Monday, 24 August 2015
Coconuts and Cannibals
A Funny Story of A Funny Ship
From Far East Adventure Stories, December 1931
“HOWDY,” RUMBLED the old sailor, as I strolled down the wharf and found him at his favorite spot, gazing fixedly at the sea and dangling a hand-line for cunners.
Then, without turning his head; “See anything out yonder?” he asked,
“Yes,” I replied, glancing across the Sound, “A couple of three-masters and a square-rigger.”
“Square-rigger, eh?” muttered the old man, turning his grizzled head and squinting at the horizon, “Don’t see many of ’em knockin’ about nowadays, Can ye see what she be an’ how she’s standin’? My eyes ain’t what they used to be.”
“She’s a bark,” I told him, "Standing to the eastward under fore and main topsails and to’ gallant sails, spanker, and fore to’ gallant staysail and jib,”
“Hmm,” muttered the old salt, as he knocked the ashes from his cold pipe and expectantly extended his hand, I handed him my pouch and he proceeded to ram a generous load into his pipe, “Speakin’ o’ barks, ’minds me o’ the Harvey Fullerton. Did I ever tell ye o’ my cruise in her?”
“Don’t believe you ever did,” I replied, filling my own pipe, I seated myself on the stringpiece of the wharf beside him and waited for the old fellow to light his pipe with the matches I supplied.
Presently his reeking clay was vomiting smoke like a miniature volcano, and I knew that a salty tale was being hatched in his fertile brain.
“THE FULLERTON,” he began at last, “was a New London ship, leastwise New London was her home port, and a barkentine. ’Tany rate, if she wa’n’t a barkentine I dunno what She was. But the gosh-dingest barkentine what ever me or ye or any other chap ever clapped eyes onto. If ye’d seed her out yonder ye couldn't have told which way she was headin’. Why? Ye’re askin’; ’cause she was built an’ rigged starn-fo’most with a square-rigged mizzen an’ fore-an’-aft fo’-mast an’ mainmast. Crazy idea, ye’ll say, an’ p’rhaps ’twas; an’ so me an’ me mates thought.
“But arter all, I dunno, as ’twas so all-fired crazy at that. The fellow what owned her must have had some sense in his head, even if he did live up to Willimantic an’ hadn’t never seed salt water nor nary craft bigger ’n a canal boat. He’d read a heap o’ books though, an’ he calc’lated that seein’ as a square-rigger was best afore the wind, an’ a fore-an’-aft ship was best on the wind, he could get the good p’ints o’ both by puttin’ of square sails after to catch a star wind, an’ fore-an’-aft sails for’ard to catch a head wind. An’ derned if it didn’t work out!
“But twas a all-fired job to get a crew o’ sailor-men to ship along on her. No sooner would they clap eyes onto that there starn-fust rig than they’d shake their heads an’ walk away, an’ the only ones what would sign on was bums what couldn’t get nothin’ else or greenies what didn’t know a rope-end from a marlin-spike.
“Dunno why I shipped myself. But I cal’clate it was just out o’ cur’osity to see how the consarned old hooker would sail; or mebbe ’cause old man Stebbins was skipper on her an’ I’d been shipmates with him afore.
An’ the cargo what she loaded was just as plumb crazy as the ship. Ye couldn’t never guess what ’twas in a month o’ Sundays, so I might just as well tell ye an’ be done with it. ’Twas skates an’ hatracks an’ sunbonnets an’ aprons! Yes, sir, queerest lot o’ cargo ever I'd seed or heard of. I reckon old man Fullerton just shipped what they made up to his shops. Ye see, ’bout that time, there was a big New England trade on with the West Injies, an’ folks was sendin’ down the most cur’ostest things not known’ nothin’ ’bout the islan’s, and missionaries was just openin’ up the South Seas an’ Christianizin’ o’ the natives.
Well, this Fullerton bird calc’iated as he could ship skates to Newfunlan’ an’ trade ’em for salt codfish, he bein’ a reg’lar Yankee trader an’ not doin’ no cash business on the whole v’age, an’ then send the codfish to the West Injies an’ make a trade with it for rum an’ molasses an’ sugar and sech.
Then we was to sail ’round the Horn an’ trade the aprons an’ sun-bonnets to the naked cannibals—reckon old Fullerton thought mebbe the rum might come in handy for to get the natives too drunk to know what they were trading an’ bring back copra an’ pearl shell.
