During these dog days of our pandemic summer here in Florida there are times I might feel Dead in the Water, Chock-a-Block or even Lolling in the Doldrums. And then at times I think maybe I should Batten Down the Hatches and Cut and Run!
Sorry about all the nautical terms but I’ve been filing archives and reading some entries in the Captain’s Log Book from the S.S. Mascotte. The Mascotte was a steamship of the Plant System. It was a beautiful streamlined vessel that sailed a twice-weekly route out of Port Tampa with a stop in Key West before then traveling on to Havana, Cuba – back and forth, back and forth.
The ship might have had a tough crew at times. From the 1893 Log Book, Captain James Decker’s entries note contraband and smuggling in crews quarters, mostly tobacco, stowed away on the trip back from Cuba. One trip noted “Bread, Fish + Poltary [sic] of poor quality purchased fish at Key West.” “Poltary [sic] when cooked hard + dry + tough”. Seems like that’s a pretty strong culinary critique from Captain Decker, though perhaps he was just passing along comments from dissatisfied passengers.
Weather was an issue at times too – falling barometers, gale winds, cyclonic disturbances. Shifting sand bars and active tides could make navigating various channels very difficult. I’ve found that between navigating language standards of the time and nautical terminology the logs can be difficult. Capt. Decker mentions using “Rebecca” or traveled “via Rebecca”. At first I thought maybe there was a female crewmember or perhaps it was some kind of early version of a depth finder or navigational instrument. But with help from my pal the Internet, I figured out that out “Rebecca” is the coral shoal with lighthouse just past the Marquesas Keys, which are about twenty miles due west of Key West. Depending on the tides and weather, the route might have to be diverted around “Rebecca Shoals”.
It all sounds rather exciting, but mostly it was routine, fine weather, calm seas, back and forth, back and forth, though it seems they had their fun, too. The Mascotte’s sister ship was the Olivette. I love it when the entries say they blew their whistles at each other while passing on their respective voyages. The log entry shown here is about decorating the ship with all her bunting to commemorate its 600th voyage.
Thank you Captain Decker for this week’s distraction. Let’s hope going forward that we all can have a Clean Slate with Smooth Sailing, plenty of Fair Winds and a Following Sea.
I for one am ready to Splice the Mainbrace – hope you are too.
Oh by the way, an artist’s rendition of the S.S. Mascotte graces the official seal for the City of Tampa. Another interpretation of the Mascotte can be seen on manhole covers throughout the city.