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Christmas at Sea

The sheets were frozen hard, and they cut the naked hand;
The decks were like a slide, where a seaman scarce could stand;
The wind was a nor'wester, blowing squally off the sea;
And cliffs and spouting breakers were the only things a-lee.

They heard the surf a-roaring before the break of day;
But 'twas only with the peep of light we saw how ill we lay.
We tumbled every hand on deck instanter, with a shout,
And we gave her the maintops'l, and stood by to go about.

All day we tacked and tacked between the South Head and the North;
All day we hauled the frozen sheets, and got no further forth;
All day as cold as charity, in bitter pain and dread,
For very life and nature we tacked from head to head.

We gave the South a wider berth, for there the tide race roared;
But every tack we made we brought the North Head close aboard:
So's we saw the cliffs and houses, and the breakers running high,
And the coastguard in his garden, with his glass against his eye.

The frost was on the village roofs as white as ocean foam;
The good red fires were burning bright in every 'long-shore home;
The windows sparkled clear, and the chimneys volleyed out;
And I vow we sniffed the victuals as the vessel went about.

The bells upon the church were rung with a mighty jovial cheer;
For it's just that I should tell you how (of all days in the year)
This day of our adversity was blessèd Christmas morn,
And the house above the coastguard's was the house where I was born.

O well I saw the pleasant room, the pleasant faces there,
My mother's silver spectacles, my father's silver hair;
And well I saw the firelight, like a flight of homely elves,
Go dancing round the china plates that stand upon the shelves.

And well I knew the talk they had, the talk that was of me,
Of the shadow on the household and the son that went to sea;
And O the wicked fool I seemed, in every kind of way,
To be here and hauling frozen ropes on blessèd Christmas Day.

They lit the high sea-light, and the dark began to fall.
'All hands to loose top gallant sails,' I heard the captain call.
'By the Lord, she'll never stand it,' our first mate, Jackson, cried.
… 'It's the one way or the other, Mr. Jackson,' he replied.

She staggered to her bearings, but the sails were new and good,
And the ship smelt up to windward just as though she understood.
As the winter's day was ending, in the entry of the night,
We cleared the weary headland, and passed below the light.

And they heaved a mighty breath, every soul on board but me,
As they saw her nose again pointing handsome out to sea;
But all that I could think of, in the darkness and the cold,
Was just that I was leaving home and my folks were growing old.

Robert Louis Stephenson
1888
 

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Bloody glad I didn't leave the radio room or my workshop on Christmas day if that's what faced me on deck.

(Actually I did get a job and finish in Greenock one 25/12. Up the f'ng - for freezing lest you think me coarse - foremast on Asialiner to remove the Tyfon. Got my own back, perhaps several times at the expense of my own hearing by setting it off on my workshop bench).

Merry, merry. Happy, happy etc.
 

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Well bugger me, I thought to myself, BY has improved a wee bit with his metre and rhyme although I accept that meter and line length are not formulas for successful lines of poetry. They are rough forms of notation for the many satisfying and variable rhythms of language. Slavish adherence to meter produces doggerel. God forbid.

And by the way Barrie, RLS wasn't a bad poet either.
 

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In 12 years at sea I was "away" for four festive seasons.
All different and all right if you knew in advance you were going to be away.
I remember feeling very diligent being on watch on Christmas Day.
Off watch there was the tradition of the officers serving the stewards their Christmas dinner but I can't remember if we did this.
 

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Well bugger me, I thought to myself, BY has improved a wee bit with his metre and rhyme although I accept that meter and line length are not formulas for successful lines of poetry. They are rough forms of notation for the many satisfying and variable rhythms of language. Slavish adherence to meter produces doggerel. God forbid.

And by the way Barrie, RLS wasn't a bad poet either.
Know nuffink abaht poetry, but ah know wot oi loik.B\)
 

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-----and they---

Christmas at Sea

The sheets were frozen hard, and they cut the naked hand;
The decks were like a slide, where a seaman scarce could stand;
The wind was a nor'wester, blowing squally off the sea;
And cliffs and spouting breakers were the only things a-lee.

They heard the surf a-roaring before the break of day;
But 'twas only with the peep of light we saw how ill we lay.
We tumbled every hand on deck instanter, with a shout,
And we gave her the maintops'l, and stood by to go about.

All day we tacked and tacked between the South Head and the North;
All day we hauled the frozen sheets, and got no further forth;
All day as cold as charity, in bitter pain and dread,
For very life and nature we tacked from head to head.