And where was them hatracks go-in’? You might be askin’. To South Ameriky, to be sure. Fullerton allowed as how them there Dons always wore whoppin’ big hats and spurs an such like, an’ that every man-jack of ’em would need a private an’ personal hatrack for to hang his duds on.
Now I expect ye’re a thinkin’ this here’s just an ord’nary yarn, which it ain’t. No, sir, ’taint one of them there whoppers what some folks I’ve heard of are everlastin’ly tellin’. Nothing like that there story book what ya was readin’ of ’tother day about a cruise o’ a crew o’ city chaps what went to the South Seas an’ found square birds’ eggs an’ such all. There weren’t never no such things as square eggs, an’ ye know it well as me. An’ as for white shadders, who ever heard tell of a white shadder? Though there’s plenty o’ white men knockin’ about out there what ain’t nothin’ more’n shadders at that.
Howsomever, I’m a gettin’ often my couse an’ missin’ stays, so I’d better about ship an’ be a gettin’ on. Wal, as I was sayin’, we had a bum crew. Outside the skipper an’ me there was the first mate—rum short o’ chap named Finny from down the Cape somewheres. Second named Rooney—a crazy Irishman with a peg-leg, an’ every time he got roiled an’ started somethin’ he’d pull off his timber leg to slam some chap an’ forget about it an’ tumble all over his-self an’ the deck, a cussin’ most dref-ful. Bosun, he was a Portugee from New Bedford—an old whale man an’ a mighty good sailor man, even if he was a Dago, an’ the crew was just a paddel of bums.
O, yes, there was another chap, too, a fellow by name o’ Henry, sort o’ supergargo sent along by old Fullerton to look after the accounts an’ such like the owner not trustin’ skipper to attend to ’em. Wust lan’ lubber ever I see, that there Henry, an’ thought he know a heap about the sea, too. And reckoned he was might funny. Used to crack his sides, tellin’ a yarn about a cruise what he took on a schooner called the Flounder out o’ Gloucester with a cap’m name of Turbot. I knowed a skipper o’ that name once an’ didn’t tumble to the joke ’til Henry told how the schooner was that full that not a soul aboard had a place for to eat.
Howsomever, soon as we was out o’ the Sound, Henry took to his berth an’ never said nothin’ more till we made port again, so he don’t matter none nohow.
Skipper Stebbins was one o’ them cap’ns what had got religion—turned parson once, but he used to forget hisself when he got a preachin’ an’ would swear scandalous in the pulpit if he got a mite excited an’ had to quit. But so long’s we was bound for heathen lands he vowed he’d have to save some souls, so he took ’long enough tracts an’ Bibles to fill a yawl boat. Wal, we got clear at last. Fine summer morning, ’twas, and the tug come alongside an’ towed us down stream’ an’ out past Watch Hill and dropped us outside.
While we’d been towin’ out we’d been makin’ sail, there being a fair wind an’ soon’s ever the tug left us we squared away to the nor’east with our square-rigged mizzen a catchin’ all the wind an’ enough left over for to fill them big fore-an’-aft sails and a shovin’ the old hooker along at a twelve knot clip if she made a foot. ’Cause all hands what was sailors was mighty cur’ous to see bow she’d behave, an’ we was everlastin’ly blowcd to find of her rip-snorin’ along that way. But just the same, twa’nt right to look aft an’ see them there square sails an’ look for’ard an’ see fore-an’-aft canvas, and every time I walked along aft to take my turn to the wheel I had to walk backwards, by gum, or I’d have found myself headin’ for the fo’c’sle instead of the poop!
So it was on thet consarned pipe dream. Thar weren’t nothin’ thet weren’t backards, e’en when yuh went climbin’ up yuh was liable to find yur-self taking a header down below.
ABOUT THE third day arter Nantucket lightship was hull down, the wind hauled round and then our troubles began. Along about the middle o’ the night watch it was, when the wind drawed around to the east’ard an the mate begun bawlin’ out orders to swing yards an trim sail, Wal, sir, ’twas darker ’n a pocket, an’ we just had to find braces and sheets an’ haliards by feelin’, an the first thing we knowed, the old hooker was wallowin’ in the trough o’ the sea all aback, an’ the helsman a-singin’ out that the derned rudder’d went adrift, an’ things was in a holy mess.
First the old ship would come up into the wind for a jiffy an’ then she’d yaw an’ fall off an’, blow me for a sojer, if every time she come up she didn’t sail starn fo’rnost! An’ what do you guess the trouble was? Why, that there consarned mate had clean forgotten how the Fullerton was rigged and had just ordered sail set same as if she was an ord nary barkentine an’ ’course the ol’ hooker was a-dooin’ of her level best for to sail starn fust.
