Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Tacking ship

(by Heather Hernandez, Technical Services Librarian)

This week we're offering a longer rhyme, "Tacking Ship" (also known as, "Tacking Ship Off Shore") by Walter Mitchell, included in Nautical Nursery Rhymes by Billy Ringbolt, which resides in the Peterson, Peter H. (Capt.) Papers, (SAFR 18665, HDC 571).  With this poem, the verses in the book become  more narrative.

Tacking Ship

The weather leech of the topsail shivers,
The bowlines strain, and the lee shrouds slacken,
The braces are taut, and the little boom quivers,
And the waves with the coming squall-cloud blacken.

Open one point on the weather bow
Is the lighthouse tall on Bonita Head,
There's a shade of doubt on the Captain's brow,
And the pilot watches the heaving lead.

I stand at the wheel and with eager eye 
To sea and to sky and to shore I gaze,
'Till the muttered order of "Full and by!"
Is suddenly changed to "Full for stays!"

The ship bends lower before the breeze,
As her broadside to the blast she lays,
And she swifter springs to the rising sea,
As the pilot calls "Stand by for stays!"

It is silence all as each in his place,
With the gathered coil in his hardened hands,
By tack and bowline, by sheet and brace,
Waiting the watchword impatient stands.

And the light on Bonita Head draws near,
As, trumpet winged the pilot's shout
From his post on the forecastle head I hear,
With the welcome call of "Ready! About!"

No time to spare!  It is touch and go;
And the Captain growls, "Down helm, hard down!"
As my weight on the whirling spokes I throw,
While the heavens grow black with the storm cloud's frown.

High over the knight heads flies the spray
As we meet the shock of the plunging sea,
And my shoulder stiff to the wheel I lay
As I answer, "Ay, ay, sir!  Hard alee!"

With the swerving leap of a startled steed,
The ship flies fast in the eye of the wind.
The dangerous shoals on the lee recede
And the headland white we have left behind.

The topsails flutter, the jibs collapse,
And belly and tug at the groaning cleats;
And spanker slats, and mainsail flaps;
And thunders the order, "Tacks and sheets!"

'Mid the rattle of blocks and the tramp of the crew,
Hisses the rain of the rushing squall;
The sails are aback from clew to clew,
And now is the moment for "Mainsail haul!"

And the heavy yards, like a baby's toy,
By fifty strong arms are swiftly swing;
She holds her sway and I look with joy
For the first white spray over the bulwarks flung.

"Let go, and haul!"  'Tis the last command,
And the head sails fill to the blast once more.
Astern and to leeward lies the land,
With its breakers white on the shingly shore.

What matters the reef, or the rain, or the squall?
I steady the helm for the open sea;
The first mate clamors, "Belay, there all!"
And the Captain's breath once more comes free.

And so off shore let the good ship fly,
Little care I how the gusts may blow,
In my fo'castle bunk in a jacket dry,
Eight bells have struck, and my watch is below.

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