Lit Bits

FASTNET MEMORIES: With Don Street Aboard Iolaire

Sailing aboard Iolaire

Editor’s note: Quite the exciting Fastnet Race this week! The largest race fleet since 1979, two new course records (outright record to super tri Banque Populaire; monohull record to the VO70 Abu Dhabi), plus the maxi monohull Rambler 100 (ex-Speedboat), which was en route to a record, lost its keel and capsized right at Fastnet Rock. Rather than bore you with newsy details you’ve already garnered elsewhere, I thought I’d share my own (one and only) Fastnet experience.

IT WAS A LEAP OF FAITH is what it was. There could be no other explanation. For the last time Don Street nearly succeeded in luring me aboard a boat of his, that boat had been instantly destroyed. This was Li’l Iolaire, Don’s 28-foot plywood yawl, on which I had agreed to crew back in the winter of 2004. Just hours before I committed myself to this fate by buying a plane ticket down to West Indies, Don had called to share the terrible news. Li’l Iolaire had been swept out to sea and sunk by Hurricane Ivan as it roared over the island of Grenada.

Now again, in the summer of 2005, in spite of the letters J-O-N-A-H stamped upon my resume, he had summoned me once more. This time to serve on the original Iolaire, the antique 48-foot Harris Brothers yawl on which he had long ago established his reputation as a trail-blazing West Indian charter skipper, sailing journalist, and chart surveyor.

Iolaire will be 100 this year,” he crowed to me over a bad cellphone connection. “I’m turning 75. We’re going to celebrate by doing the Fastnet Race. You want to come along?”

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WE LIVE ON A SCHOONER: By Elizabeth Jay Etnier

Stephen Etnier aboard schooner Morgana

(From the September 1934 issue of The Atlantic Monthly)

Tuesday, October 31, 1933

I sat on deck sewing as we went through Hell Gate, feeling very much the schooner house wife (Stephen called me 'Tugboat Annie'). We anchored off the New York Yacht Club at 26th Street, and Lucius came on board for lunch. He picked up a china plate to see the trade-mark on the back, noted the silver dishes, the candlesticks, and all other appurtenances of elegance, he tried the electric lights to see if they really worked, and departed--not without noticing that there was a slim volume of his own verse among the books. He asked me where we had found our steward-sailor, and I had to explain that he was the carpenter's son, that he had never cooked or been on a sailboat before, but that we had engaged him because he was so nice.

We continued down the East River, hugging close by the Battery, the New York sky line towering above us tremendous and impressive. There were boats passing in all directions, tiny little tugs maneuvering great rafts of railroad cars. I marveled that there were not constant collisions. We passed Governors Island, where I had been as a child to see Dad receive his Distinguished Service Cross. On that occasion I wore a new hat with blue wool flowers crocheted upon it, and I remember that I had great difficulty in deciding whether to choose blue for infantry or red for Harvard.

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TO THE SHORES OF TRIPOLI: Winning the War in Libya

Scurvy Bastard drawing

Editor's note: Some more true adventures of and by Lt. Scurvy Bastard, USN. The sequel and conclusion to the recently discovered 19th century Barbary War memoir the first part of which was published here on March 22.

WHEN we fetched back to Sicily the morning of 19 February 1804, three days after torching the frigate Philadelphia and so depriving the Pasha of Tripoli of his most potent weapon against us, we was immediately hailed as brave heroes by all of Commodore Preble's squadron. They spied our canvas out of Syracuse harbor about 10 a.m. and owing to the light airs was immediately out in boats to help haul us in. Weren't but half an hour before they had us in the harbor proper, whereupon the crews on all three ships come up on deck to give us three big cheers as we sidled by.

"Weren't never nothing like this in the Indies," I exclaimed to Mr. Skull. Me and me boys being all up on the taffrail gaping at it, excepting old Doc Plague, who were lashed to a belaying pin as he were delirious from celebrating.

Skull was beaming all over, and I could tell he ain't never been plauded in such a manner before. Same with young Billy Breeze, whose eyes was all moist from the grand emotion of the moment.

Soon as we set our hook there were a boat straight over from Constitution to take me and Lt. Decatur for an interview with the commodore. There were an honor watch to pipe us aboard proper and two midshipmen to escort us right down to the great cabin.

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TO THE SHORES OF TRIPOLI: A Rat's Tale

Scurvy Bastard drawing

Editor's note: Recent developments in Libya and the ongoing piracy crisis in Somalia have sparked a revival of historical interest in the early 19th century U.S. war against the Barbary pirates. What follows is a recently discovered eyewitness account of certain celebrated events that took place in 1803-04.

AYE, Scurvy's me name. Lieutenant Scurvy Bastard, and proud to be serving in the United States Navy, thank'ee very much. I joined into the Navy back in 1798, during the war with France, when there weren't much navy to speak of. Me dad were anxious then for me to join a merchant vessel, as he had done, but I told him I saw no high adventure in it. With all the fat American merchantmen roaming the sea, I reckoned there was bound to be a real rat's navy to protect them all from the ravages of privateers and such.

The Frenchies proved me right, of course, and I saw a good deal of action aboard USS Constitution, commissioned new under Capt. Sam Nicholson. We cruised the West Indies mostly and I rose right fast and was commissioned lieutenant within two years. I put together a tough, hard-fighting crew that was among the best of man or rodent, and we had ourselves one hell of a time.

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