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Like a contented duck amid the storm

Published on September 28th, 2021

As a follow-up to the report which considered the Mayflower as among the coolest and most innovative yachts of our times, J/Boats co-founder Bob Johnstone echoed that sentiment by sharing this excerpt from author Nat Philbrick who wrote in his award winning history “Mayflower” about how cool that poop deck “castle” was in getting the Pilgrims safely to Plymouth:

In 1957, the crew members of the Mayflower II – a replica of the original vessel, built in Brixton, England – became the first mariners of the modern era to experience what it was like to ride out a gale in a Jacobean-era ship.

Over the course of the first few weeks of the passage, they had discovered that the Mayflower II’s boxy hull shape took some getting used to. At times, the motion in the high aft poop cabin became so violent that Captain Alan Villiers – one of the most experienced blue-water sailors in the world – feared that he might be flung out of his bunk.

What this ship would do in survival conditions was a matter of deep concern to Villiers and his men.

Toward the end of the voyage, a storm set in, forcing Villiers to do as Master Jones had done 337 years before. As the motion of the ship in the giant waves became intolerable, he decided he had no option but to lie ahull. The sails were furled, and everything on deck was tied down. Then with considerable trepidation, Villiers ordered that the helm be secured to leeward.

“This was the crucial test,” Villiers wrote. “Would she lie that way, more or less quietly, with the windage of the high poop keeping her shoulder to the sea? Or, would she just wallow hopelessly in the great troughs, threatening to roll her masts out? We didn’t know. No one had tried the maneuver in a ship like that for maybe two centuries.”

As soon as the ship’s bow swung into the wind, a remarkable change came over the Mayflower II. Even though she was under bare poles in a howling gale, her slablike topsides functioned as kind of a wooden storm sail, magically steadying the ship’s motion.

Almost perfectly balanced, the Mayflower II sat like a contented duck amid the uproar of the storm. After being pounded unmercifully by the waves, the ship was finally at peace. “I reflected that the Pilgrim Fathers, who tossed through many such a wild night in Atlantic storms, at least knew tranquility in great gales,” Villiers wrote.

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