Tuesday, April 15, 2008

All right, Leon...

You would think that there's only one shipwright on the East Coast, the way Leon Poindexter gets work. If he isn't making Rose into H.M.S. Surprise, he's building Boston Tea Party ship replicas. If he isn't on Ernestina saving it from itself, he's on Bounty, saving it from its captain. Kevin wrote a swell piece in the Standard-Times, which Joanna warned me about, so now I look like a slow dork who is taken by surprise by a story about a ship I tended for years. I honestly thought Lagoda had been refurbished five years ago, but I was wrong. Here's a slow-moving video version. (Oh, and, Nice one of Marty!)

This is not the first time that Lagoda has been under re-construction. I seem to remember one of the old salts who frightened the kids around the ship telling me that he remembered an overhaul "before the war." I'm guessing WWII, since the ship was built in 1915-16.

After much cajoling with the ship's master Captain Mandley, I spent a few years as mate vacuuming the thing. and making half-sized turns on half-sized lines on half-sized belaying pins. I learned valuable Lagoda trivia worth sharing:

  • The ship was built inside the Jonathan Bourne Whaling Museum, Emily Bourne's monument to her father. The Jonathan Bourne Whaling Museum was not, as reported, built around the ship model. The constructions were roughly concurrent, but the building itself was finished in order to accommodate the shipwrights. And then they changed the name to New Bedford Whaling Museum so people wouldn't go all the way to Bourne on the Cape looking for it.
  • You can still see the old name written in stone over the Bourne Building entrance on Johnny Cake Hill.
  • A row of "rooming houses" was torn down to make room on Johnny Cake Hill for the structure of the museum. Seems whaling wasn't the only industry failing in the early Twentieth Century.
  • I climbed to Lagoda's main top once, but you couldn't have paid me to go any further. Not because it was high (I'm used to repairing ratlines a hundred feet up). Lagoda's ratlines were like sawdust-covered cobwebs and the shrouds felt like bundles of toothbrush bristles.
  • I was up there in order to get glass out of the haphazardly-furled sails. The glass had been deposited there when a gas explosion blew up nearby O'Malley's Pub in '77, shattering the Bourne Building's windows.
  • I also crawled under the building to where the keel would have been. On a dare.
  • The actual whaling bark Lagoda was to be named Ladoga, after the lake on the Finnish-Russian border. The painter who was charged with transom duty accidentally transposed the D and G. Some say that the superstitious Bourne could not bring himself to change the name on the ship. Others say that he was a cheapskate who wouldn't pay for the paint to correct the error, but other reports deny this, saying that Bourne was a man of charitable instincts who probably felt sorry for the poor illiterate and left it that way.
  • Lagoda made something like $650,000 for Bourne. Which is like $25,000,000 according to some estimates.
  • I drove to Mystic to pick up those "new" sails ten years ago, so they've been sitting around -- probably right where I stored them -- for that long.
  • Whaling ships aren't the only ones who had chains in their rigging, as Leon asserts. I know what he'd say because I think we had this argument. (When I say "argument," I mean Leon probably shook his head slowly and I just felt like I was wrong, and so stopped talking. He has that power.) Some Eighteenth Century rigs chained yards because it allowed the usually short crew to "set it and forget it." Running rigging that acted like standing rigging. The whalers certainly spent some of their journey a few hands short of a watch, so the chains became commonplace. Then, by the end of the Nineteenth Century, everybody was rigging with steel cable and chain. I'm standing by that story, and I'm sure I have references and sources. Somewhere. I'll let you know.


ThirdMate said...

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the rest of the joke goes something like, "Yes, it's a half-sized model, but they put it in the museum because they couldn't find a bottle big enough."

karie said...

"Lagoda" flows off of the tongue so much more easily than "Ladoga" anyway!