A sailor’s life – 18. Corsar’s flying horse figurehead
Monkbarns was a wet ship. Even in moderate seas timber breakwaters had to be put up to shelter the door to the officers’ accommodation aft as a foot of water ran up and down the deck. The steward carrying the master’s dinner from the galley amidships during a “blow” had to dodge up on to the poop deck and down the companionway (stairs) by the wheel, greatly to the glee of the crew who kept their own feet dry by balancing on the pin rails where the ropes were fastened.
She had been built in 1895 in Dumbarton, Scotland, one of three off-the-peg iron-hulled sailing ships commissioned by a flax mill owner from Arbroath with romantic leanings and canny notions about commercial branding somewhat ahead of his time.
Charles Webster Corsar was a large jolly man, a pillar of the church and community, often to be seen striding between the frames and looms of his family’s steam-driven mills, his coat snowy with the choking clouds of flax dust. Monkbarns was a cargo carrier, an ocean-going freighter built neither for speed nor beauty, yet he gave her fine teak fittings, a handsome saloon, and reportedly every labour-saving device available for working cargo and sails, except a powered winch. He even provided comfortable accommodation for the fo’c’sle hands. But what made his ships memorable to dockside loungers around the world were the tiny white winged horse figureheads on their prows.
Corsar & Sons had been founded in the early 19th century by a handloom weaver who had seen James Watt set up the first mill engine in the town in 1806 and went on to buy it. Charles Webster was a younger son who had entered the business in the shadow of older brothers, but by the time he was senior partner, the family owned some 60,000 to 70,000 spindles, hackling, spinning, bleaching and weaving flax from the Baltic into yards of Reliance sailcloth that carried the name of Corsar around the world, stencilled onto each bolt over the image of Pegasus, the flying horse.
Work in progress: the book I never wrote about the sailor grandfather I never knew, from his apprenticeship on the square-rigger Monkbarns to his death by U97, presumed lost with all hands aboard the Shell oil tanker Chama in 1941 Blogroll