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By The Sea

( Originally Published 1912 )



NEITHER forest nor stream, neither mountain nor lake, can satisfy the lover of the sea. If the sough of the breeze through wind-swept woods is sweet to him, it is because he hears in it the murmur of the ocean. Rivers, woods, and hills are for others. Give him the briny air blowing in from kelp-laden ledges; the rollers breaking in a white crescent on the sand; the wet spray dashed from the bow of his boat; the wide spread of blue water stretching far to the horizon, where coasters silently pass and repass and where ocean and sky blend together.

"What heed I of the dusty land and noisy town ?
I see the mighty deep expand
From its white line of glimmering sand
To where the blue of heaven on bluer waves shuts down."

"Love the sea?" says Douglas Jerrold. "I dote upon it . . . from the beach." When fog settles down and lies thick over land and sea, we are certainly better off on the beach. No inventions have conquered fog, and the fisherman on the Banks, the deep-sea sailor on the ocean, and the yachtsman along our shores must alike hold it in dread. But almost any weather that is not foggy lures many a man from the beach and gives him his best holidays. In the break of day our boat glides silently from the sleeping harbor. We pass the green ramparts of the fort, and the sentinel pacing his lonely round is darkly outlined on the morning sky. The sea is rosy with the early sunlight, but here and there the rising breeze breaks it into ripples and these grow and broaden and join until the whole sparkles. The ocean swell meets us as we haul to for a basket of bait at the herring traps by the outer ledges. In the wake of these rocks, that are at once the defense and the danger of our harbor, there is smooth green water flecked with foam. Outside, where the surges break, are advancing rollers and ebbing torrents, a roar of waters and the scream of circling gulls. Sailing far beyond all this, we get due bearings on the distant shores; then down come our sails and we are at anchor.

Certainly nowhere is nature so large, so direct, so unconfused as on the sea. The ocean and the sky are each full of change, but the story they tell is as simple as it is grand. For ages the dry land has been combed and furrowed and planted and sheared; but man has been as powerless to change the surface of the sea as of the heaven that arches over it.

"Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain, Man marks the earth with ruin, — his control Stops with the shore."

The waves sing the same song that they did when the boundless deep was gathered into one place and God saw that it was good. The sea remains as majestic as when the Spirit of God first moved upon the face of the waters.

Away in the distance the world we have left behind has faded into a mystery of haze. Wide heaven is above us and a clear horizon bounds the waves that encircle us. The golden path-way to the sun starts from our feet. What might be an over-powering loneliness is lightly but constantly broken. Now a school of porpoises rises near us and the surface of the sea is broken by their gleaming bodies. Then with snorts and puffs they vanish in the deep. A fishing schooner cruises down upon us and the lookout in her cross-trees sights menhaden. In a trice her two boats are dropping their nets in a circle around the frightened fish. We watch the hauling of the fatal purse and see the shower of silver fall glancing into the boats. The whole picture rises and falls with the deep-sea roll. The waiting schooner, the seine boats with their groups of working-men, the long sweep of the net buoys all swing into one graceful group, and the next moment they drop behind a great roller, and of this scene of bustle and activity nothing is visible but the schooner's sails.

Our Palinurus is what they call a lucky fisherman. This means that he spends the afternoon before a fishing-trip wading over the mud flats and digging up "sweetmeats" for bait. Then, unless detained by less ardent companions, at three in the morning he can be found rowing a heavy dory five or six miles out to sea, and just as the sun rises and as the tide begins to flood he dangles a tempting breakfast before the largest cod on the coast. After all, is it not to such people in other walks of life that luck comes?

But energy and laziness are strangely mingled in the dwellers on our coasts. Palinurus himself will make these trips without compass or biscuit or water bottle, and when confronted by sudden gales returns in a condition of exhaustion wholly due to his own imprudence. The people of our seashore towns in general have but modest means, and yet scarcely a man or woman can be found for an odd job. Every one is independent to a fault, but when their interest is aroused men nowhere are more ready to go aloft or man a lifeboat or follow the flag by land or sea.

