This detail of Quannapowatt’s bow is a constant reminder of how central the New England Fishing Schooner has been for me. An abiding example of great design in the service of a tradition. An ethos of work within a difficult and demanding environment. I’m posting this excerpt from my novel Shoal Hope. I think it captures much of what I admire about these vessels as well as how problematic it’s been to ‘fit” them into modernity.
The schooner? Just another burden. Why do I put so much stock in this thing? Beauty?
These schooners… this one, Actæon… So well-fitted to their world. Well matched to what they were built to do!
Never been to Europe. Never stood before a great cathedral. Something so well made. Holding all the spirit, all the effort, of all those people who made it. Face-to-face. A real presence. Built over centuries. Stone, glass, monumental, permanent.
Schooners? Not part of any grand scheme! No pope or king ever gave their form any thought! Just another tool. A miserable little industry. Well out of sight. Used hard. Worn out. Wrecked and abandoned. Or, burned ashore for their iron.
Still! They’re special, dammit! I know it! Can see it. Feel it in my bones. Actæon moving under me. She moves! No cathedral ever did that!
Fool! Nobody gives a damn! Fishermen don’t care. Her old crew? Excited to move on to a dragger. No more hassles, sailing, tending trawl from a dory. All they want is a warm focs’le and nets full of fish. Steady drone of a Diesel under the wheelhouse, pushing them along in any direction at any time at a constant speed. No worries over calms or squalls. That’s what they want! Back-coves up and down the coast littered with derelicts. Tide running up and down inside their rotting carcasses twice a day…. Nobody cares.
Phillips cared. Seemed to anyway. Mighty relieved to pass her along for all his fine appreciation! His model. His mythology!
Maybe that’s enough for him?
Why do I do this? Even if it doesn’t kill me? Waste my life in this racket, chasing something-for-nothing.
To keep the schooner? Sure. Always some angle. A scheme. A quick, easy dash. Where does that leave what I admired about Actæon in the first place?
Only comfort seems to be when I’m in danger. Self-preservation. Adrenaline! A temporary focus. A sort of clarity. In a narrow, tactical sphere. Like a baboon. See a leopard? Did the leopard cause all its misery? No, but it’s impossible to ignore…. And so much fun to holler at!
Danger, jumping into that flow. Instinct! React! Followed by a release. No need to deliberate, modulate, adjust. Take responsibility.
Courting disaster…. Is this where I want to be?
Warning signs? Part of the thrill. Playing with how long I can let things go. Managed so far to stay this side of tragedy-averted. Take steps before it gets out of hand…. It works!
So long as I keep raising the stakes….