The wave in the foreground dominates the scene in Paul Garnett’s dramatic Charles W. Morgan Off Cape Horn. It’s called a graybeard, the seaman’s name for huge, rolling Southern Ocean waves driven over countless miles by endless winds. They pick up a ship and drive her down into the next churning cauldron of water, foaming in relentless succession.
“Here we have the famous whaling vessel Charles W. Morgan on her maiden voyage, which began in September of 1841,” Garnett says. It’s early December, two months out, and Capt. Thomas A. Norton has shaped a course to pick up the northeast trades before bearing away for Cape Horn and the Pacific whaling grounds.
Garnett went to the Morgan’s logbook to depict a particular moment in the voyage. It’s Dec. 11, and the weather around “Cape Stiff” is rough: steep waves, gusty winds, breaking clouds and far-off lightning. The whaler is battened down, with shortened sail and boats pulled in.
It’s evening, and the oil lanterns are lit. “I could imagine Norton in his cabin, the ship buffeted by wind and rain, the deck rolling and pitching as he sat at his desk writing the day’s events in his log,” Garnett says. The stern view “shows the smallness of the ship trapped within the power of nature’s fury.”
Garnett knows the feeling. He spent seven years as a shipwright aboard the replica square-rigger Bounty, owned by the movie company MGM. “That gave me experiences that could not be seen even with the most vivid imagination,” he says. “I can still hear in my mind the roaring and howling of the wind, feel the rush of water slamming into the hull. Every marine painting I have done has in some way been affected by my experience on that majestic vessel.”
To view this and other works by Paul Garnett, visit the J. Russell Jinishian Gallery website at jrusselljinishiangallery.com or visit the gallery at 1899 Bronson Road in Fairfield, Connecticut. Call ahead for gallery hours, (203) 521-1099.
This article originally appeared in the June 2018 issue.