Read the inscriptions above the graves on our rocky hillside. There you see how the men of the town have met death in ship-wreck and battle, amid adventure and danger, doing men's work. Indeed, here is told on one memorial stone how sixty-five of them went down in one terrible gale on the Grand Banks. As far back as in the days of the Revolution it was to the regiment recruited in our town that Washington turned for help in his retreat from Long Island. The same amphibious body rowed him and his men across the icy Delaware at Trenton. This little town of Marblehead alone sent a thousand men to the War of 181e, of whom over seven hundred were on privateers. The town annals are full of the stories of the courage and daring of the men who manned these ships and of the sufferings of the several hundred who were held as prisoners in Halifax and Chatham and Plymouth.

The local heroes are not the wise or the learned or the good, but men of action; Captain Mugford, who with his boat crews captured an English war vessel; General Glover, who led the Marblehead regiment in the Revolution ; or Captain Knott Martin, the butcher, who, when the call came in 1861, left his newly killed hog half-dressed that he might notify his men promptly, and then reported with his company at the State House before any other country troops reached Boston. Of such stuff are these men made. Soft sea mists and life beside the ocean render them sleepy until an emergency arrives, and then the pure blood of Old and New England tells.

While Marblehead was sending out fishermen and privateers, the ships of our richer neighbor, Salem, were doing still larger work. They were to be found rounding the Cape of Good Hope, pushing onward for the trade of the Red Sea, and bringing their cargoes from Madras, Calcutta, and Bombay, from Ceylon and Sumatra. Later, Salem vied with our own town in sending out privateers, and the waters where we are now fishing were the rendezvous of all these armed ships. During the Revolution Salem equipped at least one hundred and fifty-eight vessels. They brought in four hundred and forty-five prizes, and during the War of 1812 forty privateers sailed from that now sleepy port. The ships commanded by one captain alone captured more than a thousand guns from the enemy. As prize after prize was sent in by him and his fellow fighters, our quiet waters must have been the scene of much activity and excitement. When these venturesome sailors vanished from the sea the seafaring spirit to a great degree departed with them. There were perhaps but two or three men from our town in the Navy during the Spanish War, although she sent a full company into the Army. There is no commerce to speak of at our own wharves. The great range of warehouses that line the long piers at Salem, once filled with silks and teas and nankeens, now moulder empty by the deserted harbor. Have these old communities, like so many others through the country, irrevocably succumbed to modern life? Are the energy and brains that once found employment at home now absorbed by the great cities? Has manufacturing, which came in with the great Embargo, definitely supplanted the seafaring life of New England? Let us hope that the old spirit is but dormant, and that new circumstances may bring to these shores marine industries for which nature has fitted them, shipbuilding, shipping, and fishing, — as well as the pleasure yachting that now absorbs its harbor life. Even here where we are fishing the world's business is in sight. Stone sloops with decks awash, bankers with nests of dories, seiners with seine boats in tow, puffing tugs and ocean liners and three-masted coasters, they all go by us, way off, hull down on the dim horizon. Today, at any rate, all the coasting cargoes but coal go to other ports, and the American shipping which sailed to foreign ports, giving us so much glory and gain, is, because of the indifference of Congress, a thing of the past not only here but all along our shores.

Our lawmakers do indeed seem hopelessly hostile to things marine. With a little help from them, for instance, we might as we now talk be catching more codfish. What we want here are laws of repression that will restrict the fisherman to the use of hand lines. Failing these, our waters are swept clear by trawls and seines and traps, so that the fish and lobsters whose nurseries are among our rocky headlands have no chance to multiply.

When November comes and the great codfish come in from outside to spawn on the rocky ledges, they are met by trawls, four to a boat, with five hundred hooks to each trawl, or by ranks of cod seines floated near the bottom by glass floats, tended by dories that carry naptha engines. When the fishermen underrun these murderous outfits, they bring up all that swims. No wonder that where once hand-line fishing was a good occupation, there now are but poor and ever lessening fares for the shore fisherman. An absolutely close season for lobsters would also be effective, but the present laws only limit the length of those that may be taken. The fisherman is expected to throw back the small lobsters found in the trap. But as these meet a ready purchaser and can be used for bait, is not this asking too much of him? If he fails to throw them back there will soon be no lobsters on our coast.

