Echidna Media Organization project S.N.A.L. (emo_snal) wrote,
Echidna Media Organization project S.N.A.L.
emo_snal

  • Music:

Schooner Joal / Brig Pilgrim 1945 - 2020

1945 - She was born from the ashes of war. Spreading her wings as the three masted schooner Joal to ply the icy waters of the Baltic under the Danish flag. In the mid 70s she sailed to Portugal for conversion into a replica of the two masted brig Pilgrim, famous for sailing in the 1830s to California in the book Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana. She then sailed from Portugal to Dana Point, California -- oh what a journey that must have been!



1995 - My first memory of the Pilgrim is going aboard for the overnight program as a sixth grader. I remember two things distinctly from this experience. (1) I thought we couldn't take a bathroom break while on night watch and thus nearly pissed myself -- I was clearly taking it too seriously; and (2) there's a steep stairway leading from the main hold up to deck. All stairways aboardship are called ladders, and you go down them backwards for safety. This had become muddled in my mind, so I proceeded UP the stairway backwards. For the school groups the crew are totally acting out their role and the role of the first mate is to be scary. He'd stamp around holding a harpoon like a staff and generally scare the bajeezes out of the students. The first mate, upon seeing me going up backwards excalimed in a sincere and friendly way "that's not how you do it, we can't be losing YOU of all people to some accident!" This compliment from the otherwise scary first mate became deeply lodged in my subconcious up until the present day, that I had been singled out from a young age as an exemplary sailor, who might make mistakes but nevertheless had a propitious future.

2009 - Another important memory I'd like to recount is my first time going aloft but I already recently wrote an entry about that so I'll direct you there.

2011-2012 - Pilgrim didn't get off the dock much in her old age. Once a year the volunteers would take her for a three week walkabout visiting the channel islands and then circling back to San Diego for the tallship festival there, and then returning to Dana Point; and as well during the Dana Point Tallship Festival she would go out. I went out for most of the long sailabout in 2011 and 2012. Rather unlike myself I didn't actually blog about either one, I think it was too overwhelming to turn into entries. So I don't necessarily know which of my memories are from which year.
   Kori and I finagled to be dropped off by another boat on a remote pier on the northern channel island of Santa Cruz and to be picked up by Pilgrim to join the ship one of the years. Pilgrim hove into sight and dropped anchor in the cove but apparently no one noticed us for a few hours as we sat dangling our legs off the pier. The island having, to my knowledge, no residents at all and no one else due there for an unknown amount of time, we felt marooned like pirates. Finally someone remembered us and sent a boat for us.
   The next day at a small cove on the south side of the island, a few of us decided to row the small boat ashore. Waves were breaking on the steep beach and we all got thoroughly soaked in the landing, but it was okay it was warm and sunny. There were no footprints, no trash. Just us, a rowboat, and our 1830s era mothership. Other than our modern clothing it could have been 200 years prior.
   Having come from other boats where you were expected to work-work-work it was a bit of a culture shock for me that this was literally a pleasure cruise, when we weren't busy hauling lines, people lounged about in the warm summer sun, chatted, read a book with only the flapping of the sails and splashing of the waves. The Pilgrim has fantastic netting leading out to the end of the jibboom (the pointy part on the front sticking out from the bowsprit), its meant to give one a place to stand while furling headsails or otherwise working out on the headrig, but it happens to make a perfect hammock, where several crewmembers can comfortably lounge just above the bounding dolphins and admire the spray from the bow cutting through the waves just behind them. I also greatly enjoying climbing way up to the furthest heights of the mast to admire the view from up there. Occasionally we would stop for a swim call and people would dive off into the endless blue ocean with no land in sight.

   In San Diego we would be at dock for a few days for the tallship festival. I remember on one of these occasions I walked to one of the pubs ashore with one of the staff crewmembers (there were us volunteers and then the ones who actually worked for the Ocean Institute (OI) putting on the programs), this fellow named Dane. What's funny, that I only realized just now as I was reminiscing, is my first memory about the Pilgrim, I have no mental picture of what the first mate looked like, but I've seen Dane in that role, harpoon and all. So my memory has placed Dane in the role in my sixth grade memory. So in my memory, I was at 29 going out for drinks with the very man who had been a fearsome older figure when I was 13, but we were now the same age and more-or-less peers. A surreal memory trick.
   We got drunk like sailors. I had watch at 2am. I wasn't breaking any rules, we hadn't been instructed to be sober for watch, just that we had to be on watch. Because it was tradition, and also because when you have a whole bunch of tallships all together they tend to play pranks on eachother at night. So I remember more-or-less crawling on my hands on knees up the ladder (stairs). Arriving on deck I found our helmsman there in a hammock. He had disagreed emphatically earlier with the directions that we were to stand watch, and as I drunkely pulled myslf out of the hatch he stirred and said "I'm taking all the watches, you can go below." I thanks him and withdrew, backwards, back down the ladder on my hands and knees.

   The command structure of the ship at sea was this: there was our fearless captain Skip Wehan (an amazing knowledgeable, wise, kind man who in his 70s couldn't be defeated at arm wrestling by anyone), he didn't stand a watch but came and went at all hours as captains do. There were three watch officers who were older senior folk of varying attributes. Under them were the "junior watch officers" who had all the drudgery of planning watch schedules and micromanaging the watches without the benefit of actually being in command. I had the dubious honor of being one of these in 2012.
   Leaving San Diego homeward bound in 2011, we found we didn't have any of the former watch officers. This was an unglamorous leg, just an overnight run back up the coast and a lot of crew hadn't signed up for it, choosing to make their own way home from San Diego. Around midnight, as we bagan to round the headland leaving San Diego to head north, and Skip dismissed the offwatches, we found that my watch had no leader. In my watch there was myself and this 18-19ish year-old fellow Alex Ahmann. I think maybe he was a junior watch officer and I wasn't in 2011, or maybe it was just that he had been more deeply involved in the organization. He was and is very knowledgeable about ship-stuff, but I think he literally has asbergers and it manifested itself in sometimes irresponsible behavior such as joking calling out incorrect sail commands. Anyway, Skip looked from Alex to me and back again, and asked me if I'd ever lead a watch before (yes actually on the Hawaiian Chieftain), and if I could navigate (yes I've taken the coastal and celestial navigation classes at the local community college) and finally Skip looked at me and asid "okay, you're the watch officer." Alex narrowed his eyes at me in disappointment but took it gracefully. Then Skip went below, I sent my watch to their watch positions, and there I was, standing by my helmsman on a warm summer evening, in command of the quarter deck. In command of the Pilgrim!

