When the moon hangs heavily in the sky, it bodes bad weather. When there’s a halo around the moon, then there’s a snowstorm coming the next day.
“It’s said that the full moon has a certain power; That its gravity pulls your face into a horrible grimace”
– Sailor Gustav Burman from Raahe in 1923.
“Boys, do not lie down in a way that lets the moon’s light shine straight onto your face. Its gravity crooks your face”
– Chief Officer Pelkoliini from Oulu
When the wind was fair during the night, we occasionally were able to sail in the moonlight. During the so-called “Dog’s watch” we had to stay awake. It was the watch’s responsibility to keep the ship going while the others slept.
Antti Pyy, a sailor, recalls that you could hear a wailing, horrible noise from the mast if you listened closely.
“I’m falling, I’m falling!”, someone moaned.
In his old days, Antti was responsible of delivering the sailors’ wedding and funeral invitations in Raahe.
And the sailors had to have proper funerals as well. An old sailor Matti Orasmaa tells in 1920’s about his trip on a cargo ship to New Zealand. A wave was able to smash through the ship’s rear during a storm so hard that the room filled with water and smacked the life out of one unfortunate sailor. It was a custom to wrap the dead in their own blankets. Orasmaa had sewn the bodies inside the blankets and added iron weights to their feet. In the evening a blessing was said in the dead’s memory. The ship’s flag was put over the body. A pair of men raise the planks underneath the body from one end, so that the body slided feet first to the sea.
The old sailors tell, that in the Atlantic a body doesn’t sink to the bottom of the ocean. It remains in a certain depth, where the ocean’s current takes the body along. The soul o a dead sailor is believed to soar as a free and white albatross.
“There are not so many men lying in their graves here. Many of Raahe’s men have found their graves from the ocean waves, even the captains” sais 81-year-old Lovisa Jokelin in 1924.
When a restless soul was once again wailing from the mast, the chief officer Heikki Forsman yelled behind the sails: Then fall, fall, in God’s name!”
A huge crash was heard. A humane ghost fell from the mast to the deck. It had black eye sockets, a body swollen from the seawater and a mark from a boot’s sole in its forehead. When this incident was discussed in the morning with the rest of the crew, it turned out that in the past someone had fallen from the mast and drowned.
When the incident was still the topic of discussion in the night, a frightened cabin boy came forth and confessed. At one time in the past he had kicked a bad-tempered man in the forehead and he had drowned.
Bad deeds reveal themselves one way or another, even from behind the grave. Unresolved matter will trouble us.
“I’m falling, I’m falling”, was heard from the ship’s mast for many years to come across the vast seas.
From the book: Gunilla ja kummat kertomukset, Edited by Aki Pulkkanen. Translation Teemu Halmetoja