By Philip Galluccio
What propelled me to become a Mystic Seaport Museum PILOT and, more recently, a benefactor of the Museum? Simply put, it was in my blood to set this course. An oft-spoken adage about us New Englanders is that we have “salt water in our veins.” To me, this phrase is complementary to our ancestors who pursued dangerous commerce on the high seas, sacrificed much to protect the trade routes from piracy, and developed technologies to enhance productivity and the livelihoods of their countrymen. Their instinctual survival skills were often challenged when Mother Nature displayed her varied and sometimes tempestuous moods, yet they prevailed.
Evidently, my circulatory system has been supplemented with that extra Nacl H²O. It may well have been hereditary from an uncle, when considering his sailing and nautical prowess. A youthful, knowledgeable imagination had him born with the bitter end of a sheet held taught between his teeth. My fathomless affection for the open waters was initially nurtured through young reader’s novels that transported me on swaying decks and arcing masts to fantastic places, especially those involving 19th-century whaling. One of my favorites was The Wonderful Voyage by Ruth Langland Holberg. Other books include Seabird by Clancy Holling, Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl, and The Bounty Trilogy by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall.
In my adolescent pursuit of elegance, one specific attraction floated to the surface: the captivating beauty of a square-rigger under full sail. I “weighed anchor” and steered straight into a romance with the sea on a dream to “sail before the mast!” My first attempt was with the U.S. Navy.
Sailing aboard modern naval vessels, during my 24-year career in the service didn’t quite fulfill this dream, but did provide this “salty” sailor with ample excitement on the bounty-main: surviving two typhoons; manning the helm through all types of seas crossing both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and living fo’c’s’le style in “sardine can” living quarters. And yes, those moments of romanticism: the moonless ALL starlit nights with only the sound of the bow wave splashing past below me, and the anticipation of arriving at exciting and exotic ports – Hong Kong being my favorite!
An interim pleasure, and excellent step toward realizing my dream, was sailing with the aforementioned uncle on his 45’ ketch Edelweiss –she took my breath away – among the Caribbean Islands. It was sublime: holding her helm, keeping her pointed into the wind, watching the “tattle-tails” from her stays and floating dreamily at anchor on those turquoise waters.
Alas, Navy duty interceded again with the tedious, never-ending rust removal; “Navy showers”; scullery duty; watch standing and the rush to General Quarters when we came under an enemy threat. This and more rounded out the “hardships” known throughout generations of shipboard life, yet adrift from all these experiences; and the beckoning, alluring magnificence of billowing sails.
Ahoy! At long last, my romantic dream finally came true in the summer of 1998. It happened aboard the HM Bark Endeavour replica. Now it was my turn to experience the rigors, first-hand, of “sailing before the mast.” It was a week’s voyage from Newport, RI, to my hometown of Boston, MA. Immediately after stepping on deck, I sensed an instant connection with her original crew, officers included, as well as the scientists (supernumeraries) necessary to affect the expectations of Captain Cook’s first expedition.
Sailing this replica put me over the horizon of exhilaration. This included: weighing anchor with the capstan; the first snap of the sails catching a breeze; hauling around on the braces and sweating the line; climbing the shrouds (especially the futtock shrouds), then stepping out on the mains’l yardarm footropes; reaching the main t’gallant yardarm to furl the sail in foul weather; sleeping 18th-century style in a hammock And, best of all, being the solo helmsman with sufficient wind to allow a more responsive rudder to her determined hull. Beyond description, this was by far, my ultimate seafaring experience.
With regards to Mystic Seaport Museum, the opening adage is rightly applicable, and buoyantly personified in the Museum’s capable staff. They all have salt water in their veins. At the masthead, to my reckoning, are the phenomenally skilled shipwrights. Without their time honored, collective expertise, we wouldn’t have the Charles W. Morgan and all the other heritage vessels on campus. To their credit, they stand beside the likes of ship builder and naval architect Joshua Humphreys, ship designer and builder Donald McKay, and the Hillman brothers, who built the Morgan. Indeed, it is the impressive craftsmanship employed by the shipwrights that embraces and assures the visual narrative of the very spirit of American nautical exploration and discovery!
All told, it was an easy decision for me to support Mystic Seaport Museum through my estate plans. It is my fervent wish that future generations of visitors may also set a course to realize their own maritime ambitions because Mystic Seaport Museum is definitely keeping the dream alive. Upon choosing to name the Museum as a beneficiary to my retirement account, I was overjoyed; experiencing once again the lofty emotions I felt at the helm of HM Bark Endeavour.