Wawona

Wawona was the largest sailing schooner ever built in North America. Launched in 1897, she first carried lumber on fast runs along the U.S. West Coast. She became a fishing schooner in the Bering Sea in 1914, later serving the military in the World War II. Shortly afterward, she was retired to Lake Union in Seattle.
The intent was to save her as a monument. She became a National Historic Site in 1970. Plans were made to have her deteriorating hull fully restored by 1989. Many of her planks were of huge dimensions: 6” to 8” thick, 16” wide, and more than 100 feet long.
Then, catastrophe: During a heavy rainstorm on Thursday, February 18, 1982, she sank at her moorings. On Friday, February 26, 1982, she was raised by Crawley Maritime. In August, 1985, a plan to restore the schooner was announced. Yet there was a question: was the condition of her hull suitable for restoration? She lingered on in limbo for years until declared unsalvageable.
In March, 2009, she was taken away to be chopped up for landfill.

For you, of long maritime history
It was hardly a moment,
Lying there on the bottom ooze,
Sent down by the ponderous rain
And held in black jeopardy…

Wawona,
It would have been unpardonable
For us
To let you there remain
In gross indignity,
And so to lose
By slow disintegration
Your irreplaceable sea-being.

Did you know a moment of despair?
Having survived the chopping yard through shoals of time
To sense so imminent a squalid termination
With tremulous fore-seeing?

There are a thousand ships whose settling thus
Led to the ultimate subjection
Upon the ocean floor
Amid the shells and bones and slime
And are remembered but in pirate’s tales,
Wawona.

Yet, in your resurrection
There is no mystery,
For you have friends upon the shore,
And on the sea.
Wawona.

The time will come when you shall fill your sails
And leaning before the sea-wind, alone of all your kind,
You’ll tie again together with vibrant frothy traces
Your once-known Ports of Call and ocean places,
And leave your inattentive years behind,
Wawona.

Yet,
When the sun is high,
Dwell sometimes then,
Wawona,
In remembering:

There are a thousand ships whose settling thus
Led to the ultimate subjection
Upon the ocean floor…

For planks from ribs release in gaunt dismembering
and decks swell moisture-full to silent splintering
and chambers dark since caulking sigh in rupturing
with fathom-filtered sunlight stealthily entering.

John M. Pursell, May 9–12, 1982

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