GLOUCESTER., Massachusetts USA. August 1, 1938.
We have folk stories and mythologies. And then, we have a history most people have either forgotten or are not aware of. This is a real- life story about one of the last sailing vessels built in Valvettithurai, making a long journey to the Atlantic Coast of United States. But, closer to home, these vessels made their home ports at Valvettithurai and Parithithurai( Pt. Pedro). Most of them, while being built and operated by sailors from Valvettithurai, were owned by the wealthy Chetty families from Tamil Nadu. The rest were owned by the Chetty traders who had settled in Valvettithurai since the opening of secure sea lanes in Indian Ocean by the Porthuguese( from Arab & Far Eastern pirates). (They might have been there since before Cholas time.) Building and maintaining large ocean going vessels in those days required a larg sum of capital it can be afforded by only few families who had already well established themselves as reputed trading families. These vessels, up to World War 2, plied the sea- routes the Tamils had used for centuries before. They made ports- of- call in South India, Vizhakapattinam to Cochin( occasionaly even Calcutta), Rangoon, Far Eastern destinations, ports in Middle East( such as Eden). In Ceylon itself, they made frequent trips to Galle and ports in between. They carried rice, spices, roof tiles, timber( teak, sandalwood, etc), palmyra products, dried fish, tobacco products, etc. In 1938, the ship Annapoorani was leading other sailing vessels in the annual parade of ships in Valvai Muthu- maariamman kovils theerthath thiruvizha. This practice continued up to today, now with fishing trawlers, vallams and fibre- glass boats. Annapoorani caught the eyes of a visting wealthy American, William A. Robinson. It was a cargo vessel modeled on the popular British frigate- type ship it was known for its speed and maneuverability. A wealthy young man from Ipswich, Massachusetts, who made his fortunes in journalism decided that he should have this vessel. Within the next 2- 3 months, his wishes were fulfilled.
The owner- family in Tamil Nadu sold it for a handsome price. The vessel sailed to Colombo with its Valvettithurai crew of 4 under Thundayal (chief of crew) Kanagaratnam Thampipillai. In Colombo, the brigantine was re- christened as Florence C. Robinson in reference to Robinson and his amour - Florence. The brigantine, once insured by Loyds of London, set sail to Cyprus under Thampipillais command where it would come under the command of a captain from Gloucestor. Gloucester was one of the busiest sea ports on Americas eastern coast it was where the popular schooner- type of vessel saw its shape take place. My own research on Annapoorarini through few trips to Gloucester, about 30 miles north of Boston, I have found old paper articles from Gloucester Times and Boston Globe. Im thankful to a friend who helped me out in this venture, the enthusiastic people of Gloucestor( particularly a Librarian) and the resources of Boston Public Library. Even though all this took place two summers ago, I have allowed the paper articles and ship port- of- call registration documents to gather dust. Because of other obligations, I wasnt able to follow on my research to ascertain the final status of Annapoorani.
CEYLON BRIG ARRIVES AFTER LONG VOYAGE . Capt. MacCuish with Hindu Crew Presents Rare Spectacle - Light Winds Extended Trip to 80 Days [ Gloucester Times, August 2, 1938 ] A strange boat, a strange crew but, a well- known skipper, Capt. Duncan A. MacCuish, local master skipper, rounded Eastern Point yesterday noon, when the hermaphrodite brig Florence C. Robinson, with five Hindus handling sail, completed her 80- day passage from Candia, Isle of Crete, a distance of some 5000 miles. Her new owner, William Robinson of Ipsich and the wife for whom the boat is re- named, were at the Walen warf to greet her. Before a half hour had passed, hundreds had gathered to catch a glimpse of what resembles the ghost of His Majestys ship Bounty returning to the seas to haunt Cape Ann. As she passed the sch. Gertrude L. Thebaud, it was as if east had met west in schooner design. Lumbersome as she looks, however, Capt. Norman A. Ross of the Marconi- rigged sch. Blue Dolphin is authority that the stranger can sail.
The Long Trip.
