National Geographic : 1957 Nov
A 20th-century Saga of the Sea on Canvas Marine Artist Smith Knew Every Sail and Spar Before He Painted Mayflower II as a Supplement to This Issue BY HERVEY GARRETT SMITH 673 SA YFLOWER II had been hit by a / Ivicious black squall in mid-Atlantic. L'A Under the press of too much canvas she heeled alarmingly, unable to regain her feet. I was alone in the foretop, struggling desperately to muzzle the clewed-up topsail. Just as I managed to pass a gasket around the bunt, the ship took a wild lurch, I lost my balance... and nearly fell out of bed! Night after night I sailed Mayflower II in my dreams, as a necessary preliminary to painting her portrait for the NATIONAL GEO GRAPHIC MAGAZINE. Nightly I set, trimmed, and furled each of her sails, for how can you paint a ship under sail intelligently unless you know how to sail her? Artist's Forebears Followed the Sea I have been a small-boat skipper all my life, and even though sailing techniques change through the ages, the principles of sail-handling endure. So I sailed the new Mayflower in fancy, through fair weather and foul, striving to bridge a gap of more than three centuries and make her live. I lived with her day and night, studying her lines, her construction, and her rigging, analyzing those elements that give her character. To me, such inordinate interest was natural. All my forebears followed the sea in one way or another, as sea captains, yacht skippers, fishermen, shipbuilders, or just plain clam diggers. The lore of the sea was common table talk when I was a child; I was a frequent visitor in the homes of seafaring men and in their shipyards and sail lofts. I loved the smell of tarred hemp; heard the squeal of the rigger's serving mallet; knew the "chud, chud, chud" of the shipwright's adze. Mayflower II embodies these ancient, al most lost arts. Here is marlinspike seaman ship in its purest form-tarred hemp and flax canvas and a sailor's horny hands! Some will laugh at Mayflower II's stern, towering 26 feet above the water. But 150 years were to pass before the stern was reduced to what we consider a normal height. Some will ridicule the 40-foot bowsprit, unsupported except for the rope lashing in the beak, and they'll picture it gyrating wildly in a gale. Yet not until about 1700 were bowsprits supported by a bobstay. Re-created with great fidelity, this ship is a true museum piece; a practical, working ex position of the arts of the shipwright, rigger, and sailmaker as practiced in the early 1600's. Chief credit goes to naval architect William A. Baker, of Hingham, Massachusetts, who spent the better part of six years in research to re-create the plans of the original ship. Through his sympathetic help I came to know the ship intimately and soon fell in love with her. He spent many hours with me, making notes and sketches, going over his plans, and showing me the beautifully detailed scale model built from them. When the supreme moment came and I saw the real ship for the first time, my reaction was that she looked just as I knew she would. I felt I had seen her before, many times. My eye traced every sheet, halyard, brace, and buntline; followed every shroud and stay; noted every spar; and caught each detail of hull and deck fittings. Everything was exactly where it should be. "After all," I thought, "what did you expect-mistakes?" That night she lay in Provincetown Harbor under the dim light of a hazy moon, her an chor light swinging high in the fore rigging as she rocked gently to a light ground swell. With the harbor asleep, all evidence of the present seemed blotted out. The scene had an air of unreality; I had the feeling that at any moment it might all quickly vanish. Before starting to paint-in fact, long be fore I ever laid eyes on the new Mayflower I made numerous sketches of her from various angles, seeking the vantage point that best revealed her true character and uniqueness. Special Copies for Framing For members who wish to frame Hervey Garrett Smith's great oil painting of Mayflower II, special reproductions have been made on heavy chart paper. They may be obtained, unfolded, by writing to the National Geo graphic Society, Dept. M, Washington 6, D. C . Price $2.50 each, postpaid. Size, including ample borders for framing, 22'4 x 28 inches.