Jeanie Johnston Chronicle
1st Report from the ship by Denis Franklin MD
who sailed on the Savannah to Charleston voyage
during the 2003 tour of US and Canadian ports.
Jeanie Johnston sails into the sunset in the gulf stream
Denis Franklin MD is a retired Doctor and a Merchant Marine Staff Officer living in California who has had a love affair with the sea for many years. He is an ardent fan of tall ships and his knowledge of sailing and enthusiasm for Jeanie shines through his report. Denis is also an accomplished Chantey singer and musician and this report was written as a letter to his chantey singing chums at the San Francisco Maritime Museum at Hyde Street Pier. Denis has also sent in another report entitled "up and over" - read it here.

Jeanie Johnston's Voyage from Charleston to Savannah, May, 2003

Jeanie Johnston is an exact replica of a Quebec-built ship that plied the seas between Ireland and Amerikay carrying lumber east and Irish immigrants west in around the 1850s. On this, the replica ship's maiden trans-Atlantic voyage, having stopped at the Azores after a very rough passage south from Cork, she had first touched at West Palm Beach before I joined her a few days ago on a steamy afternoon in Savannah, Georgia.

She was as gorgeous as I remembered her from the quayside in Fenit, County Kerry, two years ago when I ran across her whilst on a contra dance tour of Ireland's west coast. Now in the hazy sunshine on the Savannah River with slightly weathered brightwork and sails gone just a shade off white, her beauty lying there across River Street from Kevin Berry's Pub had become in its maturity everything which the imagination had previously promised. After reporting aboard and stowing my sea bag and traveling clothes in the dense 95 degree heat of the 'tween decks, I went onto the quay and for an hour gazed at her from every angle. At 153 feet in length and 510 tons, with masts reaching more than a hundred feet above her decks she took my breath away.

Jeanie moored in Savannah, Georgia
Jeanie moored in Savannah, Georgia, before the voyage
to Charleston.

Something was different, asymmetrical, about her yards which I finally realized had been caused by the addition at sea of stuns'l booms, but for some reason only to the portside ends of the yards on both main and foremast, for her courses, tops'ls, and t'gallants. The royal yards for her smallest and uppermost square sails remained unadorned and symmetrical. Bark rigged, Jeanie sports a fore-and-aft, gaff-rigged spanker and tops'l on her mizzen mast, stays'ls rigged fore-and-aft between her masts and a flying jib, outer jib, inner jib and foretop stays'l on a bowsprit. Each sail has a halyard, downhaul and port and starboard sheets, and the eight square sails have three or four buntlines and two clewlines apiece. Each of these lines comes down to its rightful belaying pin, and the pins are arrayed every foot or so through holes in the fife rails that surround each mast and line the inside of the bulwarks up and down each side of the ship. A person working on deck must be able to go immediately to the proper line to make whatever adjustment is ordered, day or night, in fair weather or foul, without necessarily being able to shake the line to see what wiggles up aloft.

After studying her rigging and taking a number of photograps with my new digital camera, hunger and the hot sun finally drove me across the road to the coolness of the pub for fish and chips and a cold bottle of Kaliber. I picked a table next to an electrical outlet so I could recharge my cell phone and call my kids to let them know I had arrived safely and, because I was a day early and was eager to bear a hand with dockside chores, had been invited by Captain Mike Coleman to sleep aboard instead of spending my money down the road at the river front Hyatt. I had taken the night plane east from San Francisco and hadn't got a wink's sleep the night before. I believe he could see that I was hardly fit to to go to try to find a hotel room. Even with the warning that she wasn't air conditioned I was greedy to soak in as much as I could of living aboard as real a tall ship as had ever sailed an ocean.

Old Glory flies from the mast of the Jeanie Johnston
Old Glory flies from the mast
of the Jeanie Johnston

Of course I paid for my eagerness by roasting in the superheated berthing space in a pool of sweat only minimally evaporated by the faint and slightly less warm draft coming down a duct over my bunk. John Gill, a man of my own age and interests and serving as Second Officer for this passage, later joked that berths in an Irish ship were made wide enough for one but strong enough for two, but I swear that even if I'd been offered companionship that night I believe I would have turned it down.

John, as it turned out, was, as I am, not only a fan of Patrick O'Brian's series of sea novels, but also an earnest, if not always perfectly tuneful, singer of sea songs and chanteys. Between us we managed to remember some of the words to a few songs, and amazed our shipmates by bursting into song at odd moments. John also taught interested trainees some of the principles and practice of celestial navigation, favoring the noon sight as being the most useful. Knowing the time accurately to one second, one can, with a simple calculation, obtain both longitude and latitude by measuring the altitude of the sun at the moment it crosses the meridian directly above the ship. As it happened he was using the very model of sextant I had bought a few days before the trip, but had not brought with me due to the difficulties of stand-by air travel these days. But because John's was the same I got to practice as if with my own, bringing the image of the sun exactly to the horizon.

Jeanie in the Gulf Stream

Jeanie in the Gulf Stream

I learned, or at least think I may have learned, a couple of things about some familiar chanteys during the three days of sail training we underwent as, sailing a hundred miles out into the Gulf Stream we meandered north to Charleston, Jeanie's next port of call. One piece had to do with the line, "....roll, bullies roll, them Liverpool Judies will have us in tow". When square sails are no longer needed, as when entering into port, and the crew are on the foot ropes, hanging over the yard and drawing up the sail, folding and rolling it into a "sausage" with the help of the clewlines and buntlines, the last thing they do is grab canvass out, down and under and roll the sail upward. Finally, as the petty officer or leading seaman on the yard yells, "ROLL! ...ROLL!", the crew members make one last grab outward and downward and roll the whole mass of the sail up on top of the yard, where it is fastened with several short pieces of rope called "gaskets".

