Friday, August 21, 2009

Amistad

The official Connecticut state ship and flagship of the Connecticut fleet, the topsail schooner Amistad has ducked in behind the New Bedford Harbor hurricane barrier in anticipation of this weekend's blow.
There's a Don Cuddy story on the Standard-Time's website. You know Don, he gets to do all the yachtie stories because his name is a boat part. I link to it so that I don't have to drive over to the pier myself and deal with the ogling idiots who think that it's the boat from the movie.
You know, the Spielberg movie that they filmed in Newport, and I might have done something in. The one where Anthony Hopkins plays a much older Paul Giamatti.
Amistad is a remarkable story, and I urge you to seek it out.
I have an especial fondness for topsail schooners, and that's mainly because I don't believe that any ship is properly rigged without at least one yard. In the above photograph, I see two. (This is what makes me Third Mate. The keen observation skills.)
When I was a superannuated trustafarian living on a TallShip™ tied off to a pier -- any pier -- I would sometimes engage in lively conversations with families who passed by. The ones who balked at the boarding fee and thought that they could get me to give them the educational tour as they stood ticketless on the dock.
In most cases, I instructed them to merely listen as I proceeded with the tour already in progress....and this is where the captain keeps his bababooey...But every so often, as I polished the binnacle or made like I was battening down something, I would hear fathers explaining to their sons the niceties of Eighteenth Century rigging.
I heard a lot of "pirate" malarkey, but this was long before the Pirates of the Caribbean ride was made into the MerchandisingCashCow Trilogy.
Not that there weren't late Twentieth Century attempts by Hollywood at popularizing the "arr, matey" crap, but I'm talking about the innovational era contiguous to Cutthroat Island, the movie that killed Geena Davis's career, and to Chris Elliot's Cabin Boy. The popular culture of that part of last century really had nothing to steer by, squarerig-wise.
Sometimes the sound of an earnest entreaty would ring in my ears and I would have to respond.
"You see that, son? That's a slave ship."
I was in a "certain southern port," so I was expecting to next hear whoops of appreciation from yokels wearing the Stars'n'Bars. I wasn't expecting to see the Huxtables.
"No," I waved, trotting down the boarding plank toward Cliff, "No, we're not a slave ship, we're a ... well, the original ship had a ... well, mutiny..."
A mutiny by an entitled bipolar Manxman and his loose-bound gang of also-rans against a depressive obsessive Naval careerist just doesn't seem like much when you're talking to descendants of people who had been yanked from their homes, imprisoned, stuffed into stinking ships' holds, brought thousands of miles under wretched conditions, and sold ... at auction as ...
We had a nice chat. I explained that slavery was made illegal in 1783 in Massachusetts -- the homewaters of my Twentieth Century ship. That the actual Bounty had set sail nearly twenty years after slavery was made illegal in England. That none of the ships that you see when you go to these TallShip™ events have any history of dealing in slavery or the slave trade -- no matter what pay or conditions the contemporary crew might grouse about. (In character, I explained that I abhorred the very idea of the slave trade, no matter how much rum it gave the world.)
I shared the history stuff because I had lived it. Oh sure, I ended up working on ships that taught inner city youth the values of "teamwork" and "responsibility," and those experiences I found both enjoyable and fulfilling. But for the most part, we all denied that ships "like these" had anything to do with "that stuff."
So that is why Amistad has to do what they do. From their website:

Each year the Amistad tours ports throughout the Atlantic Ocean that have historical significance to the story of the Atlantic Slave Trade - from the US East Coast to Europe, West Africa and the Caribbean. As an educational organization, our mission is to provide a transformative experience for students through an intense and direct reexamination of the history of the Atlantic Slave Trade and its legacy found throughout the nations of the Atlantic Basin. We believe that confronting that past in an academically rigorous and experiential manner can profoundly enlighten students about the struggles for freedom that has marked nearly 400 years of history.

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