Jeanie Johnston Chronicle
Reports from the ship by Tash Treacy
2nd Mate on the tour of
US and Canadian ports 2003
Jeanie Johnston crossing the Atlantic during Spring of 2003
Tash Treacy is a professional seaman in the Merchant Navy, and supplied all the photos accompanying
this report. He is serving as second mate on the Jeanie during the port visits in the US and Canada. An earlier photo report from Tash can be read here.

Jeanie Johnston - New York to Boston 2003
Big Apples, Flooded Meadows, Voodoo and Shakespeare

When last I corresponded we were making our way towards New York harbour with a big bunch of green trainees aboard. Well, needless to say, with a bit of direction and a small amount of encouragement the new crew "learned the ropes" and helped us sail successfully into New York Harbour. That was on the evening of the 2nd of July. That night we anchored between Liberty Island and Ellis Island, a stone's throw from either, and supped a cool beer looking up at that magnificent statue.

The next morning proved to be a busy one, all of the trainees had to clean out their bunks and get their gear on deck, then we had to go in and perform another miraculous transformation by converting the ship from sea-mode to museum-mode. Meanwhile the ship was being scrubbed from stem to stern and polished to perfection by the trainees. All of that before breakfast.

After breakfast was even more hectic, the anchor was weighed and sail was set for a sail-past of the Statue of Liberty with a camera chopper swooping overhead. The photo-op didn't end there. Next up was a close in sail by of Battery Park City and North Cove Marina, where we would later berth, on the Hudson River. As we strutted past the waiting crowds we gave several blasts from our saluting cannon. Judging by the volume of the echo coming back from the skyscrapers of New York's financial district I'd say we scared the hell out of some oblivious office workers who were minding their own business tapping away at their computers. Never mind, New Yorkers are supposed to be ready and able for anything.

Sailing towards New York up the river
Sailing up the river to New York

After a quick turn around up the river we approached the marina again and gave the most remarkable display of the day but it was a display that probably went unnoticed by anyone who doesn't have a nautical background. Captain McCarthy, advised and assisted by his friend Captain Jim Chambers, manoeuvred the ship into the marina through an extremely narrow gap and swung her in a very tight space without once touching the harbour wall until we glided gently alongside our berth. It was a remarkable display of ship-handling that probably went unremarked by most of the throng of well-wishers welcoming us to New York.

Once alongside there was the usual fanfare of bagpipers, singers, dancers and flag waving enthusiasts; a few T.D.'s, ministers and RTE thrown into the mix only added to the circus atmosphere.

For the next ten days we were open to the public, with thousands of visitors shuffling through the decks, but it was not the open-days that made New York a memorable visit for the crew. It was sitting in the middle of the harbour on Captain Jim's boat watching the spectacular 4th of July fireworks display. It was getting a day off to visit Ellis Island, The Statue of Liberty, The Empire State Building, Greenwich Village, shopping on 5th Avenue or whatever else would tickle your fancy in this amazing city. There were certainly more places to visit and things to do than we could possibly squeeze into the limited time we had.

The New York skyline from Jeanie's berth in Battery Park
The New York skyline from Jeanie's berth in Battery Park

However we didn't leave New York disappointed, on the contrary we were invigorated, and we had an exceptional send off. With hundreds of disappointed people still in the queue, we closed the ticket desk and readied for sailing. On a scorching afternoon we were cheered out of the harbour with a band playing on stage and thousands of well-wishers lining the quay. Not long after we left Battery Park behind we had a nail biting run up the East River, under Brooklyn Bridge, under Manhattan Bridge, past the UN building, past the Chrysler and Empire State buildings and through the tidal race at Hell's Gate into peaceful Long Island Sound.

After such an exciting morning we had a relaxing passage through the sound, past the famous Execution Rocks and came to anchor off Port Jefferson, our one stop on Long Island. I had never heard of Port Jefferson, few of us on board had, it was, by all accounts, a small town but rumour had it that a local brewer was sponsoring an Irish Festival in our honour. Well we were all in favour of that, I mean there just had to be a few free beers in there for us somewhere, (New York had hit the pockets hard) but we were totally unprepared for the hectic few days to follow. When the sun came up the next morning, the 14th of July, we weighed anchor and sailed the short distance into Port Jeff. As we approached we saw a tiny place shrouded in morning mist; it was like the town that time forgot. Wooden buildings and piers, quaint narrow streets, this place was like something out of Sleepy Hollow, but what a reception we had. Already the pier was thronged with people trying to get a glimpse of the ship, and we hadn't even tied up yet.