We gave the South a wider berth, for there the tide race roared;
But every tack we made we brought the North Head close aboard:
So's we saw the cliffs and houses, and the breakers running high,
And the coastguard in his garden, with his glass against his eye.

The frost was on the village roofs as white as ocean foam;
The good red fires were burning bright in every 'long-shore home;
The windows sparkled clear, and the chimneys volleyed out;
And I vow we sniffed the victuals as the vessel went about.

The bells upon the church were rung with a mighty jovial cheer;
For it's just that I should tell you how (of all days in the year)
This day of our adversity was blessèd Christmas morn,
And the house above the coastguard's was the house where I was born.

O well I saw the pleasant room, the pleasant faces there,
My mother's silver spectacles, my father's silver hair;
And well I saw the firelight, like a flight of homely elves,
Go dancing round the china plates that stand upon the shelves.

And well I knew the talk they had, the talk that was of me,
Of the shadow on the household and the son that went to sea;
And O the wicked fool I seemed, in every kind of way,
To be here and hauling frozen ropes on blessèd Christmas Day.

They lit the high sea-light, and the dark began to fall.
'All hands to loose top gallant sails,' I heard the captain call.
'By the Lord, she'll never stand it,' our first mate, Jackson, cried.
… 'It's the one way or the other, Mr. Jackson,' he replied.

She staggered to her bearings, but the sails were new and good,
And the ship smelt up to windward just as though she understood.
As the winter's day was ending, in the entry of the night,
We cleared the weary headland, and passed below the light.

And they heaved a mighty breath, every soul on board but me,
As they saw her nose again pointing handsome out to sea;
But all that I could think of, in the darkness and the cold,
Was just that I was leaving home and my folks were growing old.

Robert Louis Stephenson
1888
-----called it "The romance of sail"!
Give me the wine of a turbine or the steady thud, thud, thud of a Doxford, B&W or MAN to lull you off to sleep whilst the ship was cavorting all over in the midst of a North Atlantic hooley! In all fairness to those blokes who manned the likes of Cutty Sark etc. they must have been as tough as the teak decks they trod! Climbing up those 100ft.(?) masts in calm seas would be bad enough, (to me!), but doing that climb in a screaming gale, having to wrestle with massive, heavy sails THEN having to furl them beggars belief! Phil
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Phil,

I'm quite sure that those who really worked in sail saw very little that was romantic in it.

How can I be so sure? If you'll forgive a family ramble, it's a long story. The RLS poem was first published in 1888, at which time my Granny (whom later I knew and loved dearly) was eight years old. In her middle years (still before I was born) my dear Gran (a strong-willed person if ever there was one) was obliged to accommodate her Mother-in-law in the family household. Her Mother-in-law (my Dad's grandmother and my great-gran) was the daughter of the Master and Owner of the schooner Cheshire Lass, who earned the family living in the coasting trade. And a hard living it was, too. The old shipmaster, Captain John Gorham, had died aboard his ship in 1848. All of this I have learned only in the last fifteen years, and just before my Dad died in 2005 at the age of 95.

The significant point is that, although today I am extremely proud of old John Gorham, my dearly-loved Gran never once mentioned him to me and neither did my Dad until the closing years of his own life, as indicated. Why should this have been? The only explanation which makes any sense to me is that in 1905 my Granny had married a successful lawyer who educated his sons at the King's School, Chester (and HMS Conway in my Dad's case) and that a hard-working coastal ship-master in sail had (by the middle of the twentieth century) simply been air-brushed out of the family picture.

The accommodated Mother-in-law (my great-gran and Captain Gorham's daughter) had died in the early 1930s, about ten years before I was born, so I could never question her about anything. Sadly, she had never been mentioned either.

My Dad became a successful big-ship mariner in the halcyon (and closing) years of the British Merchant Navy (as much discussed here in SN) - and the matter of the coasting trade, in sail of all things, hardly ever entered any conversation. Such is the way of life. If there was any romance in sail, it certainly was never recognised in my own family at the time - although I admit to recognizing it myself now - but only in my dreams!

Romance of sail? Testicles!
 

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The romance of sail is a bit like the romance of steam trains, great if you weren't a fireman or AB. Low pay, hardship, dirt, sweat and perhaps a grateful word of thanks from the management. Bank that.
 

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Personally----

The romance of sail is a bit like the romance of steam trains, great if you weren't a fireman or AB. Low pay, hardship, dirt, sweat and perhaps a grateful word of thanks from the management. Bank that.
---I can never understand why people pay a lot of money to sit in a train being hauled by a steam locomotive.

HOW, apart from the odd wisp of steam blowing past your window, do you know you're actually being hauled by steam-power?

