Nantucket Junket

Call me Ishmael.


Some years ago- never mind how long precisely- having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. 

Or, at least, the sublime island of Nantucket.


Posted like silent sentinels all around the town, stand thousands upon thousands of mortal men fixed in ocean reveries. Some leaning against the spiles; some seated upon the pier-heads; some looking over the bulwarks of ships from China; some high aloft in the rigging, as if striving to get a still better seaward peep. But these are all landsmen; of week days pent up in lath and plaster — tied to counters, nailed to benches, clinched to desks. How then is this? Are the green fields gone? What do they here?


We had work to stabilize the roof of the 1711 North Church vestry, that’s what do we here!


Sinning and salvation: Centuries of dust settled upon this vestry’s trusses.

We laid in new spruce purlins (New Spruce Purlins: Alt-bluegrass band name?) between the building’s original rafters, clamping them with oak cleats which John had made.


Sexy chamfers and Andrew’s new apps!

We flexed the roof’s sheathing outward using a manner of pipe jack known as a post shore brace (commonly used in concrete work). Once the roof was tensioned outward just enough, we fastened the new purlins in place. Simple enough, excepting the 300 yr-old dust  which continually found its way down the back of our necks.

The oak of the early 18th c. frame was very likely imported from the mainland and seemed generally knottier than that found in 17th-century house frames off the island. This may be due to the diminishing quality of trees for subsequent generations of colonists. And while the hewing was fair, there were the tell-tale marks of a nicked ax all over the faces of the timbers.


Rocks were placed at the feet of both rafters. We couldn’t help but speculate on the symbolism of this.

The framing of the building included a center king post attached to a beam below and rafters above. The secondary pair of rafters were re-used from another building, judging by their empty purlin pockets. This style of framing is called a “dropped upper cord”, which was only fitting, for as we labored above, there were several impromptu piano and vocal lessons going on in the vestry down below, and more than once we heard a couple of dropped upper “chords”. As in hewing, so in singing: Practice makes perfect.

The vestry, above and below:


At the end of our workday, we took a stroll about the impossibly quaint island, even making our way up to a widow’s walk:


I pray my troth doth remember to bring forth milk and lottery tickets upon her return from ye South Seas…

And eating establishments were bent upon a theme:


And after a long day’s work, it was time to rest.

But what most puzzled and confounded you was a long, limber, portentous, black mass of something hovering in the centre of the picture over three blue, dim, perpendicular lines floating in a nameless yeast. A boggy, soggy, squitchy picture truly, enough to drive a nervous man distracted. Yet was there a sort of indefinite, half-attained, unimaginable sublimity about it that fairly froze you to it, till you involuntarily took an oath with yourself to find out what that marvellous painting meant.


Alas, we never did find Mr. Coffin’s dark, broody and ominous inn…


But we did lodge at The Periwinkle!!



The Gray Lady, a white leviathan herself, dieseled us home…to tell thee.


Now small fowls flew screaming over the yet yawning gulf; a sullen white surf beat against its steep sides; then all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.

blue acorn

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9 thoughts on “Nantucket Junket

  1. Shelley-Jo says:

    I tended the bar at the “Bro-Ho” before it changed hands and got all fancy.

  2. John Wolf says:

    There is a pair of rafters inside a pair of rafters? For lateral stability? I guess I need to get my own copy of Moby Dick, I find it readable and enjoyable, but far too long to read within the library loan period!

    • Rick says:

      Now THAT’S funny, Mr Wolf! I read the book by the light of a whale oil candle years ago. It was given to me by a friend whose forbear was a whaling captain. True story. It burned brighter than the best beeswax, though I in no way condone whaling. Though I WOULD like to see the return of the Hartford Whalers. As for the frame, the short answer is to help carry that wiiiiddde span in the room down below, which is used for services by the Congregationalists in the winter. Let me talk with Michael and Pret for a more precisely detailed answer. It’s good to have guys you can go to for precision details…


  3. Marie Pelletier says:


  4. pfollansbee says:

    I always remember this line “… whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off — then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. ” – but not to sea w me. You don’t need to read the book, nor watch the movie – Steve Goodman got it all down in his song “Moby Book”.

  5. graemeu says:

    Nice Rick,
    I like the way you pull all those threads together, there is a Sci Fi sequel that takes that line “….then all collapsed….” as a premise around which to start. Don’t know who wrote it “Ishmael’s Whale”.
    Graeme (descended from a south seas cannibal who slept with a wrecked whaler)

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