On the first day we had the ship to ourselves, more or less, there was just the small matter of about 100 volunteers to be inducted into the museum routine and a dinner/reception to attend where we were paraded as all conquering heroes and a few tours to give.

Days two and three were another story altogether, from the moment we opened in the morning to the time we closed each evening people were queuing to come aboard. Some were waiting in line for as much as two hours in the heat just to visit the ship and see the museum. We truly proved to be "a big fish in a small pond" with over 7000 visitors in two days, blowing all previous records out of the water (including Bristol). In retrospect we should have guessed that Port Jeff would be like this. Not only was there a fantastic reception committee, with even the town mayor getting in on the act, but Long Island also has a large Irish community. Moreover Port Jeff has an embedded maritime tradition.

During our visit we learned that the little town was once (very aptly) named Flooded Meadow and that there was once a thriving wooden ship building industry here in the days of sail. I think the Long Islanders were as much excited about seeing this part of their heritage relived as they were about celebrating their Irish Heritage, once again displaying Jeanie's universal appeal.

But as the saying warns "Time and the tide wait for no man", the tide would certainly not wait for Jeanie Johnston, we had to leave all too soon. After such a hectic few days we slipped quietly away from the pier in Port Jefferson on high tide at 2 o'clock in the morning. No bands, fanfare or well-wishers were present and maybe it was just as well, we appeared out of the mist and disappeared in the night but I think it will be a while before Port Jefferson forgets us

After a quiet passage through the rest of Long Island Sound we passed through the ominously named "Race" and caught a brief glimpse of the blue Atlantic before turning into the unpronounceable Narragansett Bay. I can't speak for any of my crewmates but as we briefly rolled over those gentle Atlantic swells and gazed out to the ocean I felt like I hadn't seen it for years instead of just a couple of weeks. What it is about the deep sea that is so alluring I cannot define but once you have spent some time on it you just can't get it out of your system.

In any case there was not much time for romantic musings because we were approaching Newport, Rhode Island, one of the sailing Mecca's of the USA and the place was thronged with yachts and dingies, a merchant seaman's nightmare. We wove stealthily around the throng of sail to find our berth at Government Wharf. Newport was a last minute addition to our schedule, and a low key visit, so for once there were no bagpipes to welcome us in, what there was in their place was much more welcome however.

An old friend of the Captain's and Bosun Tom's was there waiting for us with a large box in the back of his car with steam escaping from it. I was the one lucky enough to lug the heavy box aboard so I saw what was in it before most of the crew. Twenty 3lb lobsters, steamed to perfection, were served up before us for lunch. We dined like kings on deck with beautiful sunshine and a cool beer to wash it all down. Now that is what I call a welcome. Even Jeanie the cockatoo had some lobster, and loved it by all appearances. Jeanie is the newest member of our crew, the captain picked her up in New York and she has been a star attraction to visitors on the ship ever since.

Newport lobster meets Jeanie the cockatoo
Did Jeanie the cockatoo have some lobster or did the lobster have some cockatoo?

Otherwise Newport was a quite stop in our busy schedule. We took a tour of the harbour looking at the millionaires yachts and mansions and we went to a function in the evening and a breakfast reception in the morning, all very civilised.

Our stay in Newport was to last only 24 hours and very quickly it was time to move on. We didn't have far to travel however because our next stop was Providence, the capitol of Rhode Island, only 22 nautical miles up the bay. It goes without saying that providence was another hot and hectic visit with receptions in the evenings and crowds during the day. One of our special guests was the Congressman for Rhode Island, Patrick Kennedy, the son of Senator Ted Kennedy. He presented the captain with a signed photograph of his father with Robert Kennedy and JFK thanking him for bringing the Jeanie Johnston to Providence. I think it is a safe assumption to say that that photo will have an honoured place in the McCarthy home.

Senator Patrick Kennedy presents Captain McCarthy with a signed photo of Ted, Robert and JFK.
Senator Patrick Kennedy presents Captain McCarthy with a signed photo of Ted, Robert and JFK.

