Sailing Mishap from 1779

954669_10151527120552201_1914810396_nThis passage is from Chapter Five of “Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation” by Cokie Roberts. This recounts John Jay and his wife Sally’s voyage to Spain after Congress named John Jay as Minister to Spain during the Revolutionary War:

“In October 1779, after John had resigned his post as president of Congress, the couple set sail with Sally’s brother Brockholst, an aide named William Carmichael, and John’s young nephew Peter Munro. As a good-luck talisman, Sally had asked for a lock of George Washington’s hair, which the general sent with the wish “that prosperous gales, unruffled sea, and everything pleasing and desirable may smooth the path she is about to walk in.” It was a wish that would not come true. Two months later, still aboard the ship and nowhere near Spain, Sally recounted their adventures to her mother. After being at sea a couple of weeks, she heard a terrible noise on the deck in the middle of the night: “We had been deprived of nothing less than our bow-spirit, main-mast and missen-mast . . . however our misfortunes were only begun, the injury received by our rudder the next morning served to complete them.” The ship was dismasted and rudderless, the seas were high, and winter was on the way. A council of ship’s officers concluded tht there was no way to reach Europe under those conditions, so they set course for the island of Martinique. It took a couple of weeks for the winds to get them going in the right direction, but, Sally cheerfully reported, “we are now in smooth seas having the advantage of trade winds which blow directly for the island . . . while our American friends are amusing themselves by a cheerful fireside, are we sitting under an awning comforting ourselves with the expectation of being soon refreshed by some fine southern fruits.”  . . . What she didn’t tell her mother was that she was pregnant. Stranded at sea, Sally and John threw a party, surprising and delighting fellow passengers. Finally, at the end of December, the ship limped into port in Martinique, where Sally was able to send off her letter home.”

I post this here for the following reasons:

1.) Jonathan bought our first sailboat (a Flying Scot) about two years ago and he enjoys telling me all of the stuff that he is learning about sailing. I read this passage to him today and we both had many questions about the entire incident. I want to keep this passage someplace where I can refer to it quickly if it comes up in future sailing conversations.

One time, Jonathan and I were stranded several hundred yards from shore on a becalmed Lake Arthur (at Moraine State Park). We heard a thunderstorm approach, saw the lightning. Yet we had no wind. Mother Nature mocked us. (Our Flying Scot has no motor.) I may have said a few choice things to Jonathan before he grabbed the oar and paddled us back to shore. We just made it. (Of course, we realized after we ran to the shelter of our truck that we left the truck keys on the boat.)

I can’t imagine drifting around for several weeks on the ocean in a ship that had lost most of its sails and its rudder, hoping that the trade winds would blow the ship to Martinique before winter. With a navigation system from the late 1700’s.

Also – if this had happened in 2015, Sally Jay would have tweeted a selfie of herself on the disabled ship. “Can’t believe where I ended up. LOL.”  Followed by an interview with Anderson Cooper. (Or Cokie Roberts.)

2.) My mother-in-law Fran gave me “Founding Mothers” for my birthday last month, and I want her to know how much I enjoy this book.

3.) I just got a kick out of the fact that Sally Jay asked George Washington for a lock of his hair for good luck and he complied.