Tracing the fascinating story of The Cut of Her Jib, a novel inspired by the 1850s diary of a Cotuit captain’s wife.
“Never thou marry a landlubber,” an old sea captain instructed seven-year old Faith Bassett, “but thou marry a sailor who has tasted plenty of salt brine, and he will take thee with him to far places.”
Faith, herself, was a “landlubber,” raised on an inland farm in 1830s Marshpee (the original spelling of “Mashpee” before local pronunciation dictated a name change). Although longing for a view of the ocean from the time of the old salt’s visit, she did not set eyes on the Atlantic—a mere five miles away—until age 17 when a retired sea captain in Cotuit approved of “the cut of her jib.” He hired her as the town’s first female schoolteacher.
Once settled, Faith was dazzled by the lore of the local sailors who had traveled to exotic lands in search of whales to light lamps around the world. She imagined partaking of these lengthy voyages herself, where she might “give a hymnbook to a heathen or a cookbook to a cannibal!” It was inevitable, then, that Faith would wed a seaman—the dashing Seth Nickerson. Yet she was not quite prepared for the whaling wife’s tedious life, waiting out the days, months, and years for her beloved’s return from the sea.
“I long to unfold my mind in your ear alone,” she writes to Seth, hoping that the schooner carrying her letter might one day encounter his square-rigged whaler in a far-off port. “Where and how are you tonight? I ask, but no answer. Oh that I had wings. Then I would fly across the wide waste of waters in search of my dear companion.”