Wal, the rumpus woke up the Old Man an’ he come on deck and seen what the trouble was an’ bawled out to furl all square sails which same was did an’ after a bit we got the old Fullerton headed into the wind an’ on her course again.
But we didn’t never fetch, Newfunlan’. No, sir, just offen Nova Scotia we run into a nasty nor’wester, an’ the consarned old craft had to just turn tail an’ run afore it. Never did see such a gale’ wind lastin so all fired long. For six mortal days and night it blowed a livin’ hur’eane and we scuddin’ afore it under all but bare poles. And then, just as a sort o’ partin’ kiss, so to speak, she let out one big blow an’ takes two o’ the sticks clean outen the old hooker.
“Wal, there we be driftin’ about, south o’ Bermuda, with just a square-rigged mizzen, what wasn’t a mite o’ use, standin’. Wal, to make a long story short, so to say, the Old Man had the yards sent down. He was a proper sailor man for his prayin’ sanctimon’ous ways an’ with them we rigged up a couple o’ jury masts settin’ the mizzen topsails for trysails and as we couldn’t do nothin’ else we set a course for St. Thomas, that bein’ the nearest place where we could refit.
We fetched the island all right and while we was gettin’ new sticks, set up we had to break outa bit o’ the cargo for to work below decks. We was doin’ this one mornin’ when a big mullato Dane comes over the side, chap named Oleson he was, an’ had a big ship chand’lry shop an’ general store in town—and as he comes along the deck one o’ the cases o’ skates busts open.
Ole son stops an’ looks at ’em. “What's ’em?” he says.
“Skates,” says I.
“And what be skates an’ for what?" he asks, him bein’ a Danish nigger an’ not knowin’ about such things.
Wal, I was a bit peeved at havin’ to be workin’ in the sun when there was plenty o’ niggers to do the job an’ good rum shore, an’ I answers kind o’ short an’ impatient like. “Can’t ye see for yerself that they be?” says I. “And they’re mostly used for Christmas presents to home,” says I.
At that Oleson tips his big floppin’ hat for’ard an’ scratches his kinky yaller head for a minute an’ then he slaps his leg an’ says.
“They’re just what I’ve been wantin’,” he says. “Do ye know if they’re for sale or on consignment?”
“Go and see the skipper or the supercargo about ’em,” I tells him, and with that I goes on with my work.
And I'll be everlastin’ly keelhauled if he didn’t make a dicker an’ take all them consarned skates offen our hands, givin’ us bay rum in trade. What in tarnation he wanted with all them there skates down there in St. Thomas, where it’s hotter’n blazes, an’ the only ice they ever seen was brought down in barr’ls from Maine, I couldn’t figger out. So, bein’ a cur'ous sort o’ cuss, as ye know, I made up my mind for to find out soon as ever I got shore leave, which was next day, But I’ll be blowed if I seen a sign o’ a skate in town. So in I walks to Oleson’s place and asks the clerk about ’em.
“Oh,” says he. “We ain’t showin’ ’em yet, They’re emblems o’ the Christmas season and Mister Oleson calc’late to hang ’em outside his stores for to advertise his stock o’ Christmas good when the time comes,”
And I’ll bet ye, if ye go down to St, Thomas today, you’ll find them there same old skates a-hangin’ in bunches like grapes outside o’ all the shops long towards Christmas. Yes, sir. West Injins is queer guys. Remember that there yarn I telled ye about them warming-pans what was shipped down an’ how the folks used ’em for sugar-ladles?
HOWSOMEVER, that’s nothin’ to do with this here cruise o’ the Fullerton. By an’ by, the old hooker was rigged an’ ready for sea, but ye never would have known her, ’cause why? ’Cause the skipper had rigged her fore-an’-aft on fore an’ mizzenmasts an’ square on the mainmast. Seemed as how him an’ Henry had an argument over it. The Old Man insisted he was goin’ for to rig her ship-shape barkentine style, while Henry swore he was the owner’s agent and if Fullerton wanted his ship rigged starn fo’most, then starn-fo’most she’d stay. Seem’ as neither would give in, an’ as Henry had the money to pay for the refittin’, the Old Man and him finally split the difference an’ shoved the square-rigged stick amidships.
