Happy Birthday Moby Dick

Essex

It was on this day in the year 1820 that the Whaling Ship out of Nantucket called The Essex was rammed by an enormous Sperm Whale.

What followed was a dreadful tale of survivors adrift on the Pacific Ocean in small open boats.  Dehydration, starvation, cannibalism and survival.

Two of the crew wrote accounts of the ordeal and it was from these that Herman Melville fashioned his novel, Moby Dick.

And now a small quiz………how many Whales appear in the Bible?

 

 

Answer

None.  P.S.  Jonah was swallowed by a “Great Fish”.

And “Leviathan” could be any Sea Monster.

 

 

Ship of Death

Schooner

Here is a verse composed by Henry Van Dyke Jr “For Katrina’s Sundial”

Time is
Too slow for those who Wait,
Too swift for those who Fear,
Too long for those who Grieve,
Too short for those who Rejoice,
But for those who Love,
Time is not

There is a huge bank of sundial poetry and mottoes.  Many of the epigrams are in latin.  Most are about time, how we use it, how short it is, how our lives are fleeting things.  I also like this poem from Van Dyke where he uses the ship as a metaphor for the life of a person.   Ships as symbols for death are not uncommon.  Perhaps the clearest examples we have are from Pharaonic and Viking burials.  I attach a couple of good examples at the bottom.

Van Dyke was born on November 10th, so I am belatedly wishing him a happy birthday.

 

 

Gone from my sight: by Henry Van Dyke

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side,
spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts
for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck
of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

Then, someone at my side says, ‘There, she is gone’

Gone where?

Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast,
hull and spar as she was when she left my side.
And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.

Her diminished size is in me – not in her.
And, just at the moment when someone says, ‘There, she is gone,’
there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices
ready to take up the glad shout, ‘Here she comes!’

And that is dying…

Death comes in its own time, in its own way.
Death is as unique as the individual experiencing it.

 

Khufu

Model of the Khufu Solar Barge found in his tomb.

 

Viking ship, Oseberg, a 9th century burial ship, Vikingskiphuset (Viking Ship Museum), Bygdoy peninsula, Oslo, Norway, Scandinavia, Europe

The Oseberg Burial Longboat

Final Journey

viking_funeral

When your time comes what will be done with your remains?
Do you want to be buried or burned?  Perhaps a native American Indian sky burial?  A last trip down the Ganges?  Opt for the Tibetan solution of being fed to vultures?
Dissolved in acid perhaps?  Cryogenically frozen?  Mummified?
Preserved in a glass case like Snow White and lots of Catholic saints?

And then what?  Do you expect a memorial?
Perhaps a huge mausoleum like a Bronze Age Monarch or a Mexican Drug Lord.
Would you prefer your molecules to return to earth with minimal fuss and no lasting impact on the landscape?  A biodegradable eco-coffin, or ashes scattered on the fields.
When the flesh has fallen from your bones would you like to rest in an ossuary?
Do you have a family grave or crypt?  Will the current residents let you in?
Who holds the grave papers?

Will your wishes be honoured by your executors?  Will you know if they are?  Will you care?  Will they?

Just let me go on record now.  I expect the full Viking funeral.  Longboat filled with my possessions.  Battle axe in my right hand, shield in my left.  Helmet – no horns (Authenticity please).  Dog (dead) at my feet.  Point me to the west and set the vessel on fire.
If funds are a problem maybe cremate me and put my ashes into a very small Viking ship.  Don’t kill the dog.  Keep my possessions.  But I want to sail into the west.

-o0o-

Ashes: by Paula Meehan

The tide comes in; the tide goes out again
washing the beach clear of what the storm
dumped. Where there were rocks, today there is sand;
where sand yesterday, now uncovered rocks.

So I think on where her mortal remains
might reach landfall in their transmuted forms,
a year now since I cast them from my hand
—wanting to stop the inexorable clock.

She who died by her own hand cannot know
the simple love I have for what she left
behind. I could not save her. I could not
even try. I watch the way the wind blows
life into slack sail: the stress of warp against weft
lifts the stalling craft, pushes it on out.

