3.10. The Bustle of Departure at a Port, the Rigging of Ships and a Storm at Sea
The Gawain-Poet describes in great detail the bustle of a port prior to the departure of a boat and a detailed knowledge of
the rigging of a ship.
Þus he passes to þat port his passage to seche
Fyndes he a fayr schyp to þe fare redy,
Maches hym with þe maryneres, makes her paye
For to towe hym into Tarce as tyd as þay myȝt.
Then he tron on þo tres, and þay her tramme ruchen,
Cachen vp þe crossayl, cables þay fasten,
Wiȝt at þe wyndas weȝen her ankres,
Spende spak to þe sprete þe spare bawelyne
Gederen to þe gyde-ropes, þe grete cloþ falles,
Þay laden in on laddeborde, and þe lofe wynnes,
Þe blyþe breþe at her bak þe bosum he fyndes;
He swenges me þys swete schip swefte fro þe hauen.
In the same poem he also describes in great detail the experience of a major storm at sea
Anon out of þe norþ-est þe noys bigynes,
When boþe breþes con blowe vpon blo watteres.
Roȝ rakkes þer ros with rudnyng anvnder
Þe see souȝed ful sore, gret selly to here;
Þe wyndes on þe wonne water so wrastel tegeder
Þat þe wawes ful wode waltered so hiȝe
And eft busched to þe abyme, þat breed fysches
Durst nowhere for roȝ arest at þe bothem
When þe breth and þe brok and þe bote metten,
Hit watz a joyles gyn þat Jonas watz inne,
For hit reled on roun vpon þe roȝe yþes
Þe bur ber to hit baft, þat braste alle her gere,
Þen hurled on a hepe þe helme and the sterne;
Furst tomurte mony rop and þe mast after;
Þe sayl sweyed on þe see, þenne suppe bihoued
Þe coge of þ colde water, and þenne þe cry ryses.
Ȝet coruen þay þe cordes and kest al þeroute; (137-153)
Bot euer watz ilyche loud þe lot of þe wyndes,
And euer wroþer þe water and wodder þe stremes
Þen þo wery forwroȝt wyst no bote (161-163)
James Cottrell was certainly familiar with the departure of a boat on a major voyage, he twice (at least) took sail from England
for Portugal. On the expedition of 1381 he also experienced a major storm when the fleet was forced to put in at Brest because
of the bad weather. However we must also acknowledge that descriptions of storms at sea were plentiful in the literature
of the period, and also that anyone venturing out to sea at that time was quite likely to experience a storm. His last patron,
Infante Dom Henrique the Navigator, whom he had tutored as a youth, was renowned for his interest in sailing and exploration,
and is credited (probably apocryphally) with founding a school of navigation at Sagres.
© 2005-2007 Ron Catterall