As for a second item, if a gasket lets go and the sail blows out in a typhoon, causing the rest of the gaskets to blow out as well, the pressure on the sail can split the canvas, or worse, cause a stay to let go and eventually dismast the ship. It makes sense to me that the admonition, "Hey, don't blow a gasket" may have entered the general language from this nautical source. And another observation, if the nautical terminology for square rigges ships had been developed in the present day instead of centuries ago, I am quite sure that instead of a "sausage" the fully rolled square sail would have been called a "doobie".

Crew members about to unfurl the t'gallant stuns'l
Crew members about to unfurl the t'gallant stuns'l

Another thing I learned about the rhythm of chanteys as I've heard them sung is that few would actually do for hauling on halyards (halliards the Irish spell it) or braces, which is done with a very short, sharp stroke of about one pull per second, and the shout from the sailor closest to the block is some two syllable call, such as "ready", followed by a chorus of, "HEAVE !" from all hands pulling the line. On the Jeanie the petty officers preferred the sequence, "Two-six ...HEAVE! ; two-six ...HEAVE!" As the line is brought to the appropriate tension and the yard is either fully raised or brought round to the desired angle, the sailor closest to the block shouts the command, "Come up!", and all those "tailing" the line let it go abruptly so that he or she has slack enough quickly to throw the first loop under the belaying pin, then four more figure-eight turns, jamming the last under the first so they don't work themselves off the pin. When I finished off a belay with a locking hitch on top of the pin I was immediately informed that was a yachtsman's trick and was not to be done aboard real ships, where the forces upon the sails and rigging were so much greater that a locking hitch could become so tightly jammed that it could not be removed at a time when failure to do so could produce a disaster. Though an axe might be kept ready to avert disasters caused by jammed line, to resort to cutting a length of one inch halyard could, these days, ruin a rope worth a couple of thousand dollars.

Since one concession to modernity had been to replace what would have been a capstan with a hydraulic anchor windlass, we were deprived of the opportunity to sing capstan chanteys while doing the actual work. So John Gill and I sometimes just sang them for fun.

Someone had brought a boombox aboard and put it in the galley where I often washed dishes. Lu, the young Australian woman who was ship's cook often listened to CDs of Irish tunes and songs, so I took a copy of Richard Adrianowicz's latest chantey CD, on which I sing the bass part, into the galley where it was enjoyed by many. So much that I left it aboard as a present to the crew.

on deck on the Jeanie Johnston
Adrian, my watch officer and John, a sail trainee, on deck.

One of the strongest, most agile and industrious members of the crew was a woman from Cork named Freida. When she heard me play the harmonica one day she said it was too bad I didn't play the guitar as then I might have had some duets with her on her flute. Luckily for me the guitar she had in mind was gut strung and kind to my tender fingers, soft from neglecting my own guitars for years at a time. I was able to join her in the aft saloon in playing some jigs and reels, and the heat of the 'tween decks drove us out before my fingers gave in. Captain Coleman heard about us playing and said we'd have some entertainment in the evening on the fore deck, but it never worked out because I was either on forward lookout or the helm during the forewatch and Freyda had an opposite watch and was busy when I was free. Nonetheless the playing we got to do made me wish I'd actually learned more about alternate tunings from Ray Frank, as I really think they do sound richer with Irish tunes.

Sadly, the only passage I could book was the three days from Savannah to Charleston, the longer passages being filled even before they were announced for sale, but after the chief mate, Rowan, had consulted me about what turned out to be a costal cartilage separation, and Tom Harding, the bos'n, asked me about a pulled forearm extensor muscle that had been sore for two weeks, and one of my seasick fellow trainees accepted a scopolamine patch from my kit, I discovered that the ship's doctor who had come across the Atlantic with the ship had since gone home to Ireland and that while they didn't actually need a doctor while sailing near the coast, as far as skipper Mick Coleman knew, no one had yet been appointed to serve in that capacity on the return from Newfoundland to Ireland in October.

Denis Franklin takes Jeanie's helm at sunset
Denis Franklin takes Jeanie's helm at sunset

That voyage may take up to several weeks and on Monday I'll be calling Tralee to apply for the position. As you may imagine, they've had several doctors aboard as sail trainees and there will likely be no shortage of applicants, so my chances may not be very good. And then also I have made twenty ship crossing of the north Atlantic, several in the hurricane season of late summer. Once we were in 90 foot seas, which made the 990 foot SS America on which I was a bellboy feel like a toothpick in a maelstrom, but I'm quite sure Jeanie's owners would have her give any such violent storms a wide berth, rather than plow straight through as the scheduled liners did. If not I'd better learn all the words to,

"Wrap me up in me oilskins and jumper,
No more on the docks I'll be seen,
Just tell me old shipmates
I'm takin' a trip mates,
An' I'll see ya someday On Fiddler's Green."

Denis Franklin MD,
Aboard the Jeanie Johnston.

Jeanie sails into the sunset on the Atlantic
Jeanie sails into the sunset on the Atlantic

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