfast, we Voyagers assembled for our 7:30 briefing. First mate Sam Sikkema gave some general instructions about life on the ship. Silence your cell phones. Always leave room for the crew to do their jobs. Keep your feet out of the bight of all of those lines you see around the deck. One way to do that is to shuffle, rather than step, with your feet. We would have our safety drills after we returned for our introduction to the day passengers who were now waiting on shore. Then we would sail.
Sue Funk led us off the ship to meet an impressive variety of people who would be sailing to New Bedford with us. Steve Urbon has written for the New Bedford Standard-Times for decades. Kim Holland descends from a family already prominent in New Bedford when the Acushnet and Morgan first sailed in 1841. The film director who made a recently broadcast documentary of the Morgan was here; he announced that he will be filming today’s voyage and cutting it into the end of the film. A writer from the New London Day was coming aboard, and so was a photographer from the Boston Globe. As we were meeting our new shipmates, it was hard not to notice my friend Mary K Bercaw out on a foremast spar adjusting the lines and sails.
Director Steve White from Mystic Seaport was here, as were many of the donors and board members who had made this entire adventure possible. After we went around the circle introducing ourselves and our reasons for being on this voyage, we had time to mix informally in smaller groups until 8:30, when first mate Sam Sikkema strode down ramp to announce that the ship was ready to board. We would now march up that dock ramp for the last time.
The first thing we did after gathering on deck was to have roll call, to assure that we could all be indentified or accounted for should any emergency occur at sea. We were each given a name tag with a number on it and assigned to the Port or Starboard side (I was no. 35, Starboard). Second mate Sean Bercaw began the safety instructions with the fire drill, standing on the chart able so we all could see him. Then we moved into our Port and Starboard groupings to watch as the crew rolled out the hoses and demonstrated the fire drill procedures. The life-boat drill was more hands on.
First mate Sikkema pointed to a big stack of life jackets behind us on the deck, noting that there were more than 80 jackets for the 40 that could possibly need them, so no one would have to worry about being without. The deckhands then brought a life jacket to each of us, one guy having arms long enough to carry six or seven at a time. We each put one on and fastened the straps so we would know what to do in an emergency. We looked like a colony of awkward orange penguins from who knows where.
As we were doing these drills, the tug Sirius, whose earlier arrival we had seen from the shore, was positioning itself for our departure from the dock. The boarding ramp was lifted, the huge white bumpers were hauled in, the part of the starboard railing whose place had been taken by the ramp was lowered back in, and before some of us knew it, we were under way. I first realized we were moving when I saw the land moving behind the head of someone I was speaking with.