Life On the St. Mary's by Young Tar
[The following sprightly account of life on the school-ship St. Mary's
was written by one of the recent graduates. We
give the portraits of three of the four boys who recently graduated with
the highest honors. That of the fourth, Master J. B. Stone, we were
unable to obtain.]
J. J. Wait.—B. C. Fuller.—J. J. Crawley.
GRADUATES OF THE "ST. MARY'S" SCHOOL-SHIP.—Photographed by Pach.
The New York Nautical School on board the ship St. Mary's must not be
confounded with the school-ship Mercury, which formerly existed at
this port; the latter was a floating reformatory, while the former was
established for the purpose of training American boys to officer and man
our merchant ships. The course of instruction embraces a short review of
arithmetic, grammar, and geography, a thorough drill in
marline-spikework, handling sails, boats, oars, etc.
When the St. Mary's leaves her dock for the annual cruise, the school
routine is changed, the first-class boys having lessons in navigation,
steering, heaving the log and lead, passing earings, etc., while the
second class are aloft "learning gear," i. e., following up the
different ropes which form a ship's machinery, and fixing in the mind
their lead and use, and a sure method of finding them in the darkest
night. This last is absolutely necessary, for if a squall should strike
the ship, and the order, "Royal clew-lines, flying-jib down-haul—Smith,
let go that royal-sheet" were given, it would be very mortifying, as
well as dangerous, if he had to answer, "I don't know where it is, Sir."
The boys, assisted by a few able sea-men, form the crew of the ship.
They stand watch, make, reef, and take in sail; do all the dirty work,
tarring down, painting, scraping, and slushing. They stand watch and
watch, keep at night a look-out on the cat-heads, gangways, quarters,
and halliards, where they are required to "sing out" their stations
every half hour, to be sure that they are awake. Many are the instances
of boys falling asleep, and being awakened by a lurch of the ship,
singing out at the wrong time, and once a sleepy look-out reported
"Light, ho!" and to the officer's "Where away?" was obliged to answer,
"It's the moon, Sir!"
Then there is the excitement of reefing topsails. Your hammock seems
especially comfortable as you drowsily feel the accelerated pitching of
the ship and the rattle of rain on deck, when the boatswain's shrill
call rings through the ship, "All hands, reef topsails; tumble out, and
up with you, everybody!" On deck Egyptian darkness, driving rain, and
salt spray, the ship staggering under a press of sail, or, as happened
in her last cruise, the topsail sheets were parted, and the great sails
flapping and slatting out to leeward like a thunder-cloud, orders given
in quick succession, then rally of men at the clew-lines, then a rush
aloft and out on the straining yard, every movement of the vessel
intensified, your feet sliding on the slippery foot-rope, with nothing
to hold on to but the flapping sail, which threatens to knock you
overboard every moment. The weather earing is passed, and then, "Light
out to leeward;" you have your point barely tied when the yard gives a
terrible swing, and you faintly hear the order, "Lay down from aloft,
for your lives; the braces are gone!"
When Lisbon is reached, you almost know the city—the queer little
donkeys with very large loads of oranges, the queerer river craft, the
windmills, and even the dress of the natives seem familiar as you recall
the pictures in your primary geography. The return voyage home in the
"trades" is delightful—a warm sun and a good steady breeze, not a brace
touched for a week or more, a water-spout and a rain-squall to vary the
monotony of the every-day routine. Then the colder weather as you near
Hatteras, a glimpse of old Montauk through the fog, a sharp look-out for
beacons and buoys, the song of the leads-man, the quick tramp of men
clewing up sail, a heavy splash and the rattle of chain, and we are
anchored fast in New London mud. "All hands furl sail," now; no noise,
for the Saratoga lies right ahead, and on board of a man-of-war it is
considered disgraceful to make a clatter in doing any kind of work.
There is an eager race up the rigging, and every nerve and muscle is
strained to get your sail up first.
At the end of the year the Chamber of Commerce examines the boys, and an
exhibition drill is given. The graduates are usually fitted to ship in a
merchantman as "ordinary," and are aided in their efforts to find a good
ship and a good captain by many of New York's most prominent merchants
and ship-owners, who take a deep interest in the school. The instruction
on board the St. Mary's is so thorough that graduates have very little
trouble, if they are diligent and smart, in finding situations, and
after a voyage or two they generally rise to the position of second