 

 

Sunken Treasure

Shipwreck

Back in 1641 at a time when the English and the Spanish were getting along well a pair of English ships spent three years trading in the Caribbean.  The Galleons, Dover Merchant and Royal Merchant sailed back to Cadiz on their way home.  In the port of Cadiz there was a fire which damaged a Spanish vessel that was due to carry the payroll to the army in Flanders.  The English captain stepped in and offered to transport the gold and silver.

The two English ships were the worse for wear after a season at sea in the tropics.  There is no doubt that they were heavy with weed, and had bulging seams and rotten caulking.  Three years in the West Indies, under a punishing sun, can wreak havoc with planking and decking above the waterline.  They may also have been infested with ship-worm.  These days with modern steel ships, fibreglass and epoxy yachts we expect boats to be dry.  Leaks are something that must be fixed.  Traditional boat owners have a better sense of the realities of 17th century sailing.  Wooden boats must be filled with water on the inside if they are wintered on the dockside.  The timbers and caulking must be kept moist to prevent drying, which opens gaps in the seams.  I have sailed in a Galway hooker for the first outing of a season, to see cataracts of water cascade through the seams above the waterline as we heeled over in the wind.  Bailing and pumping out are part of the daily grind on a wooden ship.

Royal Merchant was leaking badly as they sailed through Biscay, being pumped out all the way.  Off Lands End the weather took a turn for the worse.  If your decks are leaking then rain and waves breaking on the deck add to your flooding woes.  The overworked pumps broke down and the leaking ship began to sink.  She went down off the Isles of Scilly, with the loss of 18 men.  The other 40 men managed to board the ships boats and were rescued by the Dover Merchant.

Royal Merchant was the most valuable ship ever to sink.  The salvage company that finds her stand to share in the region of one billion US dollars, once the legal teams figure out who owns the wreck.

Here is a poem about a sinking ship by Dora Sigerson Shorter.  Dora was one of the leading lights of the Irish literary revival and the explosion of Celtic Culture and 19th Century mysticism.  Given the context I think a closer reading may yield clues that it is not a Ship that is sinking, but something else.  But what?  Is this a poem in the vein of Yeats “September 1913” criticizing the bourgeoisie and the loss of direction in the struggle for Irish freedom?  Is it a paean for the stagnation of the art movement?  What is “the struggle” and who are “they” that shun it?  I would welcome your thoughts in the comments section.

The Sinking Ship; by Dora Sigerson Shorter

The ship is sinking, come ye one and all.
Stand fast and so this weakness overhaul,
Come ye strong hands and cheery voices call,
“Stand by!”

The ship is sinking in a summer sea,
Bless her but once for all she used to be,
Who rode the billows once so proud and free,
If you but loved a little, with a sigh,
“Stand by!”

Gone, all are gone, they neither hear or care,
The sun shines on and life is ever fair.
They shun the struggle, laughter lurks elsewhere.
The ship is sinking, passing echoes cry,
“Stand by!”

The little ships that pass her in the night,
Speed from the darkness in their eager fright.
From troubled dreams they take refuge in flight.
Why should they then, who know they too must die,
“Stand by”?

Then get you gone, desert the sinking ship,
O faithless friends, who on her pleasure-trip
Clung close with gentle words and smiling lip,
And still as ever on your own joys cry,
“Stand by!”

The ship is sinking, parting in a smile,
The sunset waters mark the last sad mile
In dimpling play and in a little while
The waters close, Death and his angels cry,
“Stand by!”

Slooterdijck

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Aemilia (1631) Galleon of Dutch East India Company

This rude looking word is the name of a Dutch town.  It gets its name from a dike (dijck) built on the river Sloter or Slooter, to prevent flooding from the Zuider Zee.

In the 17th Century the name was adopted for one of the 9 Dutch Galleons which fought the Ming navy for control of the Taiwan strait back in 1633.  The Dutch lost.  Three galleons were sunk and Slooterdijck was boarded and captured by the Chinese.