Such subjects occupy us in the intervals of fishing, and, as we while away the time with talk, the ever varying hours pass, and gradually we find the sea changing in color to a deep indigo. The scudding vessels show hard and dark against the horizon. In the west the clouds pile up leaden and brown in ponderous masses. Slowly the threatening curtain moves towards us, the edge of the storm cloud showing ragged and frayed against the dead white sky. Then with thunder growls and lightning flash and furious wind and drenching rain, the line of shower, clean-cut on the water, comes driving white towards us. The gusts strike us, and while the windows of heaven are open the world is for a space blotted out from view by the falling torrents. Clad in "oilies" and tarpaulins, with everything snugly stowed, we wait patiently until the tempest passes down the coast and long slanting gleams of sunshine break through the scattering clouds, and thus gradually the heavens clear and smile again.

There are days when the sea is leaden and oily, when the air is laden with the smell of fish and the distant shores look near and hard; but even then it needs but a fresh wind from the north-west to change all this, and in their turn come clear air and sparkling waters and a bright gladness everywhere. Then down the opposite shore sails the great white-winged procession of coasters that have sought a lee during the bad weather. There they go, fifty sail of them, in long single file laden with lumber and laths and coal and lime and bound across the bay.

"Behold the threaden sails,
Borne with the invisible and creeping wind,
Draw the huge bottoms through the furrowed sea,
Breasting the lofty surge."

With another morning the scene again changes. The dawn comes calm and windless and a summer haze sends the other shore into remoteness. Nature dreams, and over the watery mirror come in broad patches the reflections of idle sails and of

"Ships softly sinking in the sleepy sea."

Can it be that these changes go on every day; that daily this endless succession of cloud and storm and sunshine continue and the vast circle of ocean smiles or frowns or laughs in the sunshine, veils itself in impenetrable fogs, or lashes itself with the gale? Why are we, cooped up in dull offices, shut off from these great wonders? Perhaps we should find hard the lot of the lobsterman who hauls his pots off the brown rocks of our shores, or of the fisherman who sets his seines on the broad sea, but they have their compensations, for "These men see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep."

Sailing about our harbor is never tiresome. It is the most picturesque one on our coast. The town is old and the houses rise above the wharves in straggling masses. But the harbor's unique beauty is mainly due to the red-towered building that tops the closely built town. Though a simple structure, it is so well placed that it commands and dominates the hill and dignifies every view. This tower-crowned hill forms a pleasing background to the varied shipping as we thread our devious way among yachts and coasters and fishermen. Doubtless the painter wishes that the foreground of this picture offered some of the picturesque models that the ports of the Old World offer. There are no long-winged lateen rigs; nothing like the great Thames barges with their brightly varnished spars and great expanse of brown sail; there are no such brilliant winged boats as one sees on the Adriatic, nor round-bodied, full-breasted fishing-boats such as France and Holland and England send to the North Sea and the Channel, flat-bottomed and tough, fitted to thump on unprotected ocean beaches and start forth again on the returning tide. We have not even the square-rigged brigantines that monopolize the coasting trade around the British Isles. It is true that a few old pinkie sterns on the Maine coast recall by their high poops the castles of mediæval vessels and can claim close descent from the Mayflower and the Arbella. But, except for these, the boats in which Irish and Portuguese fishermen cruise about Massachusetts Bay, and the Johnny wood boats from Nova Scotia are about all that we can show of the ancient fashions. The ancient and the picturesque have vanished before the desire to carry great cargoes rapidly or to ride out the gales on the Banks and bring fish speedily to port. The American vessel now embodies the hope of the future rather than respect for the past. Hence are left to us of sailing-vessels only the three- and four-masted schooners and the Gloucester fisherman and the yacht. These models are less pictorial than those that Vander Velde had before him when painting those pictures of Dutch men-of-war in harbor and in battle that we see at Antwerp and The Hague. But for all that, one may well envy the occupations of painters like De Haas and Norton and Quartley and Winslow Homer, who have pictured sea life and who daily drew the beauties of sea and sky on our coasts.

