'There's only one reason you're here, and it's got nothing to do with Skeantlebury or Billy Maitland. You're here because you're a drunk. . . Well, Carmack, for the next four or five months you're going to be stone sober for the first time in years."
Voyage, by Sterling Hayden, takes place in the year 1896. By page 172, the Neptune's Car, "the first steel sailing vessel ever built down East" is finally ready to take off. Up till then, the author was introducing a long cast of characters.
But now everyone's onboard, and nearly all the seamen were recruited through Gus Skeantlebury's Parlor. He got paid their first two months wages of $18 a month. They've now been dragged and prodded on board in various stages of consciousness and Captain Pendleton is speaking to them:
"Now, men, the name of this vessel is Neptune's Car, and she's flying the black anvil of the House of Blanchard. And once't this voyage is done with there's none of you need to ever be on the beach again. Because you - those of you who survive - will be able to say you made a Cape Horn voyage in a Blanchard ship under Captain Irons S. Pendleton. . .
"This may just be the finest square-rigged ship on the face of the globe. She can be a floating home. Or she can be a floating flaming hell.
It's all of it up to you. The mates and me have nothin' a-tall to do with it. We're here to give the orders. And see to it that they're carried out. And carried out fast---
So let me make it clear right here and now. When we speak, you jump. And you jump fast. . .
"There's some amongst you look like pretty good men. And there's some amongst you don't look none too frisky. And there's one or two I noticed looks like scum.
But let me tell you, boys, it's all of a piece to me and th' mates. You'll be sailormen before'n we reach fifty south or my name ain't Irons Paul Pendleton.
"Mr. Ruhl right now is going through both them fo'c's'les searching for weapons and liquor. What he finds goes over the side. What he don't find better dan good and well go over the side before morning."
These were jobs that were hard to fill. The captain seems to have been head of a rehab clinic and apprentice ship program as well as captain of a ship.
But not all these men were drunks, though they all had been at Skeantelbury's. One of the 'scum,' Kindred, was sixty-six and overweight.
"Everything had happened so swiftly. Less than twenty-four hours ago he and his partner Bragdon had been drinking beer in a place below the Bowery. They were bound down south to escape from the cold, with the Monk [Bragdon] extolling the languorous delights of an island called Grenada, where, with luck and a contact he had, Bragdon would find work as port captain and Kindred would work in a library."And the first mate, we know from earlier in the book, is accused of killing three seaman in a recent voyage as well as gouging out the eye of another young seaman.
But jobs for alcoholics, let alone, the uneducated, are pretty scarce these days. I've got over 500 pages still to go to find out how successful this floating rehab center will be.
How accurate is this description in the book? I'm not sure at all.
The first steel sailing ships in the US were apparently built at the Bath Iron Works in Maine in 1896, which is the year the voyage in the book took place.
But apparently the most famous ship called Neptune's Car sailed in 1856. It's actually quite a story because the young captain's 19 year old wife, Mary Patten, went along and put down a mutiny when her husband fell ill rounding Cape Horn, and managed to bring the limping ship into San Francisco with its cargo intact. You can learn more about that journey at the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park website.
And on another note, it seems I'm going to have to turn off the spell check in my new computer's software - there were a number of changes it made in this post I had to go back and redo - for example sailormen got changed to salesmen.