Tag Archives: Robert Louis Stevenson

A Seafarer’s Christmas Poem

1280px-Clement_Drew_-_A_three_master_in_a_storm

This piece by Robert Louis Stevenson was first published in the Scots Observer in 1888 – and I’ve republished it here because I think it will give most readers goosepimples, as it did me when I first read it.

My thanks to the Facebook group Down to the Sea in Ships for pointing it out.

The evocative image above comes from the wonderful Wikimedia, and is a painting by the 19th century artist Clement Drew.

And of course Happy Holidays and Merry Christmases to all our delightful readers and wonderful contributors.

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 ‘longshore 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 blessed 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 blessed Christmas Day.

They lit the high sea-light, and the dark began to fall.
‘All hands to loose topgallant 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.

There’s a very amateur MP3 podcast of me reading it here:

Advertisements

Humber sloop Spider T to sail to Arbroath

Humber sloop Spider T 2011

Humber sloop Spider T is off on an amazing two week trip to Arbroath this summer to appear in the Seafest 2011, which takes place on the weekend of 13th and 14th August.

On the way the plan is to call at Montrose and several other ports en route as she heads along the coasts of North Yorkshire, Durham and Northumberland.

In her current restored condition, Spider T has previously travelled to Rotterdam and to Scarborough.

She was built at New Holland on the River Humber in 1926, and originally carried bricks and other cargoes up and down the coast and along the inland river and canal networks, and was saved from the scrapyard in the 1990s by motor engineer and car restorer Mal Nicholson of Burringham, near Scunthorpe.

She has been gradually restored to her former glory, including a sailing rig, and is now part of the National Historic Fleet, an honour that recognises Spider T’s historic importance alongside the Mary Rose and the Balmoral. She was also runner-up in the National Historic Ships organisation’s Fly the Flag competition this year.

Owner Mal is currently seeking ports and tourist centres interested in hosting the vessel for a night on the journey – the unusual sight of a historic Humber sloop will provide an interesting spectacle for visitors and enthusiasts, and is also hoping to attract contributions to the fuel costs of the journey, though much of the voyage will be undertaken under sail.

The Spider T will also feature at the 40th anniversary celebrations of the Humber Keel and Sloop Preservation Society being staged at South Ferriby on the weekend of Saturday, July 23 and Sunday, July 24, with five historic craft available for viewing from 10am to 5pm and some sailings for members with displays of paintings, photos, videos and live presentations.

Further details on the vessel are available on the Spider T website and contact re the voyage can be made through Mal Nicholson on 07739863604 m.nicholson4@sky.com.

PS – The northward journey could of course be affected by the weather, but at present the aim is to stop at the following ports on the way up to Arbroath:

Saturday, 30th July: Keadby to Grimsby (arrive GY around 6pm)
Sunday, 31st July: Grimsby to Scarborough (arrive Scarborough 7pm to 8pm)
Monday, 1st August: Scarborough to Hartlepool (arrive
Tuesday, 2nd August: Stay in Hartlepool, available for viewing (to be arranged)
Wednesday, 3nd August: Hartlepool to Blyth
Thursday, 4th August: Blyth to Eyemouth
Friday, 5th August: Eyemouth to Anstruther
Saturday, 6th August: Stay in Anstruther
Sunday, 7th August: Anstruther to Montrose.
Monday, 8th August; Stay in Montrose.
Tuesday, 9th August: Montrose to Stonehaven? Depends on swell
Wednesday, 10th August: Stonehaven? To Arbroath
Thursday, 11-14th August: Arbroath
Monday, 15th August: Arbroath (or possibly North Berwick)

PPS – Seafest this year will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the building of the Bell Rock Lighthouse. Built by Robert Stevenson, it is the world’s oldest surviving sea-washed lighthouse. The engraving below appears in a biography written by Stevenson’s son, and is from a drawing by a Miss Stevenson – which I guess might have been Stevenson’s daughter or granddaughter.

Illustration by Miss Stevenson from the book Biographical Sketch of the Late Robert Stevenson: Civil Engineer, by Alan Stevenson (son of Robert)