Like you say, ES, it was 'oss-work for a fireman! Between Kings X and Doncaster he'd shovel around 8 tons, (TONS too not them there Continental TONNES which are lighter), of coal and that was on a far-from steady footplate too! Phil
 

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German steam and French steam are totally different things. Using the wrong one would be like getting hiccups whilst glass-blowing.
 

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What of German or French built tonnage when changing flag? How does a German built vessel maintain a supply of German steam when under the Red Duster? One might expect German feedwater supplies to be available (surely stemming steam directly would be hopelessly uneconomic) and I have never seen the source stated when taking potable water on. French steam would be easier. Bottled supplies of Evian water being available worldwide.
 

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Xmas at home meant to me a scan of the pool board for a ship bound for the Caribbean or anywhere that wasn't cold, grey, smog,snow or rain ,I hated that kind of weather still do out of the fifteen years at sea I had thre at home and on one of those I was at anchor in the Mersey and docked Xmas day in the afternoon spent Xmas night in the Red Ensign Birkenhead ,timed that trip wrong didn't I .Still wish that I could take the caravan to Spain for winter months but the missus vetoes that ,I must be paying for being a humbug as this year as I have posted in bed still with the dreaded lurgie and not even a drink to drown my sorrows.i hate the winter months still.
 

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Surely the vacuum must also match the nationality of the steam or is all vacuum Italian?
And what of Norwegian steam, which needs no boilers, valves, pipes or other mechanical fripperies, just a good supply of codfish(Thumb)
 

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---I can never understand why people pay a lot of money to sit in a train being hauled by a steam locomotive.

HOW, apart from the odd wisp of steam blowing past your window, do you know you're actually being hauled by steam-power?

Like you say, ES, it was 'oss-work for a fireman! Between Kings X and Doncaster he'd shovel around 8 tons, (TONS too not them there Continental TONNES which are lighter), of coal and that was on a far-from steady footplate too! Phil
I spent some time as a coal heaver, and we used to shovel two 5 ton loads of coal, usually off the floor, into sacks, held by somebody on the back of a lorry. We then had to go and deliver it. Sometimes the floor would be rough which meant that the shovel didn't slide all that easily into the coal. Not to mention the winter, when it was frozen.On other occasions we used to shovel it out of a wooden coal railway wagon,which might have been mended by the insertion of a wooden beam ,which the shovel would hit. I reckon 8 tons out of a tender, with a steel floor, and put into the fire at the same level ,would have been a luxury. Mind you we used to go home to a hole in the ground.
 

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Don't know-----

I spent some time as a coal heaver, and we used to shovel two 5 ton loads of coal, usually off the floor, into sacks, held by somebody on the back of a lorry. We then had to go and deliver it. Sometimes the floor would be rough which meant that the shovel didn't slide all that easily into the coal. Not to mention the winter, when it was frozen.On other occasions we used to shovel it out of a wooden coal railway wagon,which might have been mended by the insertion of a wooden beam ,which the shovel would hit. I reckon 8 tons out of a tender, with a steel floor, and put into the fire at the same level ,would have been a luxury. Mind you we used to go home to a hole in the ground.
-----they're born these days!

Before joining 'The Merch' I drove a flat-bed 'eight-legger'.


The outfit I worked for had a Contract with a corn merchants so all our 'pick-ups' were bagged barley, wheat or oats.


Barley and wheat bags held 16 stone, (2 cwt.), whilst the same bags, with oats being lighter, weighed 12 stone.


A 'pick-up' of a full load of barley, (16 tons), meant every bag was taken off an elevator, onto your shoulders then dropped onto the wagon bed until the full load (160 bags) was loaded.


Then they had to be roped and, if it was peeing-down, sheeted as well.


THOSE wagons had crash-boxes, (no syncromesh), so double-declutching was 'the norm', no power-steering so if you had, say, two 'drops' there would be 8 tons at the front-end of the wagon. THAT made for VERY heavy steering.


We could do two loads a day which meant you'd had 32 tons on your shoulders!


Now the corn, (40 tons of it!), is carried in 'bulkers' which have automatic 'boxes', power-steering and air-suspension on the drivers/passengers seats.


In fact, with all those attributes they're so easy to drive young women can handle them with ease. There's no way, (unless she was a weight-lifter!!), a woman could have driven my old Atkinson!


Like old steam loco's there are fans have located an old Albion, Atkinson, Dennis etc. etc. and brought them back-to-life, (and good on 'em), but I doubt you'll see a lass driving one! Phil
 
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