Friday, July 07, 2006
The Loss of the George R. Whitcomb
With her casks to the brim and with ample supplies
On the tide she set sail while the moon on the rise
Cast its glow on the ship as the sails were unfurled,
Casting off for the lands at the end of the world.
On a westerly breeze she sailed smart as you please
With the helmsman directed to southern degrees
And the furrow she plowed lay as straight as a line
As wild water erupted from bow and from chine.
By the binnacle light where the compass read true
The stout steersman looked out on the indigo blue
Where he saw that the swell was beginning to mount
As the wind likewise rose, he would later recount.
By the midwatch white foam on the waves let them know
That the scudding low clouds now foretold of a blow,
And the deckwatch looked up as the stars ceased to shine
While the rigging above seemed to groan and to whine.
When the morning watch came up on deck to relieve
They could see by the sky there would be no reprieve,
So they grinned and they shrugged at the waves and the gale
And aloft the men clambered to shorten the sail.
The George Whitcomb now heaved on a mountainous swell
Like some terrified man on a sleighride from hell
Driving into a wave face, then shaking it off,
Vaulting over the crest, plunging down in the trough.
While a furious force drove her onward and on
The first mate took the foredeck, the captain the con;
As the ship lurched and staggered through old Neptune's realm
It took two of the crewmen to handle the helm.
The wild water washed over, a monsterous stream
Then Old Billy below cried, "We've opened a seam!"
With the perils of topside came danger below
As the cargo broke loose and was flung to and fro.
To the men below decks came a preview of hell:
As they struggled for footing the deck rose and fell.
Like the wildest of horses the ship bucked and jumped
And the water rose faster the harder they pumped.
Soon they knew that the storm meant to swallow them whole,
The good ship and its cargo and every soul,
For the splinters of two boats had washed overboard
And between them and death: one good skiff and the Lord.
Lying battered and smashed in Poseidon's great fist
Now the proud vessel Whitcomb had taken a list.
As she rolled and she wallowed, he feared she might flip
So the captain commanded, "Abandon the ship!"
Fully twenty-two men of the merchant fleet's pride
Were assembled on deck and went over the side
In the lee of the ship where the waves weaker churn
Swimming strong to the jolly boat close by the stern.
Now they clambered aboard and pulled smartly away
Although lashed by the wind and the rain and the spray;
With the storm skies above them now hinting some light,
Going down by the bow, the ship slipped out of sight.
In the stillness that followed the mate said a prayer
And the captain made certain that each man was there.
With each sailor accounted the oars were then manned;
Scarcely six sunsets later they sighted the land.
Well there's danger aplenty where men go in ships:
While the vessels look mighty when tied in their slips,
All alone on the ocean's as lonely can be,
And there's danger aplenty when men go to sea.
May the blessings of God fall on all of the men
Who go forth on the ocean again and again,
For the truth on the wind sings as plain as can be:
You may master a wave–no one masters the sea.
© 2006 Jeffrey Hull