A sailor’s life – 46. Through a glass, darkly
It was an undated newspaper cutting among my grandmother’s papers, clipped out and saved long after Bert Sivell’s death. A bit of yellowing ephemera laid by for the oil tanker husband who never came back: “On show in the Master Mariners’ Club for the next week or so – a magnificent scale model of the full rigged ship Monkbarns.”
The 21-inch model, “hand carved with authentic teak rail and working blocks”, had been made by a Trinity House pilot for a colleague who had served his apprenticeship in the old windjammer in the final years, by then one of a big crowd of teenage boys in the half deck. I could imagine the two old salts with their heads together, jealously overseeing and lovingly recreating every last detail: the tiny extended boys’ house abaft the main hatch, the little flying horse under the bowsprit, the wheel house on the poop that would have been welcome too in the stormy watches when Bert was minding the sails.
The little ship is perfect. Dustless and frozen in time, all sail spread and a bone in her teeth – tantalisingly beyond touch in her glass case in the sunny room in a private house when I finally traced her. Sea Breezes had again provided the answers. A letter dropped casually on the mat: “We’ve got her, come and see.”
This is no museum piece. She belongs to a real seafaring family, to sons and grandsons themselves once deep-sea sailors. Part of their lives. A hand-carved homage to a world now hull down over the horizon.
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