In Providence we picked up another crew of trainees, including some familiar faces from the past who maybe hadn't had enough with just one dose of square rig sailing (or was it some particular swarthy sailors who drew them back? Only Joanne and Azaria can answer that).

The voyage around to Boston provided some nice sailing but not some nice sea views. We were enveloped in thick fog for the whole of the voyage. Fog is a meteorological phenomenon that makes seamen uneasy at best, but when your radar goes on the blink in the middle of it, well lets just say that the Captain and Officers don't rest very much. When the radar went blank in the middle of my watch, a hum went around the deck and then silence descended, for once the trainee lookouts were really taking their job seriously. Peter the engineer was straight up the mast with his multimeter, checking voltages and amperages and all kinds of other readings but to no avail. It wasn't until the mate Rob came on watch at 1600 that we saw some progress. Calling on some voodoo spirits he met personally in Jamaica a few years ago, Rob summed up a ferocious supernatural power into his body and laid his hand on the radar cabling, commanding it to work. And work it did. I can't explain it but that radar didn't give us another bit of bother until we got safely alongside in Boston, where it finally gave up the ghost.

Radar aside, our entry into Boston could have been under luckier circumstances. The whole morning while we were parading around Boston Harbour have our photo taken by all manner of cameras the rain pelted down making it a dour morning. But as they say in Boston, "If you don't like the weather here in Massachusetts, wait five minutes" and sure enough as soon as we were alongside and the cameras put away the sun came out blazing and we saw no more rain for a week.

Our first berth in Boston was at Rowes Wharf, where we were tied up behind an enormous Irish Tri-colour hanging in the arch of the Boston Harbour Hotel. When I say enormous, I mean gigantic. I'd guess it was about 15 meters wide and about 25 meters long, if not bigger. As a crew we looked at that flag with covetous eyes, wondering how we could get it aboard and use it as a gigantic spinnaker, but no scheme we could think of was either viable enough or hair-brained enough to try out. Maybe next time.

After Rowes Wharf we shifted over to Fan Pier beside the magnificent, but controversial, new Federal Courthouse. This beautiful building provided a suitable backdrop to our handsome rigging. It was at Fan pier that we met John Attridge, a Bostonian who has traced his ancestry back to Castletownsend in West Cork. It was Castletownsend that Captain James Attridge of the original Jeanie Johnston hailed from. There can be no doubt that the two men are related and I find that it is the little stories like this that make the Jeanie Johnstons tribute to Irish emigrants so poignant. As it happens John Attridge had no idea that his ancestor had any connection to our ship until he saw his fibre-glass replica standing in our chartroom. As you can imagine the news had quite an impact ; John Attridge told me himself that he now plans to sail aboard Jeanie on one of our future voyages, to provide some sort of historical balance. I hope he gets as much out of his trip as so many of our trainees have to date.

Our stay in Boston also afforded the crew a little more time off. Most of us took the opportunity to explore that fine city with its hallowed buildings and beautiful parks. Boston is truly a cultural city, all summer they are performing free Shakespeare plays on Boston Common, the beautiful park in the centre of the city. We were lucky enough to catch a passionate performance of Macbeth. On a warm evening, in the open air as it slowly gets dark is without doubt the best way to experience Shakespeare, even a drama as highly strung as "The Scottish Play".

An outdoor performance of Macbeth in Boston
An outdoor performance of Macbeth in Boston.

A few of us also took the time out to visit "Old Iron Sides" or the USS Constitution as it is more correctly called; the oldest commissioned warship in the world. This remarkable ship, built in the 1870, is an extraordinary artefact of American History and is lovingly cared for by a team of experts. Fortunately for us some of those same experts had visited the Jeanie before we visited the Constitution and they treated us to an "access all areas" tour. I can safely say that we practically surveyed that old ship, we saw every space, every frame and every plank in her length. It was an amazing tour.

We rounded off our stay in Boston with three days of essential maintenance work whereby we were closed to the public. I must say it was quite refreshing to be seamen again and not just tour guides and T-shirt salesmen, but from here it is on to new destinations and more open days so we must get back into the routine. It's not all bad however, we have a new country to sail to, see and conquer; Canada here we come.

Tash Treacy, 2nd Mate, Jeanie Johnston.
10th August, 2003

Return to Jeanie Johnston Chronicle homepage>>