“Jacob’s Ladder” is often used as a biblical allusion from Genesis to Jacob’s dream of a ladder reaching to heaven. For those who have served at sea it is also a term for a rope or cable ladder, with wooden steps, that hangs off the side of a ship. Jacob’s Ladders sway, twist and slap the sides of a ship with the wind and the waves. They are not a favorite piece of equipment for any sailor, but for a sailor in peril a Jacob’s Ladder can often be the only route to survival.

The main focus of the American Merchant Marine Veterans’ Memorial in San Pedro, California is the unforgettable work of art by the late sculptor Jasper D’Ambrosi of one shipmate attempting to save another while clinging by a single hand to a Jacob’s Ladder. The concept and the design of the memorial are superb – capturing courage, strength, fear and hope in a single image. It is a moment that is universal, experienced by sailors of every nation for as long as humans have sailed the oceans. It may have happened because of a battle or a storm or an accident. It is that single moment that is the dividing point between success and failure, between life and death. It is a moment that I have personally witnessed. The D’Ambrosi work is among my favorite lost at sea memorials.

The beautiful photographs in this post were taken by Alfonso Pauwells (saxxon57 on Panoramio). I encourage everyone to seek out and view his fine photographs.