American Merchant Ships and Sailors eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 320 pages of information about American Merchant Ships and Sailors.

Though the old salt may sneer at the freshwater sailor who scarcely need know how to box the compass, to whom the art of navigation is in the main the simple practise of steering from port to port guided by headlands and lights, who is seldom long out of sight of land, and never far from aid, yet the perils of the lakes are quite as real as those which confront the ocean seaman, and the skill and courage necessary for withstanding them quite as great as his.  The sailor’s greatest safeguard in time of tempest is plenty of searoom.  This the lake navigator never has.  For him there is always the dreaded lee shore only a few miles away.  Anchorage on the sandy bottom of the lakes is treacherous, and harbors are but few and most difficult of access.  Where the ocean sailor finds a great bay, perhaps miles in extent, entered by a gateway thousands of yards across, offering a harbor of refuge in time of storm, the lake navigator has to run into the narrow mouth of a river, or round under the lee of a government breakwater hidden from sight under the crested waves and offering but a precarious shelter at best.  Chicago, Cleveland, Milwaukee—­most of the lake ports have witnessed such scenes of shipwreck and death right at the doorway of the harbor, as no ocean port could tell.  At Chicago great schooners have been cast far up upon the boulevard that skirts a waterside park, or thrown bodily athwart the railroad tracks that on the south side of the city border the lake.  The writer has seen from a city street, crowded with shoppers on a bright but windy day, vessels break to pieces on the breakwater, half a mile away but in plain sight, and men go down to their death in the raging seas.  On all the lakes, but particularly on the smaller ones, an ugly sea is tossed up by the wind in a time so short as to seem miraculous to the practised navigator of the ocean.  The shallow water curls into breakers under the force of even a moderate wind, and the vessels are put to such a strain, in their struggles, as perhaps only the craft built especially for the English channel have to undergo.  Some of the most fatal disasters the lakes have known resulted from iron vessels, thus racked and tossed, sawing off, as the phrase goes, the rivets that bound their plates together, and foundering.  Fire, too, has numbered its scores of victims on lake steamers, though this danger, like indeed most others, is greatly decreased by the increased use of steel as a structural material and the great improvement in the model of the lake craft.  Even ten years ago the lake boats were ridiculous in their clumsiness, their sluggishness, and their lack of any of the charm and comfort that attend ocean-going vessels, but progress toward higher types has been rapid, and there are ships on the lakes to-day that equal any of their size afloat.

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American Merchant Ships and Sailors from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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