I could have named this post “boats and blooms” because that’s about all I have to offer: this has been a working summer and I am running out of steam so no controversies, critiques or deep dives today. Just boats and flowers. We were up in York Harbor for the weekend and as usual, I bypassed the beach for Portsmouth. I just can’t stay away from that city: it was always the perfect place for me when I was growing up and I moved to Salem because it reminded me of Portsmouth but was a bit closer to Boston. Now it has become my anti- or ideal Salem: without witch kitsch and with smooth brick sidewalks. This year, Portsmouth is particularly festive because it is celebrating its 400th anniversary, and there were tall ships in the harbor, along with the usual display of exuberant gardens, shops, and architecture.
Back home, my father’s plentiful display of bee balm was kind of picked-over by all the hummingbirds it attracts, but still deserves honorable mention. And I never miss the gardens at Stonewall Kitchen’s flagship store in York.
And now for the boats! Something absolutely wonderful happened as Saturday night turned into Sunday morning: a windy storm came in and blew away all of the humidity that we’ve been living with for the past month. I know it’s nothing compared to the extreme conditions that other parts of the country are experiencing, but wow, Sunday felt like a whole new world. We decided to celebrate by going out on a sunset cruise of Portsmouth Harbor on the Piscataqua, a reproduction of a nineteenth-century gundalow, a coasting barge with a distinctive lanteen sail: it always looks medieval to me in the harbor! We sailed past the visiting NAO Trinidad, the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (which is in Kittery, Maine), Fort Constitution in NH, Fort McClary in Maine and out to Wood Island, with a companion privateer, the Mystic, for the last leg.
I am pleasantly tired at the end of a busy weekend, which included: a sunset sail, several garden walks, a tour of the Coast Guard’s tall ship Eagle, long conversations into the night, the annual vintage car show on Chestnut Street, and a Red Sox game. Highlights of a New England summer all in one weekend! We have (for now) made it out of the muggy days of midsummer and are in the golden days of late summer: no humidity, just bright sun, warm days and cooler nights with just a whiff of Autumn in the evening breeze. The disappearance of humidity always recovers my will to live: I am not a summer person, but as long as there is a cool breeze mitigating the hot sun I’m fine—-everybody’s fine. I’m sure the humidity will return—and Fall will be here soon—which makes beautiful August days like these all the more precious.
Mid-August in Salem and Boston: a sunset sail on the Schooner Fame Friday night, Salem Story Walk in the Ropes Garden & a visit to the US Coast Guard’s Barque Eagle on Saturday, the Phillips House-sponsored annual vintage car meet on Sunday morning, at Fenway Sunday afternoon (the Red Sox lost in extra innings–I was so impressed with the score-keeping of the kid in front of me, who only took a break for an ice cream cone).
The highlight of this year’s annual Salem Maritime Festival, hosted by the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, was the Kalmar Nyckel, a reproduction seventeenth-century full-rigged pinnace built by the state of Delaware as a tribute to the Scandinavian founders of New Sweden, who were transported across the Atlantic on such a ship. While we’re all happy to have our own reproduction East Indiaman, the Friendship, back in Salem Harbor after a long spell away, the two ships called to mind a cardinalesque comparison with the brown and still-mastless Friendship looking like the drab female, and the colorful Kalmar Nyckel as the dashing male. Just to push the bird analogy a bit further, my husband referred to the latter as a “peacock” of a ship. And it is.
I thought I knew what the word “pinnace” meant: a small ship’s boat, used for landing and other purposes which required a smaller size and more flexibility. Apparently the Dutch, the most innovative and productive shipbuilders of the seventeenth century, adapted the pinnace design to create a larger full-rigged version for war and trade, and the original Kalmar Nyckel and many of the ships you can see in all of those golden-age Dutch seascapes represent this innovation. The English built larger pinnaces as well: the first of many ships named The Defiance went head to head with Spanish galleons during the attack of the Spanish Armada in 1588 and Governor Winthrop reported that several daring Salem men took pinnaces all the way to Sable Island off Nova Scotia in search of “sea horses” (walruses) in the later 1630s.
Cornelis Verbeeck, A Dutch Pinnace in Rough Seas, National Maritime Museum of the Netherlands; Armada cards from the later 17th century, Royal Museums Greenwich, Wenceslaus Hollar, view of the Tower with pinnace-rigged ships, 1637, British Museum.
So it was great to see a pinnace in Salem Harbor again, along with a reproduction Viking ship, and booths representing (and reproducing) all the traditional maritime crafts and various local organizations, along with myriad performers, on shore. Salem is very fortunate to have the constant institutional presence of Salem Maritime, whose staff operate all of its venues and initiatives (including the Salem Regional Visitor Center) in such a professional and engaging manner. This year marks the 200th anniversary of the Custom House, and no building—-certainly not the Witch “Museum” or even a creation of Samuel McIntire— represents Salem’s multi-layered past better.