Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Perseverance, Behind the Art

This week I have featured a print of my painting "Perseverance".  As I have pointed out, the painting depicts the situation facing Captain McDonald, on his wrecked schooner "Perseverance", in which he had to summon enormous perseverance to survive the ordeal.

Of course there is the obvious comment about it likewise taking a lot of perseverance to capture in paint on a canvas all that is going on in a wild sea.  And that is true, it takes a lot of patience to paint a sea like that.

But I would like to take us behind the painting to the story that it illustrates.  The year 1819 closed with one of the most ferocious gales ever to hit the Bay of Fundy. Captain McDonald had set sail in his schooner "Perseverance" from St. Andrews, clearing Campobello on Wednesday evening, December 29.  Becalmed on Thursday, the winds arose in the evening buffeting the schooner with a southerly gale increasing in strength through the night.  The schooner started leaking more that the two pumps on board could handle.

The schooner carried a deck load of lumber, which the crew cut away, but in doing so, lost their boat.  So now there was no possibility of abandoning their vessel, if something went wrong. As the water rose in the hold, it rolled back and forth with the rolling of the vessel, making the schooner less stable.  The anchors and cables were cut away to lighten the deck. 

By Friday morning, December 31, they were in a full blown southerly storm.  With waves washing over the decks, the crew took to the mast heads for safety.  Full of water, the schooner rolled down on her side and stayed there.  Three of the crew were immediately washed off and drowned.  The others quickly cut away the rigging, which allowed the masts to break off, and the waterlogged hull returned upright.  The schooner was a little more stable, but with no masts, they were adrift and helpless.

Through the day, the schooner wallowed in heavy seas, was washed by icy spray and blown by bone chilling wind.  One by one the crew died, until Captain McDonald was the only one left alive.  The wind went around to the west and abated some, restoring his hope that he might save himself.  He found a small sail wrapped around a timber and rigged it as best he could to the stump of the foremast.  With compass washed away, he guessed at his location and steered as best he could judge for Nova Scotia.

Throughout the night he persevered.  On Saturday, January 1, 1820, the wind had changed direction, clearing the air, but heavy seas were still running.  This is the scene depicted in the painting.  Continuing before the wind, Captain McDonald saw the Nova Scotia coast and recopgnized the headlands near Yarmouth.  The "Perseverance" struck the rocks about seven miles up shore from Yarmouth.  People ashore saw the schooner approaching and gathered to try to help. With his vessel going to pieces, Captain McDonald grabbed a large plank and jumped into the surf and washed ashore where he was rescued and cared for.  And his detailed recounting of the story gave us a remarkable glimpse of just one of the tragic shipwrecks of the great New Year's Eve Gale.

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