Avast, Me Hearties!

Brazilian Tall Ship Cisne Branco photo taken b...
Brazilian Tall Ship Cisne Branco. Image via Wikipedia
I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a gray mist on the sea’s face, and a gray dawn breaking.
I must down go to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way, where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.
 — John Masefield

Have you ever seen, or boarded, a Tall Ship?

Having just watched Moby Dick on the Encore channel last week, starring William Hurt and Ethan Hawke, I had a sudden wave of nostalgia for the times I’ve spent aboard them.

I discovered them in 1984 in Toronto, when they came from all over the world to visit. I fell hard for a young American, Kevin, and spent much of that summer meeting him, and his ship, at various ports around the Great Lakes. Ashtabula, Ohio, for example.

I love everything about these extraordinary vessels: the way they creak, their majestic posture, the physical labor of climbing the rigging, coiling huge and heavy lines as thick as my forearm, furling enormous square sails while standing 100 feet in the air on a footrope the width of….a rope.

It re-defines exhaustion working physically hour after hour after hour (even if it’s fun), burning off 7,000 calories a day and still losing weight. Every single action, climbing up and down below decks, cleaning the brass, turning the ship’s wheel, requires exertion.


I recently had lunch with a man I met on LinkedIn, visiting New York from Vancouver. I only knew he is an excellent speaker and hoped he might help me polish a speech. Over a long lunch we discovered that we had both crewed aboard a Tall Ship, he on the Europa and I on Australia’s Endeavour.

I was fortunate enough to be able to sail for free as a journalist, boarding in Norwalk, CT and sailing to Newport, RI for five days. I slept, as we all did, in a tiny narrow white vinyl hammock I had to string up each night….and one night my knots were weak and gave way and I plunged — ouch! — to the floor.

However cliche, you very quickly learn people’s real character when you live so closely and work in such tight teams in an environment of potential extreme danger. One stupid or inattentive move can maim or kill you, and you notice, fast, those who you best stay as far away from as possible.

It was so fun to meet someone who really knew, and equally loved, this odd world. He sailed aboard for three months, (paying about $50 a day for the privilege), even rounding Cape Horn in 40-foot seas.

My trip was much less exciting, although I loved standing the midnight to 4 a.m. watch and steering the ship beneath the stars.

Have you even been on one of these great ships?

Where and when?

You Call That Hard Work?

”]Cover of "Gorky Park [Region 2]"

We watched the terrific 1983 movie “Gorky Park” on the weekend.

In it, a young and handsome William Hurt, playing a Moscow cop, decides to reconstruct the facial features of two murder victims. In order to do so, he has the coroner (of course!) saw off their heads, which he then transports in two plain cardboard boxes tied with string.


Carting about severed heads strikes me as a fairly tough day at the office….

Journalists’ jobs often throw them into bizarre and dangerous situations. You never really know what to expect when you work at a newspaper or wire service: might be a plane crash, the aftermath of a hurricane or another lying politician weeping to the cameras about his mistakes.

You learn to keep a fresh shirt and tie in your desk drawer and women, depending what sort of stories they’re covering, learn to wear flats and clothing you can run, squat and even climb in comfortably. (Yes, that would rule out pencil skirts and stilettos.) You discover that ink freezes taking notes in sub-zero temperatures.

The sweetie faced a much tougher gig than I — six weeks in Bosnia at Christmas, alone, shooting photos for The New York Times. He slept in an unheated cargo container, almost died in a snowdrift at dusk and ate a cup of dried chicken soup as his holiday meal. Like a soldier, he slept in his long underwear for weeks. Showers were rare.

My toughest? I’ve had a few, more emotionally draining than physically demanding or frightening. Sent on a midtown stake-out, I had to stalk a Quebecoise tourist who’d been stabbed in the ass (welcome to New York) — because I was the only Daily News reporter who spoke French. I hated chasing her around a local deli asking questions as much as she resented the intrusion on her privacy.

In Montreal, the night before I took my driving test, I had to cover a horrific car-bus head-on collision, the car’s windows sheeted with blood.

In Winnipeg, interviewing a woman whose life had been turned upside down by a terrible drug side effect meant watching her shake and cry, her Parkinsons’ disease aggravated by the very stress of talking to me about her nightmare. I felt like a demon. It was the only way to get the story.

Here’s the classic whine, “Money for Nothing” from Dire Straits:

Now look at them yo-yo’s that’s the way you do it
You play the guitar on the MTV
That ain’t workin’ that’s the way you do it
Money for nothin’ and chicks for free
Now that ain’t workin’ that’s the way you do it
Lemme tell ya them guys ain’t dumb
Maybe get a blister on your little finger
Maybe get a blister on your thumb

What’s the hardest thing you ever did and got paid for?