The next port o’ call, accordin’ to orders, was South Ameriky where we was to trade off them hatracks. So we squared away down the islands and I will say as how that new-fangled rig worked mighty pretty an’ I’ve been wonderin’, many’s the time since, why folks didn’t never build ships that way. Ye see, when sailin’ to windward or with a beam wind, everything would draw, and if we was takin’ we just used the fore-an’-aft canvas, while, if we was runnin’ free, we winged out the for-anmizzen and set upper sails on the main, and there we be!
I disremember just where ’twas, but along offen Barbadoes somewhere that we run into the all firedest big school o’ sharks what ever I seen. And then, it bein’ pretty nigh a dead calm, all hands set to, a-tryin’ to catch them critters. But they was so consarned big that no hook nor tackle we had would hold ’em. Wal, sir, the ship now bein’ pretty steady, that Henry fellow—him not feelin’ sick comes up on deck and watches us for a spell. Then he up an’ asks the skipper to open a hatch and he goes down with a couple o’ hands and fetches up one o’ them hatracks. Ye know the kind they was —thing made o’ a lot o’ sticks stand-in’ up from a sort o’ middle spar.
Then Henry makes one end o’ a coil o’ line fast to the hatrack, an’ heaves her over, an’ I’ll be dumb-swizzled if a whoppin’ big shark didn’t grab it soon’s ever it hit the water. And there he was! Them there prongs just stuck in his throat like about a dozen big hooks, an’ reavin’ the line through a tackle, we tailed on an’ had that there shark on deck in less’n no time. Just then the wind come up an’ the mate commenced hollerin’ orders an’ I reckon ’twas lucky at that, or else we’d all been fishin’ for sharks with them there hatracks an’ them South Ameriky chaps wouldn’t never have got ’em.
I don’t rightly know what the name o’ the place was where we put in at, but ’twas some “Santa” or other—don’t, make a mite o’ difference nohow—and Henry had some o’ them hatrack gadjets broken out o’ the hold an’ sends ’em ashore and sets ’em down outside a inn whilst he goes inside for a drink before a startin’ to do business. Just then along comes a couple o’ chaps dashin’ up horse back and all rigged out fit to kill in big hats and jinglin’ spurs an’ sashes an’ cloaks an’ such-like.
Pullin’ up alongside the inn they sees Henry’s hatracks standin’ there convenient-like an’ thinkin’ Mister Innkeeper’d got some new-fangled kind o’ hitchin’ posts they heaves their bridles over them racks and stomps inside. Wal, that was all what was needed. After that, every consarned inn and pub in the place had to have a hatrack hitchin’-post outside to do any business, an’ we was three mortal days stowin’ the hides an’ coffee an’ rubber what we took in trade for them there gadjets. Beats all what fool luck some folks do have.
Now there ain’t a mite o’ use in me a tellin’ ye about the run down the coast an’ round the Horn, ’ceptin’ we all wished we had them there skates for to get about the decks with when we struck cold weather an’ the old hooker iced up. But we was mighty glad we had them two fore-an’-aft sails, ’stead o’ square yards, an’ we just stripped off the mainmast canvas an’ worked round the Horn under fore an’ mizzen, ’cause no mortal man could have handled square sails in the weather what we had. But we got round at last, and mighty thankful at that, an’ stood away for the South Sea Islands.
When we fetched the first one the Old Man was pretty nigh flabbergasted to see all them folks, men an’ wimmen, runnin’ around just as naked as the day they was born. So, without waitin’ to give Henry a chance for to trade, he gets out them aprons an’ sunbonnets an’ passes of ’em around to them heathen savages. An’ what do ye think? Them critters was tickled to death. They grabbed the bonnets an’ tied ’em on for bustles an’ wrapped the aprons ’round their heads for turbans, an’ goes struttin’ up an’ down the decks as proud as peacocks! Wal, sir, skipper wasn’t no better off than before, so, hidin’ his eyes an’ blushin’ somethin’ awful, he shoos ’em off, an’ findin’ they don’t have no shell nor copra he takes on a lot o’ coconuts an’ sets sail for the next island.
HERE THE folks wears clothes in the shape o’ grass petticoats, an’ they also got plenty o’ copra an’ shell, so the Old Man opens up the hatches an’ rigs hoistin’ tackle an’ slings to the mainyard an’ gets ready for to trade. Seein’ as how the skipper’d given away all them aprons and bonnets at t’other island, we didn’t have nothin’ to trade, ’ceptin’ the bay rum what we got to St. Thomas and the coffee and hides an’ rubber what we took on over to South Ameriky.
