The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #8054   Message #49412
Posted By: Bill Cameron
14-Dec-98 - 10:45 AM
Thread Name: Origins: Mary Ellen Carter (Stan Rogers)
Subject: RE: Wanted: background to 'The Mary Ellen Carter'
Don, thanks, great posting, you absolutely captured the essence there. (Here I go plugging Farley Mowat again) Mowat wrote two books, "The Serpent's Coil" and "Grey Seas Under", which chronicle the voyages of the ocean-going salvage tug "Foundation Franklin" and pretty much confirm what Don said about the kind of men who make a living out of pulling half-wrecked ships off rocks in North Atlantic gales. If you are familiar with Stan's song, the Wreck of the Athens Queen, (on Songs from Fogarty's Cove) you will find the true story (the details are a dead giveaway--chasing the farm animals around the deck!) that I believe inspired that song in one of these books, I forget which one. (The weather in Belle Isle Straits got so bad that even the salvagers gave up their attempt to save an old Greek tramp freighter. By international maritime law, this made the ship fair game for anyone--so what should the salvage crew see as their large vessel sought shelter from the near-hurricane, but a bunch of local fishermen heading right out into the storm to board the ship from their little boats!)

I don't know of any factual basis to the events described in Mary Ellen Carter but I know two anecdotes surrounding the song.

1. There's a documentary on video about Stan, entitled "One Warm Line", which was originally broadcast on CBC TV. There's footage of a gruff-looking older guy telling what happened to him: that he was the engineer on an old ship that sank in the North Atlantic at 4 a.m. one freezing morning, and he kept himself awake and alive in the water by singing the "Rise Again" chorus over and over, until he was rescued.

2. If you're more like me, an armchair sailor folkie type, who's ever sung the song, you'll know its difficult to get the lines "plugged her vents, patched her rents, dogged hatch and porthole down" if you've had the slightest bit of a libation. Take comfort--My buddy who happened to be present when Stan taught the song to his band, says he (Stan) blew those lines too!