What a short history has been that of the evolution of the modern ship ! In the days when Columbus " sailed the ocean blue," oars were relied on for propulsion quite as much as sails. At the Ducal Palace in. Venice we see on the walls a painting of the Battle of Lepanto. It is a confused mass of charging galleys propelled by serried banks of oars. These terrible oars were often sixty feet long and manned by four or five men. We wonder how these vessels were controlled and what happened when a miser-able oarsman missed his short, jerky stroke or fell at his labor. But our curiosity is greater still about the feats of those early sailors who depended on wind alone. When storm and stress overtook the ships of Philip's Armada, it seems but natural that their high castles fore and aft, their bellying sails and flaunting banners and their more or less open hulls should have made them an easy prey to the hungry rocks and the tempests of the North Sea. But how did Sir Francis Drake bring home safe his almost equally clumsy ships, and how did Cabot and Columbus and Magellan cross the wide oceans on their unwieldy craft? Doubtless they drifted on merrily enough with favoring winds, but, when the gale came out ahead, why did they not lose all they had gained and more? If they once did strike a trade wind that wafted them across, how did they know where to seek an equally fair wind to bring them back over strange waters? Yet Columbus and Magellan did somehow knock off as many miles of progress a day as many vessels still in service on the Down East coast can do today. We must admit that they were wonders! Possibly the curious drawing of many artists in those old days made the ships appear more clumsy than they really were. But even if this is so the enormous poops and forecastles were so long perpetuated in Dutch carracks, in Spanish galleons, in British East-Indiamen, and even in British men-of-war up to the days of our Revolution, that we may feel sure that the ships of the early navigators were in form as clumsy as and perhaps not unlike Chinese junks. Nelson fought with ships of boxlike hulls, that had heavy quarters and overhanging galleries, though they were well rigged and well handled ; but on some of the American frigates clumsiness of the hull above water changed to sharp entrances and graceful, easy runs beneath the water. The hulls of the American clipper packets and Baltimore slavers assumed the finer lines that give fleetness. The introduction of steel rigging and masts and hulls, and, more than all, of steam, completed the revolution, until between a modern battleship and Nelson's Victory there is but a shadowy resemblance.

Curiously enough, all this has happened at the hands of seamen, who of all people are the most conservative and who hold fast to speech and ways and facts wrung from the bitter experiences of generations of sailors. The shipwright has the best of trades. He uses head as well as hands, but whether he be laying down patterns, or framing and planking his hull, or doing joiner work, or painting and rigging his craft, he is bound on every hand by marine conventions and customs. It is strange that, guided by such men, the evolution of the modern ship has been so rapid an achievement, for certainly no modern structure has changed more from its early prototype than has the modern ship from that of the days of Columbus. Jack Tar through all the changes keeps much the same. His world is still all his own and in it the landsman is indeed a stranger. But his methods, his peculiar language, and his prejudices persist because they are founded on experience and common sense. Through every chance and change his know-ledge, though applied to new and varying problems and to the rapid changes in shipbuilding, never lets go of the methods and ways that have been proved fit by centuries of fighting with wind and wave and tide and calm. Indeed, because the vessel that thus comes from his hands has lines in sympathy with the elements that surround her, whether yacht or merchantman or fisherman or fighter, she is a thing of beauty.

A holiday on the sea gives respite from the thoughts that occupy other days. Still no architect can fail to notice that the steps taken by the art of shipbuilding are very like those by which the art of architecture progresses. The conventions by which both express themselves are founded on necessity and experience. These conventions are bent and adapted to special needs. When the adaptation is perfect the result is beauty.

With these thoughts before us let us paddle ashore past the white hull and tall, shining masts of the crack yacht, and by the plutocrat's ocean steamer populous with white-shirted jackies. The quivering reflections of the vessels brighten the surface of the water. Over by the fort an anchor chain runs out with a rattle as the fishing schooner ends her day's work. The click of the lobstermen's oars sounds across the harbor. From the fields comes the scent of bay and fern and rose, freshened by the recent rain. Bugles sound from the fort, and as the sun dips in the west the flag comes down. The harbor begins to sparkle with riding lights. We near the wharves and they lower over us black and forbid-ding, but behind the tower-topped hill, the sky is aflame with red and purple and gold; and above us is a pale and slender moon.



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