I Love a Little Ship


I Love a Little Ship
from Fore 'n' Aft - Aug. 15, 1929
by Cleon Mason

The stately white-winged square rigger, stuns'ls set, top-gallant flying, every foot of canvas drawing, reeling off the knots before the steady trades, she is an epic. She has run down the Roaring Forties. She has vanquished the redoubtable Horn. She has lazed through the doldrums. She has carried the trade of the world. For sheer beauty man has never produced her equal. One must sing of her in heroics. But:

"Give me a ship I can handle alone,
Sturdy and staunch and true."

I love a little ship. A little ship is a lyric, a sweet song to be sung in a delicate meter.

Time after time, as I idle across the channel on a warm afternoon, I have watched a big schooner under full press of sail overhaul me and ploy sedately by; yes, even a bit contemptuously at times. I have seen the glasses of the curious leveled at my little craft. I have almost felt the scornful superiority and the sense of patronizing proprietorship which permits me to even sail upon the seas. But somehow it is a thing I cannot resent, for I understand just how they feel, poor jaded souls! I am only sorry, for they have lost something which they now seek, yet they search forever in the wrong place.

While I watch the swirling wake of the big ship from ever increasing distance my little one boisterously proceeds upon her care-free way. She picks her rolling course from wave to wave and with all the bubbling happiness of a thing alive dips her graceful bow in foam and fairly laughs to watch the flying spray when she rises quickly. The vixen! She always does that very trick when I dreamily watch the big ship, wondering—wondering. She seems to know when I think of things like that. And I ease off the main sheet and again she takes the swells more gently.

I love my little ship and loving her I know her. I know when, I can drive her hard, right into the teeth of the gale, over hills and vales of moving green. I know her little tricks, especially that one of climbing the watery hill as meek as any. lamb; and then suddenly, when I least exfect it, she pays off and I am drenched. There is something of the Devil in her. But I jerk her up quickly, and knowing she has been caught in mischief she settles down and, childlike, tries to make amends. I know all of her faults; she knows mine, too! She knows I often wander from the tiller to search below for a mislaid book or my half smoked pipe. She knows and resents that most annoying habit I have of sailing with the mainsheet too close hauled. Each time she tells me of my faults in no uncertain way. I must forego my search and seize the stick or ease the mainsheet so that she will ride more comfortably.

There is not a nook or cranny in my ship I do not know. Up in the eyes the gear, old ropes, chains, blocks and sails, to port and starboard comfortable berths beneath which are my simple supplies, and further aft the galley. Here is the little nook in which I keep tobacco, there the shelf I built to hold my books. You see my little ship is simple beyond words and I think my regard for her would be complete but for one thing. Up in the bow there is a tiny leak. I know it is just a little leak, but its very littleness is aggravating. Three whole years I have searched for it in vain. Oh, well, maybe some day I'll find it. And after all, perhaps our faults are really oblique virtues in that they build our understanding.

Little things take on an intimacy which is denied the large. There are the commonplaces of our every-day life, scarcely large enough to be recognized, yet they aggregate surprising totals and go to make living the contented state it should be. To really live one must first learn to love the little things, and having once learned that, the large can be approached without fear. Those whose souls are so myopic that nothing can be seen except it is big lose all the joy which comes with little things. Take that little ship of mine. There isn't one on that big, joyless schooner who could take my craft and make her do his bidding. The schooner is a big machine, no one knows her every nook and cranny, she has no aggravating habits. A soulless mechanic ironed out every flaw. If she tugs too hard upon the wheel the calculating architect is sent for to change the sails. Why, "she hasn't even a little leak to annoy her owner because he has big automatic pumps to keep her dry. Oh, she obeys the helm but gives obedience grudgingly. She carries her burden of unhappy souls much as one performs an unpleasant duty—but no one loves her, she is too big.

The songs which have moulded the courses of many peoples and which have been sung by many generations are not. the mighty choruses nor grand Te Deums; rather the world sings and remembers little songs, songs which have a way of snuggling deep into our very beings and filling the spaces left after larger ones have failed to satisfy. Still hungering we leave the vast cathedral; dissatisfied, we wander from the halls of great orchestras, and quite unconsciously we catch ourselves humming or whistling a world-old refrain, a wistful fragment from a great musician's mind.

Snug in a quiet harbor, safe from the wind and waves, safe from that big schooner too, the evening is far too short, what with books I have to read. I shudder to think what a high and mighty critic would say if he should read the titles. Or the scorn which would fairly ooze from Mencken, that major prophet of discontent, should he survey the shelf. But discontent somehow has never seemed to ride along with little things, and on my little ship we have no room for heavy tomes, no room for books which are not happy books. There's "Peter Pan", I frankly love the story. There too is "Graziella", "The Wind in the Willows" and "lmennsee". And I must not forget the bit from "Les Miserables" of Gawoche and his elephant! While these may not be the particular volumes which others have read and loved they are, fundamentally, world old stories of the little things, and as such they have been spiritual guides which any who would assume the role of literary censor must scan rather closely before casting them aside. And no self respecting little ship would be complete without the tang of the sea, Slocum's immortal "Cruise of the Spray", "The Venturesome Voyages of Captain Voss", which is a veritable storehouse of sea wisdom, Kipling's "Captain Courageous" — these are alive with the life of little things, even as little as tacks which insured Slocum's final and successful attempt to gain the Pacific after his troubles in the Straits of Magellan. Mixed with the salty volumes are several of the poets — Poe, Mansfield, Byron. You see, altogether, my books are quite a conglomerate assortment. I could hardly believe the particular ones I have named would suit any other taste than my own, but that is a small matter. Yet any row of books with which one had to live day after day would represent - the same general atmosphere of peace and contentment.

So I shall sail my little ship. She carries what I want, my simple books, my simple songs and, best of all, a generous store of contentment. Now, if I could only find....... But stop, I think I even love that leak! Such is the way of little ships.