The Windjammer Association was celebrating its 75th Anniversary the week I was resident minstrel aboard the Mary Day. The husband and wife duo, Captain’s Barry King and Jen Martin have two beautiful children and as a family, they lead a very unorthodox existence. The kids have grown up barefoot aboard this schooner and have gotten to know many guests from around the world. Because school was still in as it was still early June, Captain Barry was our lone guide and the rest of the family stayed ashore.
To my pleasant surprise, two of the crewmates played music. Cara, the cook played the fiddle and Tom the deck hand played the banjo and had been in a number of bands out of Boston.
Captain Barry is also a fine musician. He is the kind of person who carries repertoire around – sea shanties and folk tunes. The other captains too, are respecters of music. The Victory Chimes, a schooner famous for having three masts, plays host to famous folk singers who enjoy the experience of sailing. Another schooner, the Stephen Taber, had hired a swing/rockabilly trio for that week and as a result, I had the opportunity of a lifetime to experience a high quality jam that I will never forget.
To celebrate their 75th anniversary, the fifteen captains decided to do something that isn’t done on every voyage. They performed what is called a Schooner Gam and I can promise you it is a performance! You couldn’t attempt something like this with no sailing experience, that is for certain.
A Schooner Gam is when a number of ships raft together side-by-side. It takes precision and communication, particularly with what vessel lines up when and who drops anchor where. Anchors don’t come cheap. The cost of dressing a ship comes at a high price. If two vessels were to drop anchor right next to each other, the odds of the lines twisting deep under water are high. And they would have no alternative but to cut the lines and each lose between $4000-$6000.
I believe it was day two or three when the association got together to celebrate on the water. Two days out on the water with the guests and the crew, collapses time frames and you soon get to know the characters that are coexisting in tight quarters with you for a week!
I watched the captain make his calls and the crew run to pull lines, make them fast and watched the other captains do the same thing with their treasured wooden beauties.
It was a fascinating feat to witness and I will forever be honoured that I was a participant in this event.
Once the ships were rafted together each one next to the other, we were allowed to climb from schooner to schooner and explore the unique traits and personalities of these traditional vessels propelled by wind and the human mind alone.
There were speeches and the swinging and cracking of a champagne bottle, to mark the commemoration aboard the Victory Chimes.
I bumped into my friends from Virginia who were thoroughly enjoying their great adventure aboard the Stephen Taber, where the swing trio was making their home that week.
Once the festivities were coming to a close, three of the vessels on the interior chose to stay together for the night. The others separated and pushed further apart by a mile or two. Captain Barry left me, the cook and the banjo-playing deckhand with a small rowboat and we stayed aboard the Stephen Taber so we could join in the music. We were given a curfew but were allowed to play to our heart’s content until then.
And did we play! The song swapping and the respect that we developed for each other within those few hours were a marvel for the other passengers to witness. Everyone was full of cheer and the music just got better and better. Imagine a tall ship, lit with lanterns, covered with tarps to block out the bit of rainy mist coming down, and a crowd of whisky-warmed folks listening to acoustic musicians getting to know each other, sometimes with three or four part harmony.
Before we knew it, it was time to head back. We lowered our instruments over the side and climbed down into the rowboat. It was dark, and way off in the distances around us the other ships were dimly lit with lanterns. The mist was cold but who were we to care? We were in a rowboat on the Atlantic Ocean with a guitar, a banjo, a fiddle and each other.
I looked at the moon and felt conscious of the creatures living their lives underneath us, and I admittedly experienced the feeling of “oneness” to which the mystics and the poets allude.