Piece of my Heart

I have lived my life on the ocean since I was fourteen years old. I have gathered memories and had adventures more than a hundred ordinary men. Of all those memories the one that stands higher than all the rest is the adventure of my first passage around Cape Horn.

You see, the ocean is the cruellest and most magnificent, of nature's creations and that night the stormed raged fast and furious. There were ten men hauling the lee fore-brace. The wind whipped the rain and hail into our faces so that it stung like a shower of arrows. The swell rose and fell such that when were up it was like floating in mid-air. And when we were in a trough, great walls of water rose like cliffs, either side of the ship, disappearing into the mist above us.

There were ten of us hauling the lee fore-brace and Dan, ahead of me called out, "Oh for a night ashore, to sit in a warm bar. We could listen to a Spanish fiddler play and raise a glass or many!" I could have laughed in delight at the thought, but my teeth were clenched against the icy rain. I was trying to will some feeling back into my frozen fingers.

There were ten men hauling the lee fore-brace when that wave broke across the ship. It was like standing full square to a dam-burst. The ship shuddered to a dead stop in the swell, and with that weight of water upon her, you'd have thought she was bound to the bottom for sure. Yet an eternity later, up she rose, riding high again atop the swell.

There were seven men hauling the lee fore-brace. Those icy waters had taken three of the best, Panama Pete, Lars the Dane and Dan, a lad the like of which I shall never meet again. But I'll not cry and I'll not moan, for this is the life I chose. I'll heave and I'll haul and take a turn at the wheel, I'll climb the mast, I'll reef and furl, for the wind and the sea are always here. But Dan and I, we'll never play a hand of cards or raise a glass together or sing a shanty in the sunset.

Yet, there are times, those rare times, when I spend a night ashore. I sit in a warm bar and listen to a fiddler play. I raise my glass in a silent toast, to Dan, for a piece of my heart went down with him, that first time I sailed those treacherous seas around Cape Horn.

Inspired by the song "Lee Fore Brace" written by Cicely Fox Smith (Pub. ca 1924)

© GrahamWhitford