"Christmas at Sea"

Loren Beach

O34 - Portland, OR
Senior Moderator
Blogs Author

The sheets were frozen hard, and they cut the naked hand;
The decks were like a slide, where a seamen scarce could stand;
The wind was a nor'wester, blowing squally off the sea;
And cliffs and spouting breakers were the only things a-lee.

They heard the surf a-roaring before the break of day;
But 'twas only with the peep of light we saw how ill we lay.
We tumbled every hand on deck instanter, with a shout,
And we gave her the maintops'l, and stood by to go about.

All day we tacked and tacked between the South Head and the North;
All day we hauled the frozen sheets, and got no further forth;
All day as cold as charity, in bitter pain and dread,
For very life and nature we tacked from head to head.

We gave the South a wider berth, for there the tide-race roared;
But every tack we made we brought the North Head close aboard:
So's we saw the cliffs and houses, and the breakers running high,
And the coastguard in his garden, with his glass against his eye.

The frost was on the village roofs as white as ocean foam;
The good red fires were burning bright in every 'long-shore home;
The windows sparkled clear, and the chimneys volleyed out;
And I vow we sniffed the victuals as the vessel went about.

The bells upon the church were rung with a mighty jovial cheer;
For it's just that I should tell you how (of all days in the year)
This day of our adversity was blessed Christmas morn,
And the house above the coastguard's was the house where I was born.

O well I saw the pleasant room, the pleasant faces there,
My mother's silver spectacles, my father's silver hair;
And well I saw the firelight, like a flight of homely elves,
Go dancing round the china-plates that stand upon the shelves.

And well I knew the talk they had, the talk that was of me,
Of the shadow on the household and the son that went to sea;
And O the wicked fool I seemed, in every kind of way,
To be here and hauling frozen ropes on blessed Christmas Day.

They lit the high sea-light, and the dark began to fall.
"All hands to loose topgallant sails," I heard the captain call.
"By the Lord, she'll never stand it," our first mate Jackson, cried.
..."It's the one way or the other, Mr. Jackson," he replied.

She staggered to her bearings, but the sails were new and good,
And the ship smelt up to windward just as though she understood.
As the winter's day was ending, in the entry of the night,
We cleared the weary headland, and passed below the light.

And they heaved a mighty breath, every soul on board but me,
As they saw her nose again pointing handsome out to sea;
But all that I could think of, in the darkness and the cold,
Was just that I was leaving home and my folks were growing old.

By Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-94).

Loren Beach

O34 - Portland, OR
Senior Moderator
Blogs Author
Every year about this time, I re-read this poem, and find myself reflecting on the whole idea we modern sailors have about "going to sea for... fun."
I wonder if I am the only one noticing the irony of this poem about the hardships of the days of working sail and the nearby thread about the quote "Sailing Intensifies Life" by -Sir Francis Chichester. I agree with Sir Francis, as I live out my usually-cautious and risk-adverse life. I would NOT, however, want the "intensity" that going to sea required a couple hundred years ago.

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Loren Beach

O34 - Portland, OR
Senior Moderator
Blogs Author
Temp in the 20's in Portland with snow piling up at our house, again. Nice to be inside a warm house, especially knowing that our boat is winterized and well-secured in its slip.

Time to pause and reflect once more on how well we live nowadays...

The so-called "good old days" were indeed for Iron Men on wooden ships.

Holiday best wishes to all of you.



We'll be off-line for maybe two weeks ...

... on Senta II. Wanted to wish you all a great holiday and new year while we are still near a keyboard.


Loren Beach

O34 - Portland, OR
Senior Moderator
Blogs Author
Christmas 2010

By "replying" and wishing everyone here a safe and contemplative holiday, this poem moves to the top again.
Hope you all enjoy it.
A shiver runs up my spine every time I read it again on a frozen December day.

Merry Christmas.

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Sustaining Member
Great poem, guess I missed it the last 2 years. :confused:

A shiver runs up my spine every time I read it again on a frozen December day.

Reminds me of a very bad December 20 pullout ~15 years ago. The boat was frozen in for a few weeks and when the weather broke a bit had to make a run for it. Snow and ice covered decks, but I still hanked on the sails, just in case. Sure enough the outboard crapped out just outside the channel on the way to the ramp. Wind was 20+, snowing hard with 1/4 mile visibility and somewhat onshore at the exposed dock. After making a decent landing at the pier getting the boat on the trailer was exciting in the chop. Took 3 attempts in 4 wheel drive to get up the hill to the parking area. The decks were slicker than snot from the spray so we "salted" them down with a pound of coffee I still had onboard before we tried to drop the mast.

Brrrrrrrr :(

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Mort Fligelman

Member III
Not Quite Christmas at Sea

Back in the mid 70's I had a partner in my PT30 that was taking a long European trip and was not due back in Chicago until after Thanksgiving, and insisted that I wait for him to bring the boat down the Chicago river.......

Early December snow, followed by freezing rain......and on the fateful day to bring the boat down........18 Degrees......25 MPH winds out of the Northeast ( a real bear on Lake Michigan) swept the snow off the iced covered decks.....we did the deed and survived......
I knew then and there I was thankful that I was not part of "Wooden Ships and Iron Men"........Once was enough......another time I was convinced that I had taken all of the punishment I was going to take in the name of sport....

Just my thoughts on what this prose conjures up

Happy Holidays to all....



Contributing Partner
Blogs Author
"Christmas At Sea" - Sting

This appeared this morning (12-24-2010) in Richard Rodriguez's Bitter End blog. They do not perform the entire poem, but they do capture the emotion.


Merry Christmas!

Don Smith

Member II
Also worthy of note is the 4th video on the Bitter End blog, which shows how the Russians deal with pirates!
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Loren Beach

O34 - Portland, OR
Senior Moderator
Blogs Author
December is here, again

Another year passes!

No snow here (yet) this season. Drier than usual, matter of fact.
Boat all winterized, and some friends are coming over for a nautical ornament exchange and gab-fest this weekend.

We're all still glad to be going to sea in the summer, and only for pleasure (well, most of the time...),
and in fiberglass boats!

Funny thing, even after so many decades, my eyes still mist up when I read Stevenson's perfect lines.
Triumph and Sadness, Life and Loneliness, all run together.

Merry Christmas to you all.

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Loren Beach

O34 - Portland, OR
Senior Moderator
Blogs Author
Time for a December Bump for this thread.
I just put up the outside lights, and am heading out to fetch a tree.

Happy Holidays!
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Loren Beach

O34 - Portland, OR
Senior Moderator
Blogs Author
And, here we are, again

Closing out another sailing year, reading these lines is as thrilling (and thought provoking) as ever.

Wow. What placid lives we lead nowadays.
No threat of death on a lee shore for me... just back to on-board projects tomorrow. New hull ceilings for the aft cabin this winter....

A happy and joyful Holiday season to all of you Vikings!


Roger Janeway

Member II
On the transition from sailing for work and sailing for joy, here is the opening paragraph from a 1975 book, Advanced Sailing, by Tony Gibbs, Part I-1 (The Theory of Sailboat Design):

It's ironic that sailing craft seem at last to be approaching a whole new plateau of development, now that they have lost all trace of material usefulness. Despite a few pitiful stragglers, the sailing vessel is no longer a part of the working economy; to reach its true potential, the sailboat had to become a toy. In part the new superboats proclaimed in the yachting press are just advertising enthusiasm, but there is a very real level of excellence, a different order of achievement here, too.

Facing this introduction, on page 2 of the book, is a line diagram of the hull of one of these excellent modern boats viewed from below off the starboard bow, and titled Ericson 39, by Bruce King.