Mysterious curse of a ship that doomed itself.
July 13, 2015
“Grandpa, that is beautiful. What are you going to do now?” Skippy studied the just completed model ship with awe.
Grandpa Mike hunted around in his toolkit for a favorite paint brush. It only had three camel hairs in it. It had that many because he had removed the rest with scissors.
“I am getting ready to paint the name on her, Skippy,” he replied as he removed the lid from a tiny paint jar with a pair of pliers.
Skippy watched, elbows-on-table as his grandfather painted the name with meticulous care. “There! Penguin.” He then got up and put the ship, a miniature steamer with one stack, on a shelf to dry, along with his other many models. “We’ll take it down and look at it some more in a day or two, okay, Skippy? Let’s let it dry good. Have a seat and I will tell you the story of the Penguin. Some say it was jinxed, had a curse.”
“It was jinxed? Why?”
“The whole story started long before the boat was jinxed. It involves a water passage near New Zealand called the French Pass. The water there is full of swift currents and goes through the D’Urville Islands. It is treacherous for boats to go through this water that connects Tasman Bay and Pelorus Sound. Not only is it rough and swift, there are jagged rock formations under the water, invisible to sailors. Here. Let’s look at it on the globe. Bring it here and I will show you.”
Skippy carried the globe from the filing cabinet to the table where his grandfather was sitting. His eyes zoomed in on the area where Grandpa Mike was pointing. “Oooo. That is far away from us. Way over by Australia.”
His grandfather continued. “Many a boat and ship was lost, right here because of the jagged rocks. Then one day something happened that helped them get through.”
“One day in 1871 the schooner Brindle was trying to make the pass through these dangerous waters. The Brindle had left from Boston and was carrying goods to Sydney. One of the crew members noticed a giant porpoise trying to play with the ship. It was friendly and performing porpoise antics for anyone who would watch. A few of the crew members wanted to harpoon the animal. They thought it was a small whale. The captain’s wife threw a fit and would not allow it. It was a good thing, because the crew soon realized that the porpoise was leading them through deep water and staying away from the jagged rocks. Even though there was a foggy mist all around, they were able to make it safely through by following the porpoise. This same porpoise started his own tradition of helping many ships through the dangerous waters. He became known as Pelorus Jack. He helped sailors navigate these waters for over forty years. The members of ship crews would cheer when he made his appearance to escort them through. Before they came upon the dangerous part of the journey through, Pelorus Jack would leap high in the air, swim under the ships and come up on the other side. Then, he would assume his position in front of the ship and guide the pilot through. He was a very fast porpoise. Then something awful happened.”
“The Penguin came to attempt a pass through the dangerous waters. A drunken sailor on board this ship, nicked Pelorus Jack with a bullet from a rifle.”
“Why, Grandpa Mike?”
“He was a fool, a drunken fool. The crew almost lynched this sailor and had to be stopped from doing it forcibly. Pelorus Jack seemed to be gone forever. They thought he was dead, but…”
“He returned two weeks later and seemed to be all right. He continued guiding boats through the dangerous waters. An ordinance was passed at Wellington to protect Pelorus Jack forever. Pelorus Jack refused to ever escort the Penguin through again, or even greet the vessel.”
“I wouldn’t escort it either.”
“Many sailors refused to even sign on as part of the Penguin’s crew. They thought it would carry a jinx for all time because of the actions of foolish drunken sailor. Then, in 1909 the Penguin was wrecked in the pass at great loss of life, right in those dangerous waters.”
“It was cursed all right.”
“Pelorus Jack is assumed to have finally died because of old age or infirmed condition in 1912. And no one even knows if Jack was a male or a female. They do know that Pelorus Jack was actually what is called a Rizzo’s Dolphin, thirteen feet long, with a large white head.