Saturday, May 13, 2006

I'm Your Captain...


A kid's imagination can go wild in a museum. I grew up in the old whaling port of New Bedford, Massachusettes, a city steeped in the history of the sea. Back then there was no admission fee and nobody seemed much concerned when a ten or twelve year old boy wanted to wander around looking at the exhibits, his mind off in that special place where it really is one hundred years earlier, whaling ships still came and went from the harbor after voyages of two or three years, and of course in those fantasies he was the captain.

The museum is a brick building located on Johnnycake Hill just east of the old downtown business district. An old white church building, the Seaman's Bethel was nearby. The street itself was granite cobblestone.

The thing that greeted you, no, confronted and overrwhelmed you, when you stepped into the Whaling Museum was the Lagoda. This was actually a scale model of a full sized whaling ship, one-half scale. When you're barely four feet tall that's still a pretty impressive size for a model ship. You could go up onto the deck and walk around, and go down below to see half sized bunks where the men slept. The one thing you weren't allowed to do was climb up into the rigging or climb into the whaleboats that hung on davits along the ship's sides.

One summer in the late 60's Stephanie and I were there visiting my dad, and I spent a few hours photographing inside the museum trying to recapture those dreams of my youth. It had been over half a century since the last square rigger had sailed back into the port. The docks were now full of fishing boats that went no further that the Grand Banks off Nova Scotia, short trips of perhaps a week. Maybe eight or nine years ago I did become a captain, a so called six pack license issued by the U.S. Coast Guard, allowing me to carry not more than six passengers for hire not over one hundred miles from shore.

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