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The Vagabond



Before the Vagabond left the cockpit to return home; a Nantucketer who had been reckoning; the lines of his boat, shuffled his feet and spat over the wharf as though he wanted to step down and talk. The Vagabond hailed him to come aboard. The old salt accepted, and soon they were swapping tales such as only fishermen and sailors can. As the man, his face a grey stubble and his eyes reflecting a quiet pride, forgot the Cambridge puppy squatted before him and became absorbed in his own, other world, there unrolled a story of a mad sea . . .

Back in the 80's a three-masted schooner bound for Boston with a cargo of molasses, coca, and pickled limes struck the south shore of Nantucket, driven by snow squalls and heavy seas. The ship wallowed helplessly in the breakers, and like a consuming disease the surf began pounding the vessel to pieces. Hearing of the disaster, hundreds of citizens hastened to the sands to render aid. But good intentions meant nought, for before their frosted eyes a cold drama was approaching its climax. The crew, clinging to the rigging--which were giant, slim icicles, slowly were freezing to death or falling with cries into the water. After many hours the Nantucketers succeeded in shooting lines over the vessel, but the men on board were too frozen to pull the attached hawser. More dreary hours passed, while one after another of the shipwrecked men perished. The crowds on shore, eager but powerless to help, were moved by the grim fact that they stood within speaking distance of death.

A fearful sea raged all day, making it impossible to launch a boat. Yet without one chance of surviving, nine men launched a life-raft. A huge wave broke the line and knocked two overboard. After dark another line was made fast to the fore-rigging, and by means of a breeches buoy the two remaining men, more dead than alive, were landed. One was the mate, who told the people that he had seen his wife and little boy drown when a wave broke into the cabin....

So the Nantucket sailor taught the Vagabond more of serious sailing and the sea.

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