Saturday, June 21, 2014

Aboard the Charles W. Morgan on the 38th Voyage

Note, 9-24-15This post originally appeared on June 21, 2014, but it was recently and inexplicably deleted from my blog. Thanks to the foresight of folks at Mystic Seaport, I'm reposting it based on an archived copy. This may lead to slight formatting errors.

It's been almost a week since I was aboard the Charles W. Morgan for my leg of the 38th Voyage (due to a weather delay, we ended up sailing on Sunday, the 15th). Some surprise visitors to our house have been preventing me from writing about the trip sooner. Someone abandoned a mother cat and four kittens on our property, but I'm happy to say that they are all now doing just fine and waiting for good homes.

Not 38th Voyagers. They might have potential as a ship's cats some day, though.

Anyway, the Voyage was amazing. We boarded the Morgan on Saturday evening in New London and spent the night at the dock there. About fifteen of us slept in small two-tiered bunks in the fo'c's'le until a wake-up shout at 5 A.M. We spent the rest of the day at sea, partly under tow from a large tug. Around mid-day, though, we cast off the tow rope, the crew set almost every sail, and the Morgan cruised under her own power for two hours. That was what I was waiting for, and it was just as exciting as I expected. 

The Charles W. Morgan under sail.

Aloft on the Morgan.

When I wasn't watching the crew move around the deck and go aloft, talking with the other Voyagers (including an artist, an economist, a dress historian, a literary scholar, a wildlife conservationist, an ethnomusicologist, and maritime historians) or marveling at the dozens of pleasure boats of all sizes that followed us on our journey, I took some time to speak with the crew about what sorts of clothing they pack and choose to wear as professional sailors in 2014.

Aaron Gralnick has been sailing tall ships almost ten years, and he brings five days' worth of clothes on sea voyages, figuring that, in that time, "I'll either get on shore and find a laundry or we'll be at sea and people won't care." 

Aaron Gralnick

Among other things, his wardrobe includes a fleece jacket and foul weather pants and a coat. Aaron told me that he isn't a fan of hoods on raingear because they impede his hearing, but that he does wear a waterproof hat and gloves (the latter only when on deck, not aloft). Sailors have two foul-weather options these days: "Grundens," a brand of completely waterproof clothing, and more breathable options. The former are completely waterproof but not breathable and thus too warm for some weather, while the latter breathe but are not quite as waterproof. For Aaron, as for nineteenth-century sailors, "good foul-weather gear is worth its weight in gold."
Aaron Gralnick

Aaron has found that most of his work clothing lasts two or three seasons, and he usually packs a dress shirt and a tie, wrapped up and buried in his sea bag, as his "schooner bum camouflage" for going ashore. "Stuff has to last," Aaron told me, "because you can't just run to REI in the middle of the season." So, he says, you have to be particular but also realize that you only have so much space for your stuff aboard ship.

Overhearing me talk about the historical preferences of sailors for short jackets, Aaron pointed out that he often wears a vest, but rolls it up in back to better access his knife and marlinspike, part of the "rig" carried by each crewmember (watch for a forthcoming blog post on these).

Cassie Sleeper has been a professional sailor since 2007 (for many such people, that means working aboard ship 9-11 months a year). Because she doesn't go home to Los Angeles during the working season, everything she needs goes into a 55-lb. seabag, a backpack, and a purse. It takes her two days to pack. First, she gathers everything she thinks she needs and lays it all out. The next day, she starts taking stuff out, thinking about what she actually requires for a given voyage in a given season and climate. Sometimes, she tries layering everything on at once to see what she could wear in cold weather. By the end, she usually ends up with two pairs of work pants, two or three pairs of work shorts, three work shirts, a pair of long underwear, her foul weather gear, enough socks and underwear for at least a week ("Your underwear is going to be hanging out to dry on the ship, so you have to consider what kind to bring.") and two dresses or sets of nice clothes ("Sometimes, on a ship, you forget you're a girl, so when you go into port you dress up."). 

Cassie Sleeper

Cassie's foul weather gear includes a $400 raincoat with clear hood side panels. She finds that Grundens are harder to move in but that the linings of breathable coats wear out in patches. She also usually packs a pair of work shoes, foul weather shoes (if her work shoes aren't waterproof, as the ones she was wearing on this voyage were), work sandles, and a pair of nice shoes. "We're all sort of brand-name people," Cassie told me, pointing out the commonality of Carhartts pants as an example.

Cassie Sleeper

"You bring cheap clothes," Cassie says, "because you're going to ruin them." It takes her about a year and a half to go from new jeans to work jeans to ruined jeans. The pants she was wearing on this voyage were new last October.
Cassie Sleeper

Ryan Loftus has been sailing tall ships for three years. Like most of the crew, he wears Carhartts or Dickies pants. He also packs cheap shorts and white tee-shirts for long voyages ("They're durable, and you don't care if they get destroyed"). 
Ryan Loftus

Ryan's foul weather gear includes a Grundens jacket, bib pants, and rubber sea boots. His work pants last him a year or two, depending on the work, and he usually packs three sets of work clothes and three sets of casual, a pair of work shoes, a pair of Chacos sandles, and sea boots. Ryan pointed out that the T-shirt he was wearing was new that day, and the shorts he was wearing were new as of the ship's first sail a few days before.

Ryan Loftus

Watching and talking with the Morgan's professional crew gave me a lot to think about when it comes to how sailors, in 1814 or 2014, weighed choices about fashion and function. And, although part of me hoped it would rain a little so I could see what sort of rain gear they broke out, I was mostly happy to be out on such a historic ship on such a beautiful day. You can follow the ongoing progress of the Morgan here.

Thanks to the staff of Mystic Seaport, particularly Katharine Mead and Erik Ingmundson, and the crew of the Charles W. Morgan, for all their work making the New London-Newport leg such a success.

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