Yesterday luck moved me, literally; on a work break I headed to one of my spots on the Arthur Kill. Soon after I arrived, an unusual green shape emerged from the steam and miasma of the refinery in Linden–no tug or other 21st or even 20th century workboat. Instead a 19th century workboat powered toward me–Lettie G. Howard, built 1893 in Essex, Massachusetts. If you want to have a sense of Essex, don’t drive through it. It’s tiny 3000 and a few dozen more. Instead, read Gordon W. Thomas’ Fast and Able , which profiles a few dozen of over a thousand vessels built in Essex. Lettie headed back to the East River from New York City’s southwestermost corner, where routine maintenance and inspection ensured her more years.
Essex built vessels to fish. A very few like Lettie have survived; those that did reinvented their make-up and mission multiples times, as has Lettie. Some, like Adventure, were built with an engine, which was removed when it initially converted to windjamming in 1954. Lettie was built without an engine and now sports two, although maybe a more erudite reader than me can tell the year she was first powered. Some like Gertrude L. Thebaud, which wrecked off Venezuela in 1948 while serving as a cargo vessel, first fished, then served as a U. S. Coast Guard vessel, and then began its ill-fated life carrying cargo in the Caribbean. I thought of Gertrude L. Thebaud‘s fate as I watched Lettie pass by Howland Hook container port. Here a short vid of a young Thebaud racing Bluenose a century ago.
The scale of the cranes here show how shipping has changed; Lettie was not designed for containerization. And if Lettie sans masts were loaded aboard a container vessel like President Truman, a regular at Howland Hook, Lettie would look like a tender.
If Lettie or any vessels had a consciousness, the Kills might terrify with its wrecks of metal and wood. Yet,
as she continued her return to the East River yesterday, she might also have felt the cheering spirits of schoonermen, the ghosts of men who spent their last years at Snug Harbor, a few miles east of where these fotos were taken. Meanwhile, Lettie, no ghost, is as beautiful as the day she came off the ways into the Essex River.