’Course the islanders didn’t have no use for hides or coffee or rubber, but the cap’n an’ Henry figured as how the bay rum might have taken— seem’ as how ’twas mostly made o’ good Santa Cruz rum an’ smelled mighty nice. And I’ll be bilged if it didn’t take too consarned well at that. Gosh A’mighty! The old chief just took one sniff o’ that there stuff an’ poured a bit down his scuppers an’ he was ready for to trade everythin’ he had. And right then and there that dumb-swizzled fool Henry made a big mistake. Thinkin’ to get the copra and shell aboard faster, he gives out a dozen cases o’ bay rum before more’n half a ton o’ shell an’ a couple o’ canoe loads o’ copra was alongside and then, o’ course them consarned savages just sot down an’ got themselves plumb fightin’ drunk.
We could hear of ’em a-yellin' and squealin’ over to the village and when no more stuff comes off the skipper sends a boat ashore for to see what was the trouble. But that boat never touched the beach, I tell ye. Soon’s ever they seen us comin’ they grabs up spears and clubs an’ such an’ comes tearin’ an’ yellin’ for us and we just turns tail an’ pulls like blue blazes for the ship. Lucky thing they was too drunk to handle canoes or I wouldn’t be here tellin’ ye about it.
And we was in a pretty fix. There we be, anchored inside the lagoon and not a breath o’ wind stirrin’ the palm trees and with a passel o’ cannibals carousin’ ashore an’ us with no way o’ gettin’ clear. We knowed, soon’s ever them blacks had guzzled all the bay rum they had, that they’d be comin’ out to stick us up and gather in the rest o’ the stuff and skipper—him bein’ such a sanctimonious chap, and a man o’ peace—we didn’t have no guns aboard. Wal, there we be, settin’ an’ waitin’ for to have our throats slit—an’ like as not et arterwards—and not knowin’ what to do, when Rooney gives a yell an’ bangs his peg-leg on the deck.
“B’gorra I have it!” says he. “B’ys, break out that there rubber an’ be lively about it!”
Not knowin’ nor carin’ what the idea was, but willin’ for to do most anythin’ just to keep our minds offen them wild cannibals ashore, we falls to and gets them bales o’ rubber on deck. It had been tarnation hot weather for weeks past and the rubber’d got soft and sticky-like, and Rooney sets us all to work pullin’ of it out and twistin’ of it into cables. Then he fetches up a barrel o’ sulphur, what we had for fumigatin’ the ship in case o’ fever and we rubbed the brimstone over the rubber cables an’ lays ’em out in the sun. Next, Rooney orders us to get a hide outen the hold, and he fastens one end o’ the rubber cables to this and t’other ends to a couple o’ sheer-poles rigged up alongside o’ the rail, and then we begins for to see what he’s doin'.
Gosh all hemlock! There he had the aimightiest big slungshot what ever was, and we hadn’t no more’n finished it when about fifty canoes came a skyhootin’ from shore filled chock-o-block with savages. Soon’s they come about two cables’ lengths off, Rooney clapped a tackle onto the hide with a lashing to a snatch-block —an’ drawin’ the things-mabob clean back to t’other rail he dumps a sack o’ coconuts into the hide an’ cuts the lashin’s with his knife.
Holy mackerel! Ye’d oughta seed them nuts go shootin’ when them big rubber cables go! Talk about bombshells. Some o’ them there nuts struck the canoes an’ busted and knocked the niggers all about.
’Tothers plumped into the water alongside, while them cannibals what was hit fair might just as well been struck by a six-inch shell. But they was game all right. Some on ’em got nigh enough the ship to heave a few spears and arrers, but a couple o’ more loads o' nuts finished ’em.
An’ just then a breeze comes up, an’ slippin’ our cable we got clear o’ the lagoon. But the last shot was too consarned much for them sheerpoles, and rubbers an’ hide an’ poles an’ all went flyin’ off together. Seem’ as the sheerpoles was made outen the main torpsail yards we couldn’t use the mainmast for square canvas, so we put into Samoa and rigged the old Fullerton as a three-masted schooner afore we sailed home, and there was one square-rigger less.”
The old sailor stopped and refilled his pipe.
“That’s a corker of a yarn,” I chuckled, “Beats any you’ve told me yet.” Slowly he rose to his feet and looked down at me with a hurt expression on his weather-beaten face.
“Meanin’ you don’t believe it,” he said in injured tones. “Wal, o’ course folks what ain’t never been to sea don’t know what almighty queer things does happen. Howsomever, if ye’ll come up to my place 1 can prove it’s true, I got one o’ the pearl shells an’ a arrer up there.”
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- As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.