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December 22, 2003

Of shoes and ships and sealing wax .....

As you may have gathered I love ships. That is, I love the look, the motion and the promise of far away places they project. I also know enough about the life of those who man them to be realistic about the hours of boredom, the backbreaking work and the gut wrenching fear that being caught in the wrong place in a storm can produce. The picture below is one I painted from a photograph of a friend's ship - a 3,500 gross ton salvage tug named John Ross.


The Motor Salvage Tug John Ross at sea off the Cape of Good Hope in Force 8

The John Ross and her sister tug Wolraad Woltemade, were named after maritime heroes of the South African coast. John Ross was a 16 year old when he was wrecked on the Pondoland coast and found himself walking with the rest of the survivors North to try to reach what is today known as Maputo, then Lourenco Marques. To do this they had to cross Chaka Zulu's Kingdom, and Chaka was not renowned for his tolerance of white visitors. Basically he regarded them as an aberration.

John Ross had two counts against him - he was very fair skinned, and he had very red hair and blue eye's - all regarded with suspicion by Chaka and his witch doctors. It was the youth's courage however, first in standing his ground in the face of taunting by a Zulu Champion whom he felled with his fists, and then in bringing down a charging elephant with a muzzle loader, that secured both his release and that of his party. They were even escorted to the Portugese territory by a half Impi.

A century earlier Wolraad Woltemade, a farmer in Cape Town, performed a spectacular rescue of several men from a ship wreck in Table Bay, riding his horse into the surf and dragging six men at a time to safety ashore. Both he and his horse died on the third trip to the wreck, being swept out to sea and drowned. Woltemade's name is also preserved as a decoration for outstanding bravery.

The purpose of my rambling on about this? Well, the stormy weather of the last couple of days, and the weather predictions for the next week or so, reminded me that we should also remember "those who go down to the sea in ships and do business on great waters" at this time. Every year, the storms, the cold and the poor maintenance on a number of ships take their toll. Our luxury goods and our comfort is often provided at a price we do not necessarily see.

Consider the seafarers at Christmas and if you have a mind too, consider a donation to the Mission to Seafarers. A visit to their site will show you that they are about all faiths and all seafarers - not just those who share Christianity - and they are often called upon to do far more than just pray for the men and women they serve.

Posted by The Gray Monk at December 22, 2003 05:28 PM


That is an amazing painting! I'm so glad you posted it, as it reminded me to mention the sketch you did for Ozguru - which I really, really loved. You're a very gifted and talented artist, and I'm quite jealous of that :-)

Posted by: Cindy at December 23, 2003 08:25 PM

Thanks for the compliment - but my paintings are mere daubings alongside the real artist in the family - my brother. Now his stuff is fine art.

Posted by: The Gray Monk at December 23, 2003 10:32 PM