Slooterdijck was notable because she was a “Kit Ship”, essentially a Flat Pack vessel that was shipped out from Holland and assembled in the Indies.

The Galleon was a development from two earlier ships of exploration.  The Caravel was a small, lateen rigged, shallow draught ship (think of the Niña & Pinta of Columbus).  The Carrack or Nao (Santa Maria for instance) was a larger, square sailed, less stable and unwieldy ship more suited for cargo.  The Galleon combined the best of both.  By lengthening the keel and lowering the forecastle the Portuguese developed a faster and more stable ocean going ship.  Smaller and more maneuverable than the Carrack, the Galleon rapidly developed a reputation as an effective all-rounder for exploration, trade and battle.  Big enough to carry significant armament and stable enough to fight, it became the battleship of its day.

From the mid 16th century Galleons were adopted by Portuguese, Spanish, French, Dutch and English fleets.  They remained in service until they were replaced by more specialised vessels in the 18th Century. Hence, the Galleon ruled the waves for 150 years more or less.  Though the early voyages of discovery were made in Naos or Carracks the great sea empires were built by the Galleon.

As time went by galleons developed for more specialised roles.  Some became larger and more suited to cargo carrying, and evolved into the East Indiamen.  Others were strengthened and became specialised military ships of the line.  Razed galleons were cut lower and lower to the waterline for increased speed and stability and evolved into frigates.

The reasons for these evolutions have more to do with the guns than with the Galleons themselves.  The primary ship to ship battle tactic of the Galleon was boarding.  The guns on board were slow to load and fire.  During the battles of the Spanish Armada it is calculated that each Spanish Gun fired on average only once per day.  By contrast the smaller English ships and their lighter guns could fire once per hour.

As gun technology advanced the gunners designed specialised trucks to carry shipboard guns, which the gun team could haul inboard for reloading, and push outboard for firing.  As the rate of fire increased ship to ship actions developed more into shooting matches than boarding actions.  This culminated in the invention of the broadside, firing of all guns simultaneously to disable an enemy both physically and mentally.

By the Napoleonic wars the Royal Navy had given up on the idea of firing accuracy in favour of reloading speed.  While the French and Spanish ships wasted their effort targeting the masts of British ships to disable them for capture, the British concentrated on closing up to bring the full impact of the broadside to bear.  Once beside their foe the British ship had the advantage of a higher rate of fire.  Even with smaller guns that was often enough to carry the day.

In a gun to gun action the high fore and stern castles of the Galleons, so useful for boarding,  became a liability.  They presented larger targets and made the ship more susceptible to cross winds than a lower vessel.

The only surviving original galleon is the Vasa in Stockholm which sank in 1628 all of 1,400 yards into her maiden voyage, in full view of her audience.  In an incident similar to the sinking of that other famous preserved wreck, the Carrack Mary Rose, it seems she had her lower gun ports open to fire a salute.  A gust of wind caught her by surprise and the gun-ports dipped below the waterline, flooding the ship.

If you have read this far, well done you salty old sea dog.  You are clearly a lover of all things nautical.  So here is another treat for you.

Psalm 107:23 (KJ V)

 They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters;

 These see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep.

For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof.

They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble.

 They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wit’s end.

Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses.

He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still.

Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven.

First Principles

Image

I came across the Margaret Atwood poem below, a really powerful piece of work, which talks of first principles.  This blog, this Mindship is a ship of the mind, but I seem to have strayed a little from the sea.  So today is about ships.

A ship can be many things.  A vessel such as a longship, a warship, lightship or a flagship.  It can be airborne if an airship, or off planet if it is a starship or a spaceship.

When you are in a ship it could be a position, such as midship, or a physical place such as a township, and even the ship of state.

It could be a position, a station in life, or a job, as with a midshipman, a deanship, lordship, ladyship, kingship, even Godship, which would be a lot better than hardship.

 It can be a relationship, a kinship, a wardship, twinship, ownership.

A ship can be a movement when you tranship.  And a different type of movement when you worship. Worship of another might be a courtship.