Theirs was a long crawling hindered by lack of wind, days of endless calm when the Atlantic was like a mill pond, a mirrored surface without a sign of any breeze. Capt. MacCuish left here by steamer for the island port to get the craft and bring her here. Her crew consisted of five Hindus from Jaffna, northern Ceylon, that little tea island south of India. The craft itself, a 90- foot affair, was built at Jaffna some nine years ago on the British man- o- war which ever hit into that area at the beginning of the 19th century. That model was the much the same as the Bounty on which a crew mutinied and became white settlers of Pitcairn Island. The natives have never changed the mould, and though larger one are built, the sch. Annapoorani as it was known, is the popular cargo ship plying the trade in the Indian Ocean. Her crew of Hindus have manned her from Ceylon to Burma, and to ports of India since her launching. She had dodged all manner of monsoons and stood the strong winds of those water. Capt. MacCuish and his dusky quintet sailed from Candia, May 3, and were 31 days before touching at Gibraltar. Here they took on an extra helper, Alexis Doster, Jr., of Litchfield, Conn., 20 years old., who had just completed a first- hand course in European politics, of two years, and was glad to greet the Goddess of Liberty again. He had rubbed elbows with Nazi conquerors of Austria, had met self- assured fascists of Italy, and had swapped bullets with the Spanish Communists to the point that he was wearied of the whole mess and saw the wisdom in returning home again to get some more `book- larnin.` The boat hardly touched at Walens Warf befoe he reached over the rail, planked down his fist hard on the spiles, and gleefully remarked, `America, it is really you!`
Left Gibralter June 8.
Leaving Gibraltar June 8, they were 41 days reaching Hamilton, Bermuda. It was a slow passage with not enough wind stirring most of the time to ruffle a sail. They were equipped with a 50- horsepower Belinda marine engine but the engine had gone out of commission, six months before. Capt. MacCuish had provisioned for 30 days believing that would be plenty. The first month slipped by, however, and America was still on the far horizon. The skipper then headed the craft for Bermuda, and rationed out the food and drinking water. The Hindus cooperated by foregoing their daily habit of anointing their heads with fresh water in carrying out religious rites, and instead substituted salt water. It was a great sacrifice to them, but they knew their god would understand. That helped solve the water problem. The grub difficulties were much harder. Finally, they fell back on rice. They had a Hindu cook named Manian who knew rice inside and out. It became rice for breakfast, more rice for dinner and still more rice for supper, until yesterday. Capt. MacCuish vowed that if ever Mrs. MacCuish placed rice before him, he would `go off the handle.` They landed safely at Hamilton even though ravenously hungry Doster could not get to the Princess hotel fast enough to surround himself with a thick, juicy steak splashed with onions. Capt. MacCuish himself soon got acquainted with some good food and Saturday, July 23, the voyage was resumed to this port.
A First Rate Crew.
Capt. has had many experiences afloat in his long day. had been in Bering waters, in the South Seas, globe trotted several summers in fine yachts, been skipper of craft during taking of moving pictures especially for the filming of the famed `Captain Courageous,` and man and boy has wrung countless gallons of sea water from his oilskins. He has had all manner of crews, both good and bad, both those who can and do obey to a smattering of `sea- lawyers.` So when he says the Hindus made him a first- rate crew, they must have been capable. None of the five ever bothered about shoes or stockings, making the run of the ship in bare feet, even to climbing the rigging into the cross- trees of the top masts. The skin between their toes had become hardened, yet flexible. None ever heard of oilskins or `souwesters,` and content themselves with their native turbans as head- gear and `shorts` or pants with sweaters. They appeared to have one boss, a husky- bearded sailor who answered to the name of Pullai. He speaks English and of course, more fluently, his native tongue, Tamil in which he would relay the skippers orders to the crew. Proud of his esteem, he saw to it that the other boys promptly obeyed orders. A rigid discipline could easily be observed aboard yesterday.
The Sacred Ash.
Some of the Hindus sported a yellow dab on the forehead. The inquirer was informed that that dab was called the `sacred ash,` and its presence bought their god, Siva, closer to them. Siva knew all personally who wore that mark, they said. A spot on the forehead is whitewashed, and then powdered, and the dab stuck on that spot. The Hindus who belong to a high caste in Ceylon. held their weekly worship on Friday night, their Sunday, by the way. Friday evening, they would gather in the forepeak of the vessel, scooch around a lighted lamp, and chant their prayers of thanksgiving to Siva in a weird rite that was the more sincere in its emphasis. The trip was their first voyage west of the Suez Canal. They were baffled by the fogs encountered in crossing the Atlantic. They had experience light fogs in northern areas of the Indian Ocean, according to Pullai, but this fog was so thick that they felt as if `life was shutting` its doors to them, and lifting them to another world amid the clouds.` Capt. MacCuishs presence reassured them ...