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Life On the St. Mary's by Young Tar

 

[The following sprightly account of life on the school-ship St. Mary's was written by one of the recent graduates. We give the portraits of three of the four boys who recently graduated with the highest honors. That of the fourth, Master J. B. Stone, we were unable to obtain.]

J. J. Wait. B. C. Fuller. J. J. Crawley.
GRADUATES OF THE "ST. MARY'S" SCHOOL-SHIP.—Photographed by Pach. J. J. Wait.—B. C. Fuller.—J. J. Crawley.

GRADUATES OF THE "ST. MARY'S" SCHOOL-SHIP.—Photographed by Pach.

The New York Nautical School on board the ship St. Mary's must not be confounded with the school-ship Mercury, which formerly existed at this port; the latter was a floating reformatory, while the former was established for the purpose of training American boys to officer and man our merchant ships. The course of instruction embraces a short review of arithmetic, grammar, and geography, a thorough drill in marline-spikework, handling sails, boats, oars, etc.

When the St. Mary's leaves her dock for the annual cruise, the school routine is changed, the first-class boys having lessons in navigation, steering, heaving the log and lead, passing earings, etc., while the second class are aloft "learning gear," i. e., following up the different ropes which form a ship's machinery, and fixing in the mind their lead and use, and a sure method of finding them in the darkest night. This last is absolutely necessary, for if a squall should strike the ship, and the order, "Royal clew-lines, flying-jib down-haul—Smith, let go that royal-sheet" were given, it would be very mortifying, as well as dangerous, if he had to answer, "I don't know where it is, Sir."

The boys, assisted by a few able sea-men, form the crew of the ship. They stand watch, make, reef, and take in sail; do all the dirty work, tarring down, painting, scraping, and slushing. They stand watch and watch, keep at night a look-out on the cat-heads, gangways, quarters, and halliards, where they are required to "sing out" their stations every half hour, to be sure that they are awake. Many are the instances of boys falling asleep, and being awakened by a lurch of the ship, singing out at the wrong time, and once a sleepy look-out reported "Light, ho!" and to the officer's "Where away?" was obliged to answer, "It's the moon, Sir!"

Then there is the excitement of reefing topsails. Your hammock seems especially comfortable as you drowsily feel the accelerated pitching of the ship and the rattle of rain on deck, when the boatswain's shrill call rings through the ship, "All hands, reef topsails; tumble out, and up with you, everybody!" On deck Egyptian darkness, driving rain, and salt spray, the ship staggering under a press of sail, or, as happened in her last cruise, the topsail sheets were parted, and the great sails flapping and slatting out to leeward like a thunder-cloud, orders given in quick succession, then rally of men at the clew-lines, then a rush aloft and out on the straining yard, every movement of the vessel intensified, your feet sliding on the slippery foot-rope, with nothing to hold on to but the flapping sail, which threatens to knock you overboard every moment. The weather earing is passed, and then, "Light out to leeward;" you have your point barely tied when the yard gives a terrible swing, and you faintly hear the order, "Lay down from aloft, for your lives; the braces are gone!"

When Lisbon is reached, you almost know the city—the queer little donkeys with very large loads of oranges, the queerer river craft, the windmills, and even the dress of the natives seem familiar as you recall the pictures in your primary geography. The return voyage home in the "trades" is delightful—a warm sun and a good steady breeze, not a brace touched for a week or more, a water-spout and a rain-squall to vary the monotony of the every-day routine. Then the colder weather as you near Hatteras, a glimpse of old Montauk through the fog, a sharp look-out for beacons and buoys, the song of the leads-man, the quick tramp of men clewing up sail, a heavy splash and the rattle of chain, and we are anchored fast in New London mud. "All hands furl sail," now; no noise, for the Saratoga lies right ahead, and on board of a man-of-war it is considered disgraceful to make a clatter in doing any kind of work. There is an eager race up the rigging, and every nerve and muscle is strained to get your sail up first.

At the end of the year the Chamber of Commerce examines the boys, and an exhibition drill is given. The graduates are usually fitted to ship in a merchantman as "ordinary," and are aided in their efforts to find a good ship and a good captain by many of New York's most prominent merchants and ship-owners, who take a deep interest in the school. The instruction on board the St. Mary's is so thorough that graduates have very little trouble, if they are diligent and smart, in finding situations, and after a voyage or two they generally rise to the position of second mate.