Memories of whaling days

Molly Houghton, Caitlin Houghton, Molly McConville, and Julie Novakovic. Photo by Ben Scott
(From left) Molly Houghton, Caitlin Houghton, Molly McConville, and Julie Novakovic try to catch a big fish in a small pond at last Saturday's Family Fest. Photos by Ben Scott

By Julian Wise - August 3, 2006

For one evening the whaling era came back to life as the Revels Circle of Song troupe performed "A Celebration of the Sea" at Union Chapel in Oak Bluffs, concluding the festival in atmospheric style. The troupe members - Dave Blodgett, Renni Boy, Jim Congo, Don Duncan, Kay Dunlap, Alan Field, Michael Horn, Elizabeth McCreless, Jack Mccreless, Janet Nelson, Henry Olds, Ben Soule, Bobbie Sproat, Kyla Tornhelm, Deb Weiner-Soule, and Gail Zarren - performed a rollicking pageant of sea chanteys, dances, poetry, storytelling, and folklore that evoked the bygone era of ships, sailors, and spouting whales.

The actors, dressed in wool caps, breeches, vests, dresses and bonnets, made clever use of boat parts and replicas of whale ribs to create a maritime aura on the Union Chapel floor. Musicians (Renni Boy, recorder; Dave Doucett, bass; Don Duncan, guitar/banjo, Nancy Koch, accordion) played a lively program of songs that celebrated the romance and danger of the whaling days. On "Blow Ye Winds, Heigh-Ho," the singers raised their voices with soaring harmonies as they sang, "Blow ye winds, in the morning, blow ye winds, heigh-ho! Clear away your runnin' gear and blow, boys, blow."

Mark Lovewell entertains families with his sea chanties and stories. Photo by Ben Scott
Mark Lovewell entertains families with his sea chanties and stories at last Saturday's event.

Many songs were historic documents, such as "The Allee-Allee O," which was brought to America by Irish immigrants and "Rolling Down to Old Maui," a chantey taken from the log of whaler Atkin Adams in 1858. "Rolling Home to Old New England" captured the joy of whalers returning home after a long and perilous voyage as the troupe sang, "Rolling home, rolling home, rolling home across the sea; Rolling home to old New England, Rolling home, dear land to thee."

The 18 adults in the troupe were joined by Island children (Molly Houghton, Molly McConville, Charlotte Benjamin, Jessie Benjamin, Eli D'Agostino, and Garrett Allen, Sesana Allen) who played children during the whaling era. Through the compelling blend of song, dance, and pantomime, the audience was able to experience a glimpse of the peril and romance of a vanished era of maritime life.