By Ernest L. White
Hampton, New Hampshire
She bludgeoned and pounded her way along
And smothered with wide, blunt bow,
The white caps that roe. to dispute her way,
For she was a sailing scow.
She did not pitch or roll or knife.
The water in high flung spray,
And she left behind a sudsy wake
On the Sheepscott River that day.
Ugly she looked without sheer or lines,
To a yachtsman and his clique,
A straight sided box, an inanimate thing,
Just a scow with a load of brick.
But to us, she was a clipper ship,
Sailing a far off sea
And her cargo was spice, and pieces of eight,
And jade and chests of tea.
It was a special day for Clarence and me. It was the day that we were to go "down river" on a sailing scow. One thing about it all, different from some of our trips "down river", was that we had permission from our parents and the captain of the scow as well, to make the trip.
No wonder we were all excited and up bright and early, or that Clarence came barging into our sitting room, hollering for me to hurry up while Grandma was having the usual morning prayers. He saw his mistake right off and so, when Gram just glared, and pointed her finger at his, he got right down on his knees along side me and put his hands on the seat of the chair same as I was doing. Gram started reading and praying again and Clarence nudged me, opened his hand and showed me a brand new mackerel jig, then rolled his eyes.
We had worked hard for this chance to go sailing down the Sheepscott all legal and ship-shape. For days we had whisked the old family cow back and forth to pasture on schedule, kept the woodbox full and lugged pails and pails of water without protest. To get the captain of the big scow to let us go with him as far as the "Upper Mark" we had to furnish him and his one man crew -- while they were berthed or taking on a cargo of bricks at Birch Point, all the fish and clams they wanted and a batch of lobsters every day, lug drinking and wash water for them. We also had to keep the deck of the scow reasonably free of broken bricks and "sculch" while all they did was wash a few clothes, hang them in the rigging to dry, then lie around loafing and smoking. Sometimes they sang and played the accordion but they never forgot to boss us and find things to keep us busy. They said they were making sailors of us.
In those days the flats and coves were full of clams but the trouble was that you had to dig them. Fishing was the easiest chore we had to do for them. They liked flounders and cunners but wouldn't touch Tomcods. We had to clean all the fish we gave them which was a messy job. It was no trick at all to catch a mess of lobsters right in the harbor in those days (the eight-teen eighties and early nineties), All you heeded was an iron barrel hoop or wagon tire, cover it with a bagging piece of fish net, tie a few bricks so it would sink, also some sculpins or Tomcods for bait, lower it down in a likely place and wait fifteen or twenty minutes. When you hauled it up you generally had a lobster, sometimes more. Lobsters were not considered a luxury in those days. You could buy them all cooked at Colby's fish market, at the town end of the long bridge, for a nickel apiece. but what boy had a nickel? The big ones cams higher, some as high as ten cents, but they had to be big ones to fetch that price. fly Uncle Frank was credited with catching the largest lobster ever caught in the harbor. Grandma said she had to use the wash boiler to cook it in. Mr. Colby paid Uncle Frank twenty-five cents for it to exhibit in his store window. big money, then! a.00king back, 1.don't remember any laws pertaining to the taking of lobsters under a certain size, but I'm sure if there were any we boys never heard about them. I remember catching a big one on a hand line down off Rum Cove. Gosh! How he pulled!
Another thing we had to do for the captain and his crew to earn our ride "down river" was to row over to town two or three tines a day and buy Jamaica Ginger for them. At that time we felt sorry for them, having to take Jamaica Ginger for the "belly ache" every little while. Mr. Damao in the drug store, after our third call in one day, wanted to know why we were buying so much Jamaica Ginger and for when. When we told him about the captain and the crew of the scow who were suffering awfully with the "belly ache", he said he was real sorry for them but he didn't have any more Jamaica Ginger to sell them. I didn't find out until years later that it was used for other purposes than the "belly ache".
As soon as Gram said,"Amen", we were up on our feet and out of the door because we knew the scow was going to start down the river as soon as the tide "served" and that time was very near. Clarence's father had borrowed a nice seaworthy boat for us to use because he said that the old punt of ours wasn't safe to drag across the flats without sinking. "Gosh", I said, "if he knew whore we had rowed that little punt and the rough water we have weathered in her, he would have a fit:"
The tide was ready to turn when we finally boarded the scow and made our row boat fast, to trail along astern. We helped, or tried to help, raise and set the great mainsail and jib and then the captain headed the clumsy craft towards the Narrows, mostly by the skillful manipulation of the scow's "side-boards" and the headsail. Is stood proudly by the "tiller" and fed our egos to the bursting point by thinking we were piloting the craft down the river.
As the old scow pounded and splashed her way down we took turns, Clarence and I, being captain or mate of a privateer or a big four mast ship bound for the China Sea. At times, one of us became a pirate, bent on capturing the merchantman while the brave captain, the other one of us, fought to repel the boarders.
And so, in fancy, we sailed the seven seas, commanded ships, sought and found adventure and unrestrained as the rock and tree lined shore slid slowly by and the real captain of the scow watched us and headed us off if we tried to do some more than unusually foolhardy stunt. Finally, when Clarence ran out on the bowsprit to harpoon an imaginary "°Moby Dick", the captain ordered him back before the jib "flipped" him over-board. Than the captain put us to peeling potatoes and onions and shucking clams for a chowder. While he smoked and manipulated the "side boards" so the sail would not jibe in the following breeze, the crew sang softly and played a tune or two on the accordion.
Our highest ambition right then was to become captains of scows and sail up and down the Sheepscott forever.
We were just finishing up our third helping of clam chowder when the captain pointed to a little islet or lodge sticking up and said, "There's the Upper Mark, pull up your boat and get into it. You're going to start rowing home now." In vain we begged him to let us go a little further, "Just down to the Middle Mark off MacMahan, - Ah! Please?!"
"Look here you little tadpoles," he said real cross like, "I promised your folks I'd put you off my scow at the Upper Mark and, by Gosh! I'm going to do it, even if I have to grab you by the scruff of the neck and the seat of the pants and heave you overboard." He meant it too. So we pulled our boat along side and stepped into it, reluctantly and grumbling. So our parents had seen the captain before they let us go! Humph! Just as if we couldn't take care of ourselves! Gee Whitickers! Babying us! Gosh we were mad. When the crew started playing and singing a tune about "Farewell, farewell" and "How can I bear to leave you" we got madder and madder. But when the captain told him to "shut up" and called us "Maties" and told us he'd be back in a couple of weeks for a load of cord wood and we could sail with him again, we felt better and started to row home to Wiscasset.