The Sinking of the Elspeth Grey
by Peter J Hill
Rated "PG" by the Author.
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Saints & Angels
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The first of a Trilogy of poems to commemorate the building of the Bell Rock Lighthouse that celebrates its bicentenary in 2011
Saints and Angels
The sinking of the Elspeth Grey
Two days out and two to go, progressed slowed by a tempest thrown by Thor’s great hand checks our course.
Tyne was left in the glowing embers of an autumnal dusk that gave lie to the Shepherd’s promise of fair passage.
I stand this watch with helmsman and like kinsmen tied and bound to the mighty wheel.
Brothers standing firm gainst the strife of storms creation.
We sink or swim together; though neither thought has but a moments fleeting as we battle natures wrath.
Our Captain grasping what e’re he can casting skyward glances at the set of sails as equally on the tempests progress;
looking for the slightest clue on its abatement.
He was loath to surrender and head for the shelter of Forth’s comely bays.
And the owner’s of this well rigged barque did not pay to see her languish or struck idle and though in part by investment made our Captain’s power over life and limb could n’er to better judgement be attested. He presses onward come what may.
The sails are full and the yards scream out; all crew save for the mess-deck boys have joined the fight
and there is comfort in the camaraderie that still abounds
given the nature of the ever present threat.
The Elspeth Grey of hearty oak was fashioned for such a purpose;
to what e’re heaven or hell had in mind to throw in her course.
New from the yard and blessed by Royal blood
even if such blood was tainted and watered by the passing flow of time its symbolism and patronage counted for so much .
Yet had her shipwright’s given her eyes and soul;
then she would have chosen better path
regardless of the whims of men
and the forlorn paces on the quarterdeck.
The only eyes that can see any hazard that may lie before us;
belong to my young nephew whom I’d begged in his sixteenth year
to join our band o’ brothers.
Three years have passed and blessed years they be
his majesty’s pressgangs have left him alone.
In stature and in promise swelled to the rank of bos’uns mate,
his keen and youthful eyes followed by a hearty and well-timed cry;
are all that stand between an onward passage or dining with Mr Jones.
How the lad can see at all as wind swept rain lashes salt,
whipped cat-like into the faces of all
who’s duty calls upon them to embrace the torment of natures punishment .
Not free to turn in shelter with their backs
but encumbered by a burden with hands not free to shield.
Tis not with Neptunes tears that soak my skin, but labour at the helm .
With my brother helmsman we fight the rudder to obey all Masterly commands.
A cry of “Shoals! “ and “ Shoals!” like gulls cry on the wind .
Then again in fervent plea from crows nest down to quarterdeck; followed closely by the Masters cry of “hard a lee!”-, “hard a lee!”.
Just so none are in doubt to note the import of what danger lies before us.
An age it seems to pass before the great wheel moves,
yet her stubbornness relaxes, more so when,
the Master in the light of all the perils joins us at the helm.
At last the wheel it moves with ease.
The sails are limp and the rudder at the mercy of the tide;
but direction and way had to be curtailed in the speediest o’ manners Lest we meet my nephew’s prophetic bane in more hastily a fashion.
All cries of “ shoals” have now ceased I glance heavenward
to see both nest and chick are gone ,
as we turned our beam to broadside a third of the main was lost.
No time to mourn the boy I loved my tasks were still a plenty,
the loss of main and progress were but forecasts for our doom;
as broaching almost stern first ,
came sounds to wrench a sailor’s heart
as oak was torn apart by rock.
We foundered in the blink of eye so sudden our demise;
no time to see our Captain fall
as yard and rigging gathered him up and cast him from his charge
the barque that bore the name of his beloved’s;
divorcing in a moment both
as wind and tide dragged him from our side.
No time to hear the cries of my fellow crew ,
as each by fates attachment made them
follow their master down below
No time to worry about my fate for surely I would follow?
I thought to have some company on my journey to another realm
But alas the helmsman’s hand and arm
were still tied to the wheel that we were bound.
My tethers had all but withered and barely left a trace.
Two days immersed in salty brine had left wrinkles in their place.
I was found by Cutters crew lashed to a decking grate,sent out from Arbroath,when the tide had washed some wreckage on a nearby beach.
“Inchcape claims another ship,” the local papers said,
but the words that will haunt me the most was the adage “Sole Survivor, second mate."
That filled my eyes more bitterly than any sea on earth.
My mind cast back to the friends I’d lost and a boy that I held dear.
There was nothing but his treasured cap to take home to his mother; there were only words of condolence that I could give my brother.
As mariner-to-mariner we hug and share our grief.
As fine a ship and as fine a crew were lost upon that reef.