So all in all a ship is a useful thing to have.  So versatile.

Spelling:

My daughter plays on the floor
with plastic letters,
red, blue & hard yellow,
learning how to spell,
spelling,
how to make spells.

I wonder how many women
denied themselves daughters,
closed themselves in rooms,
drew the curtains
so they could mainline words.

A child is not a poem,
a poem is not a child.
there is no either/or.
However.

I return to the story
of the woman caught in the war
& in labour, her thighs tied
together by the enemy
so she could not give birth.

Ancestress: the burning witch,
her mouth covered by leather
to strangle words.

A word after a word
after a word is power.

At the point where language falls away
from the hot bones, at the point
where the rock breaks open and darkness
flows out of it like blood, at
the melting point of granite
when the bones know
they are hollow & the word
splits & doubles & speaks
the truth & the body
itself becomes a mouth.

This is a metaphor.

How do you learn to spell?
Blood, sky & the sun,
your own name first,
your first naming, your first name,
your first word.

Margaret Atwood

Ship of Fools

Jheronimus_Bosch_011

Ship of Fools by Hieronymus Bosch (1490-1500)

The allegorical concept of the ship of fools served in the middle ages as a counterpoint to the “Ark of Salvation” represented by the Catholic Church. The authorities in Rome used it as a teaching tool to expose the “folly” of independent thinking and the rise of Protestantism. In simple terms, the Catholic Church, with the Pope at the helm, was bound for the hereafter, and the Protestant churches were rudderless, leaderless, adrift and bound for who knows where?

In practical terms there were actual “ships of fools”. They were the renaissance version of the freak show. Communities could divest themselves of lunatics by handing them over to the ship of fools. When the ship docked you paid an entry fee to see the antics of the fools aboard.

The concept of the State as a ship is far older, going back to ancient Greece. Plato immortalised it in “The Republic” when he likened the good management of the state to the good captaincy of a ship. A well run state should be captained by a philosopher king, ideally one trained in the Platonic school.

It is very easy to string together the concepts of Ship of State and Ship of Fools to come up with the State of Fools that is the Irish Government. Recent revelations show how the Irish Government was played for a fool by the executives in Anglo Irish Bank. The tapes expose the bankers themselves to ridicule. They come across as little more than a clique of silly schoolboys playing games with a lot of money. Their behaviour would be puerile in a football locker room, it has no place in a national bank.

What is really sad is how the regulators and the government were asleep at the wheel. When they were called on deck to save the ship they didn’t know their location or their direction and were sailing without compass, sextant or chart. As long as the bankers were playing with bank money they exposed nobody but those foolish enough to trust them. When the Irish Government agreed to support the banks, they made the people of Ireland responsible for the bad behaviour of the bankers. Not just bad, but downright fraudulent behaviour.

If you asked me ten years ago for my opinion of those running our banks, our banking system and the government I would probably have believed them to be knowledgeable and capable. I would have thought that they held the best interests of the state at heart. I would have felt that they held their very well-paid positions through merit and deserved the money they earned.

Now I believe that the managers of our banks and our elected politicians are deeply flawed characters. They hold their own interests ahead of those of the state. They are not well qualified for what they do. They plan only in the very short term. They are grossly overpaid. They are a very, very expensive bunch of fools.

The Ship of State: by Quintus Horatius Flaccus (Horace)

O ship the fresh tide carries back to sea again.
Where are you going! Quickly, run for harbour.
Can’t you see how your sides
have been stripped bare of oars,

how your shattered masts and yards are groaning loudly
in the swift south-westerly, and bare of rigging,
your hull can scarce tolerate
the overpowering waters?

You haven’t a single sail that’s still intact now,
no gods, that people call to when they’re in trouble.
Though you’re built of Pontic pine,
a child of those famous forests,

though you can boast of your race, and an idle name:
the fearful sailor puts no faith in gaudy keels.
You must beware of being
merely a plaything of the winds.

You, who not long ago were troubling weariness
to me, and now are my passion and anxious care,
avoid the glistening seas
between the shining Cyclades.