   We had watch 00:00 to 04L00 and then we were coming into Dana Point Harbor so my watch never got to bed that night. Another fond memory is being on the cranelines -- horizontal lines that run between the shrouds (I'm not sure I can describe them adequately. The lines these two are on here) at around 05:30-06:00 probably furling one of the staysails just after we'd come to the dock, and a bee landed on my ear while we were working. I don't know what a bee was doing out so early, but if felt like a sweet welcome.

   In 2013 I was meant to be one of the two mast-captains, in charge of directing all the crew on the foremast during sailing manouvers, but I ended up going to Turkey at the time of the sail to spend time with the Turkish merchant mariner lass I was then dating. I really kind of regret missing the sail. But speaking of the two mast-crews, in 2011 or 2012 I was on the foremast and Alex Ahmann was on the main mast and primarily at his instigation they kept trying to steal the foremast boathook during manouvers while we were busy/distracted. And we tried a little bit to get theirs in retaliation (both boat hooks are kept loosely secured against their respective masts for ease of access). It was fun but also kind of emblematic of his tendency to goof off during maneuvers. (in his defense recall he was just a teenager at the time)

   In 2014 I went on the yearly sail just after coming back from Guinea, where the ebola epidemic was in full swing. I had been sick, gotten better, but during the first few days of the sail I was rapidly getting sick again. We sailed north up the coast past Los Angeles and Point Magu and put into Ventura's "Channel Islands Harbor" to pick up some more crew before heading out to the islands. Among the people to come aboard was this OI bigwig named Howard with a walrus mustache.
   That night just as I was comnig below after having been doing some work along, I ran into Captain Skip.
   "Hey. How ya feeling" he asked in a friendly manner. We were bathed in the surreal red below-decks night-time lighting.
   "Oh, I'm alright" I said smiling. I felt like shit. I wasn't trying to mislead him, just didn't want to worry him about my health. I'd power through.
   "Well... there's some concern ... about ebola." he said apologetically. He didn't try to pass the buck or blame anyone else but I knew immediately it was Howard's doing. Later several people reported hearing Howard talking about it, it's a small boat after all. The bottom line was I had leave the ship immediately. And that, I suppose, is my last real Pilgrim memory, getting booted off for ebola.

   There never was another of the yearly sails. Alex Ahmann eventually rose up to the position of bosun in charge of the ship's maintenance. But for lack of support the volunteer maintenance crew eventually ceased meeting.

   At midnight on the night of March 28/29th someone did a standard check that everytihng was alright with the ship, she wasn't taking on water, the pump which now had to be constantly running against a slow leak was running, and everything was in order. Sometimes after 4am reportedly she suddenly began sinking until she came to rest on the bottom, listing heavily to starboard.
   She was soon declared to be damaged beyond any hope of repair. Three days later the crew was fired.

   I know the OI has been strapped for cash and especially now, in this year, in these times, and now without a ship for the crew to work on, they need to make tough financial decisions, but I can't help but think all of this could have been done without fostering the bitterness and alienation of the many dedicated volunteers who were only too happy to volunteer their time and yet were still ultimately made to feel unappreciated by an organization that treated their most iconic asset like a red-headed-stepchild.

   75 years was a remarkable run, and I'm sure she's made countless priceless memories during her long life for hundreds of crewmembers, to say nothing of the estimated 400,000 sixth graders to have crossed her decks.

   Normally, hundreds of us whose lives were touched by the Pilgrim would come out to pay our respects as she lays there mortally wounded, but of course, the yellow plague flag flies over the entire land, and instead she dies alone, picked over only by cold hearted salvage crews, just doing their job, dissassembling this wreckage.

Tags: brig pilgrim, sailing
Subscribe

Posts from This Journal “brig pilgrim” Tag

  • Sinking of the Pilgrim

    March 30th - 3,983 active cases in Australia, 279 new last 24 hours. As I woke up at 06:30 this morning, still pitch black outside, I reached…

  • Prepare to Tack

    The captain's on the quarterdeck, a squinting at the sails. Capt "Skip" Wehan is in his 70s, his hair is still a faded blonde, and to this day only…

  • Back to the Pilgrim

    Hello the Pilgrim " Oh look, it's the redcoats!" says Russel. I look down, and some 80 feet below us, on the shore, there sure enough are three…

  • Post a new comment

    Error

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.
  • 12 comments

Posts from This Journal “brig pilgrim” Tag

  • Sinking of the Pilgrim

    March 30th - 3,983 active cases in Australia, 279 new last 24 hours. As I woke up at 06:30 this morning, still pitch black outside, I reached…

  • Prepare to Tack

    The captain's on the quarterdeck, a squinting at the sails. Capt "Skip" Wehan is in his 70s, his hair is still a faded blonde, and to this day only…

  • Back to the Pilgrim

    Hello the Pilgrim " Oh look, it's the redcoats!" says Russel. I look down, and some 80 feet below us, on the shore, there sure enough are three…