Sunday, February 2, 2014

Some back story, and rudder hardware ver. 2.0

No photos this post.

It's looking like castings are going to be prohibitively expensive. This is good and bad news. I am going to use fittings from Ducktrap Woodworks for the upper pintle and gudgeon. The lower fittings will be fabricated from sheet bronze. Everything will interact, fit, and work the same way as described previously, and the lower fittings will pretty much look the same. They just won't be cast.

Now I'd like to cover the back story on the origin of Dark Secret's name.

Being primarily based in Gloucester, I am constantly bumping into history. It's a great city, full of (mostly) hard-working and resourceful people. One of our local heroes is Howard Blackburn. Some of you may have heard of him, but I suspect that his story is only locally well known. I'll hit the pertinent points here. All of the following comes from "Lone Voyager" by Joseph E. Garland. It's a great biography of an incredible man.

Howard Blackburn came to Gloucester from Nova Scotia. He was born in 1859 and was the fourth of eight children. He quit school at the age of ten and was "bound out" to a Mr. Reed to learn cabinet making. His desire for a life at sea led him to run away eighteen months later. He was returned to Mr. Reed's shop, only to leave again. He spent the following winter in the woods as a lumberjack with ax and saw. At twelve years old, he was doing work that most of us modern grown men would find beyond our limits. At the age of thirteen, he shipped out as a green hand on a square-rigger bound for Funchal, in the Madeiras. He landed in Gloucester in 1879, twenty years old.

I quote from Garland:" Those years had made him a man in every dimension. A monkey aloft, a bear at the end of a line, an ox at the oar, and a fox at the wheel, he had a genius for the sea that was sharpened to a keen edge by experience. This tough, handsome goliath, hard-drinking, fun-loving and handy with the girls was ready for the truest test of the sailor - bank-fishing on a Gloucester schooner." In January, 1883 he signed aboard the Gracie L. Fears for a halibut trip to Burgeo Bank."

About three days out of Liverpool, Nova Scotia, the Fears arrived on the Bank as snow was starting to fall. It was just before dawn and it was bitter cold. Six dories were lowered into calm seas and a light southeast breeze. Each dory held a crew of two and the gear required for fishing. Each crew would row some distance from the "mother" and go about the business of dory fishing. They set their gear and rowed back to the Fears for "mug-up." After a couple of hours the captain became concerned about impending weather and ordered the crews back over the side to haul their gear and get back. The southeast breeze freshened, died, and then came up as a squall from the northwest. Most of the dories had made it back but Howard and his dory mate, Tom Welch, were now to leeward of the Fears, separated by a fierce wind and blinding snow.

They pulled and pulled and pulled but could not make it back to the schooner. By nightfall the snow had stopped but the wind still howled. They could see the torch hung in the rigging of their destination, and it was just as far to windward as it was before. All through that night they alternated between riding at anchor and rowing toward safety while the waves and spray filled the dory and froze. When dawn came, the light was nowhere to be seen. Blackburn and Welch were alone, 60 miles or more south of Newfoundland.

For two days they battled the wind, the seas, and the freezing spray. During a stint of bailing the dory, Howard's mittens went over the side. When Howard noticed his fingers starting to lose sensation he wrapped them around the handle of his oars and left them there long enough to freeze into position. He removed the oars from his frozen hands and went back to bailing.

Tom Welch was having no easy go, either. At one point, when it was his turn to bail, he told Howard that he couldn't see. "What's the use, anyway?" he said. Just before dark on the second day, Howard called again to Tom that he needed help bailing the dory. There was no response.

Again, I quote Garland: " There was a lull in the heaving sea. [Howard] picked up the body, staggered aft, and dropped it in the stern. He clawed off one of Tom's mittens and tried to put it on. His hand was too swollen and distorted. The freezing spray wrapped the body in a winding sheet of ice. Its weight raised the bow and steadied the boat. It was ballast.

"For the rest of the night he bailed and pounded ice. When he could, he slumped in the bow, his claws between his legs and his face down out of the wind and spray. Suddenly a wave would flood the boat and he would drag himself back to bailing."

By dawn of the third day, the wind was down and the seas had calmed. Howard wrapped his frozen fingers around the oars and began pulling for Newfoundland. He rowed all day, his frozen hands coming apart before his eyes, Tom Welch keeping silent company in the stern.

Two more days and nights of misery brought him to safety. He had lost all of his fingers, most of both thumbs, and his feet to frostbite. After a lengthy convalescence, he returned to Gloucester which he called home for the rest of his life. After some time ashore, he went back to sea, but kept returning to Gloucester.

In 1899, he settled on the idea of sailing across the Atlantic alone. At that point, only five men in history had succeeded in that endeavor. One of those men was captain of a Gloucester fishing schooner.

I quote Garland a final time: "His name was Captain Alfred Johnson, but the world knew him as "Centennial" after the twenty-foot dory he sailed on a dare from Gloucester, MA to Liverpool England to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of American independence in 1876. It took him 66 days, and he nearly lost his life in the attempt. When he got back to Gloucester he returned to fishing like a sensible man, and to anyone who asked about the voyage thereafter he growled that he'd been a damned young fool.

"Nevertheless, it was a contagious kind of foolishness. Johnson had hardly returned from England when two young brothers from nearby Beverly, Asa and William Andrews, went down to Gloucester and bought a nineteen-foot dory which they named Nautilus and sailed to Cornwall in the summer of 1878 in 49 days.

"It took ten more years for William Andrews to make up his mind to try it alone. The man was a born promoter, though at first not much of a sailor, and he built a fourteen-footer named Dark Secret for a theatrical show in New York and got the New York World to sponsor him. Dark Secret was a leaky boat and after two months at sea he gave it up in the mid-Atlantic. He was plucked from his tub by a passing bark."

Andrews, now a Captain (though he nevere had a crew of more than one), tried again three years later (1891) in the fifteen foot Mermaid. After 61 days at sea, he was rescued 600 miles short of Portugal. In 1892, he succeeded aboard Sapolio. She was a fourteen-and-a-half-foot canvas-covered folding boat that made the trip from Atlantic City NJ to the south coast of Portugal in 84 days. It was an advertising stunt for a soap manufacturer.

The other two successful trans-Atlantic sigle-handers at the time were Rudolf Frietsch who sailed his forty-foot schooner from New York to Ireland in 1894, and the one and only Joshua Slocum who, in 1895, left Gloucester aboard Spray and headed east. His crossing was the first leg in a 38-month, 46,000 mile journey around the world alone.

Mr. Blackburn wasn't just a great sailor. He was a fixture in the community of Gloucester, a friend of the poor, and a hero to many people for many reasons. I highly recommend Mr. Garland's book.

So, in short, my Dark Secret is named after a shoddy vessel from a failed endeavor that was undertaken for petty reasons. It is my belief (one of them, anyway) that exceptional people can be inspired to do great things by seeing average people succeed at trivial things, and vice versa. Just as Howard Blackburn's passion was fed by the (eventual) success of Captain Andrews, it is this decidedly average man's hope that my eventual success will help to inspire someone great to do something truly monumental.

Keep on pulling...