He’s telling of the great steel windjammers, so called at first as an insult by the scornfu l steamship men they challenged in their heyday
(“Look at ’em jammin ‘ inta th ‘ wind with their yards braced all around ‘ginst the backstays”).
But the sobriquet “wi ndjammer” soon was to become the laudation, if not the glory, assumed yet today, though inappropriately, by impertinent li ttle sailshi ps seeking summertime passengers.
Captain Joh nson relives the 93 wild days that began at Hamburg on Friday, 13 December 1929 in the four-masted bark Peking,
” the shi p that had tremendous effect on my life. “
For starters, on departure, with some of the superstitious crew fearing the worst, she walked into one of the worst storms in years lashi ng the Chan nel, a ki ller that sent 69 strong ships to the bottom.
She was bound forTalcahuano, Chile with general cargo.
(Johnson’s book about this voyage, The Peking Battles Cape Horn , is available from NMHS. The film is available from Mystic Seaport Museum, on videotape.)
Swaying crazily in 300-foot arcs 175 feet up on the royal yard as the Peking rolled down 45 degrees,
her decks and struggli ng men awash in tons of cold, swirling sea
(“the grandest sight I ever looked on”) and nearly being swept away by a rogue wave while shooting his Kodak camera from the chart house roof,
the 24-year old Hadley farm boy made an epic fi lm record as ” she bashed to windward and crashed her way westward- the wrong way-through a pairof Cape Hom Ri p Snorters.”
Captain Johnson lived again every thrill of that day with the glass down to 28. 19 inches and seas as high as 50 feet sending spray and scud streaking over the upper tops ‘I yards.
He again saw new heavy canvas boom away in shreds as three quarters of an inch thi ck steel wire parted with the sound of a cannon bl ast;
he heard again the crashi ng wave that bent in a 20-foot long section of the Peking’s steel hull,
and he remembered agai n that she had logged on ly I 0 miles, Sunday to Wednesday.
And he recalled the sadness he fe lt when told that the Peking had lost five sailors overboard on her homeward run. He smiles now about the conditions: “The turkey got sick so we ate that.
Then one of the hens got sick and we ate that . … And the men were wet all the time, and no heat.
But nobody caught cold. You never get a chance to get warm so you fe lt good all the time.”
The old mari ner glowed with unabashed fondness for the Peking’s master, Captai n Jurs.
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