GIFT OF GAM

Written By: Rebecca Nimerfroh | Photography By: Katie Kaizer

Egan Maritime’s new podcast Time & Tide hits the airwaves.

Back in the whaling days, ships would often meet in the middle of the ocean for what was known as a “gam.” Captains and crew would exchange stories from their long days offshore before setting sail in their separate directions. Hundreds of years later, Evan Schwanfelder is bringing back the gam—except he’s doing it in the form of a podcast.

As the manager of Maritime Education at Egan Maritime’s Nantucket Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum, he always wanted to produce a podcast that told the high-seas stories of shipwrecks and heroic rescues that took place throughout history just off our island’s shores—but he never could find the time. All that changed when the coronavirus hit. “Our executive director Pauline Proch asked if we had any ideas we could work on from home,” Schwanfelder says, “and I pitched the podcast.” So began “Time and Tide,” a podcast dedicated to Nantucket’s Maritime history that Schwanfelder writes, produces and performs from his attic on Nantucket.

Although Schwanfelder only moved full-time to the island four years ago, he has quickly earned the local cred to tell the stories of Nantucket’s seafaring past. Complementing his position at Egan Maritime, Schwanfelder joined one of Nantucket’s most fabled fishing families by marrying Katie Kaizer, daughter of the legendary island captain, Pete Kaizer. And if there was any doubt about the young couple’s commitment to continuing the nautical tradition on Nantucket, the recent arrival of their daughter this May threw that overboard when they named her Millie—a nod to the legendary Coast Guardswoman, Madaket Millie.

As a historian first and foremost, Schwanfelder says he’s always been an admirer of old wooden sailing ships and waxes poetically about the seafaring days of yore. “In the early 1800s, there were tens of thousands of sailing vessels that went through Nantucket Sound every year,” he muses. “You can just imagine seeing all these beautiful ships. It must have been an amazing sight.”

Sourcing a collection of historical texts and accessing old issues of The Inquirer and Mirror, Schwanfelder pieced together a collection of stories for “Time and Tide” that delve into the miraculous tales of Nantucket’s lifesavers. “It wasn’t terribly uncommon to have shipwrecks around here, especially in winter storms,” Schwanfelder explains. “With all the shallow, shifting water, and fog, it’s really amazing that so many ships made it through safely at a time when they didn’t have radar or modern weather forecasting.” Indeed, often referred to as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic,” Nantucket’s shifting shoals were widely considered some of the most treacherous in the world. “The more you read about this history, the more you learn about these lifesaving crews,” Schwanfelder says. “You hear a lot of these lifesavers’ names over and over—often there’s multiple lifesavers in the same family.”

In one of his first episodes of “Time and Tide,” Schwanfelder told the story of the South Shore Light- ship, an anchored vessel thirty miles off the coast of Nantucket that aided ships in peril. “It was terrifying,” Schwanfelder insists. “Imagine being thirty miles out to sea in the middle of the winter, anchored up during a massive Nor’easter with thirty-foot waves—and you have to do your job. These were ordinary people doing an extraordinary service.”

As for future subjects he hopes to dive into, Schwanfelder says, “I’d love to get into modern shipwrecks and hear stories from the salty guys on the island today like my father-in-law…there’s just a depth of stories here.” Above all, Schwanfelder hopes “Time and Tide” will bring a ray of hope during these troubling days. “These shipwrecks were situations where people were in their darkest hours,” he says, “but others took it upon themselves to go out and save them. So the message is that even in the toughest of times, things will get better.”

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