The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Oswego Palladium (Oswego, NY), Jan. 6, 1877

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An Old Tar's Twister
The Speed of Vessels Twenty-Five Years Ago - A Miraculous Escape From Drowning

It was a dark stormy night - the wind howling its loudest and shrillest from the northwest, a good night for a yarn and it was evident from the frequency with which the ancient mariner scratched his poll and expectorated highly colored saliva that while the quid was being rolled from side to side, his brain was in the trough of bygone days and was tossed like a cockle shell in the breaker. The silence had grown to be almost unbearable when the old tar threw away his quid, bit off a fresh piece of navy and looking around the party awaiting his "twister," opened his budget and relieved himself of the following:

"Many wonderful things happen at sea, and in my time I have seen things on the lakes that you wouldn't believe if it wasn't I, a man of veracity, tell you. In 1852 I was mate on a little clipper hailing from Cleveland. She was a smart little witch, very slippery on her heel, and always led the fleet a stern chase. Thee was one thing about the schooner that I did not like, and that was the suddenness with which she came in stays.

"I have seen her come in stays after a good fall, lift the men attending the jib sheets off their feet and dash the man at the wheel into the weather scuppers. When the order 'ready about' wad given on that vessel it meant something. Men who knew the tricks of the vessel used to tied the ends of the lines around their waists while she was on the wind, so that in case she left them dancing on nothing with a prospect of dropping into the water when she went around, they could haul themselves back again to the deck. "But it was her sailing that I meant to speak about when I started. Although she was 'greased lightening' by the wind, it was before the wind that she shone as a bright particular star. The facts I am about to relate are so indelibly fixed in my mind that it seems but yesterday that they worked themselves out. We were coming down Lake Huron in the month of October - a month, by the way, that is little if any behind November in violent gales, when we were overtaken by one of the worst gales from the northwest I have ever seen.

"Although Huron is deep it took but a few hours to kick up the heaviest sea I ever encountered, and when we got down to Saginaw Bay it seemed as though all Superior, Michigan and Huron were tumbled into one and that each, in trying to preserve its identity, was determined to outdo the other in size of waves. Waves, you know, roll in triplets - three of a kind (not very strong in poker, but hard to beat when old Neptune holds them).

"We were running under a double-reefed foresail and a reefed jib, and were going through the water so fast that spray was flying to the foremast head, alto' the schooner was acting as well as could be expected. When about half way across Saginaw Bay (sailors call it the bay, but it is the lake) we shipped a huge wave, one whose crest was far above the sheer poles, and poor Tim Mulcahy, who was standing near the forerigging lighting his pipe, was swept overboard and far in advance of us. The poor fellow shouted at the top of his voice, but only a faint whisper could be heard as he was carried away on the breast of the wave. We all gave him up for lost and were on the point of saying a good word for him when the wind freshened; the little clipper gathered herself, and with a bound that would do credit to a hound, was off on the wings of the wind.

"It was plain to be seen that if the puff held we would soon overtake Tim, who was still on the top of the same wave that carried him overboard. Fortunately the wind held and the 'little beauty,' as we called her, overhauled the wave Tim was on, cut through it under Tim's feet and before we knew what was up Tim was plumped on deck and rushed aft to the cabin. We thought that Tim would be swept off again over the stern but when he arrived at the cabin he grasped two loaves of bread the cook had out cooling and was saved. We had a woman cook who made such heavy bread that one loaf would anchor the yawl in the middle of Lake Erie forever. I have known the schooner to ride one wave for hours. How do I know it was the same wave? Why, I have thrown cork wood overboard and in hours after found it alongside or seen it in our wake, showing that the schooner would at times outrun the waves.

"On our arrival ant Buffalo, Tim left, declaring he would not be made a shuttle-cock by waves and vessels. The last time I heard from him was in Nice, Southern France, in drying plums. A shipmate saw him there several years ago sitting on a basket of plumbs and Tim told him that he was getting good wages. Tim said that he could dry three baskets a day and the sun could not dry one unless the plumbs were spread out and spreading bruised them."

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Jan. 6, 1877
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Richard Palmer
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Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Oswego Palladium (Oswego, NY), Jan. 6, 1877