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Sailing Through Time

Today, it is the author’s own grandchildren (the great-great grandchildren of Clarissa and Horace) who have republished the novel. “We had several requests to do so,” says  Beverly Boden Rogers of Minneapolis and Cotuit. “Not only is it a good read, but also a book of valuable 19th-century history.” This summer, Rogers has been visiting nautical museums along the eastern seaboard, introducing them to the book’s chronicles of Cape Cod culture and maritime practices during the golden age of sail. Some of the volume’s more absorbing accounts:

The Cut of Her Jib

The Cut of Her Jib

  • Ship’s captain’s families sometimes accompanied them on long voyages. When an infant died at sea, each crewman gave up a small portion of his rum ration, pouring it into the tiny coffin to preserve the body for burial at home.
  • Wives who had rounded South America at Cape Horn considered their “Cape Horn skirt” an emblem of prestige to show off. Made of silk layered over wool, the garment was so heavy that it could not be blown above the ankles in the notoriously tempest-tossed region.
  • Whaling ships approaching the Cannibal Isles (Fiji and environs) were threatened by spear-wielding natives in canoes. Cape Codders greased the sides of their ships with whale blubber, rendering them too slippery for the cannibals to board.
  • A sensation that swept the Cape was “Spiritual Knockings.” Meetings were held in various parlors where mediums claimed to connect participants with deceased loved ones. In the darkness, tables tipped and raps sounded loudly in answer to eager questions—one rap from the beyond meaning “yes;” two meaning “no.”
  • Entire families abandoned the Cape for the California gold rush, only to return demoralized and destitute.
  • In a pre-wireless era, lengthy visits and long letters were common. Unfortunately, in a pre-antibiotic era, so were illness or death from “ague, typhus, sickheadache, liver complaint, lung fever and slow bilious fever.” (Following one wrenching funeral, Clarissa writes: “They have laid a mother in a cold grave beside her five little ones who are fast mouldering to dust.”)

The novel’s end is upbeat, with Faith achieving her sea-going dream. As she embarks on a whaling voyage with Seth and their young son, “Honolulu and Hong Kong seem to loom in the distance.”

The author’s own life, a century later, mirrors this ending. After writing The Cut of Her Jib, Boden—like Faith/Clarissa before her—was gripped by wanderlust. In 1955, at age 79, she fittingly utilized profits from her novel to board a tramp steamer to Lahaina, Hawaii, the 19th-century whaling port that to this day teems with humpbacks. When nearing Lahaina’s shores, she saluted her whale-chasing forebears by emptying a bottle of liquid into the Pacific. It contained Atlantic sea water brought from Cotuit.

Diane Speare Triant last wrote for Cape Cod Life on Barnstable and the Civil War.



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