• Sage Webb

July 4, 2020: What Did Eleanor Creesy Do with the Dunnage?

You probably already know this, but dunnage refers to waste material used to pack cargo. It can also refer to baggage. Some sailors (like my husband; I think I shall call him The Bosun on this blog) use the term to refer to trash. So today, as The Bosun and Boat Dog and I motor-sailed in light breezes from Red Fish Island to Offatts Bayou off Galveston Island, I tidied the cabin and tied up a bag of dunnage.

One of the problems of shipboard life underway is that of how to handle dunnage. Now, I’ve often heard of sailors stowing it in the head/bathroom, especially if the head has gone out of commission and the crew has been reduced to using the ol’ cedar bucket (for sailing-book aficionados, see L. Francis Herreshoff’s The Complete Cruiser). I have favored this head approach when the head is big enough: there’ll be some good place to stuff some dunnage that’ll still allow use of the head (which hopefully does not go out of commission on you).

Well, The Bosun revolted. No dunnage would take up residence in his head! (The dunnage now rests in the lazarette; I admit that this location makes much sense).

Given the timing of the argument (this most American of days), though, the clash brought to mind the incomparable American sailing team of Eleanor Prentiss and Josiah Perkins Creesy. The Creesys were, well, bad@$$.

Eleanor was navigator of the great clipper Flying Cloud, while Josiah captained her (her being the ship, not Eleanor; I rather doubt, from what I’ve read, that Josiah stood any chance of captaining Mrs. Creesy). Eleanor’s daddy (a master mariner himself) had taught his daughter to navigate from a young age, and as a youth, Miss Eleanor would have no suitor unfit to sail with. She rejected many a beau until she found the man with whom she’d take to the sea. Josiah finally came along, and the pair married and hit the waves. In 1851, Eleanor navigated Flying Cloud to the record for a sailing passage from New York to San Francisco: 89 days, 21 hours. In 1854, at the age of 39, Eleanor broke her own record, dropping the time to 89 days, 8 hours. This record stood until 1989.

(I post this shot just because I like to imagine that Eleanor would come on deck in cotton dresses like this one to take her sun sights. In those games of "who would you have lunch with if you could have lunch with anyone," she's one of the people I'd pick.)

As good as they must have been together, I assume the Creesys did occasionally disagree about how best to handle the ship, though realistically, in those times, these disagreements would not have involved disputes over handling dunnage. I suspect they just tossed it over the side. (Please don’t do that now! Now, the only things that should get tossed over the sides of boats are inflatable starfish with "captains" aboard.)

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