From the Jan. 6, 1978 edition of the Vineyard Gazette by Polly Woollcott Murphy:

The partridge in a pear tree was lacking, but two geese and a pine tree took their place among the gifts that a group of up-Islanders took out to the crew of the West German container vessel Scilla as she lay anchored a mile off Menemsha two days before Christmas.

The Scilla, a huge ship (about 360 feet), is from Elspeth, West Germany and has, besides the captain, 20 crew members. Without cargo, she sat startlingly high in the water, a vast skirt of red bottom paint exposed and her tall loading crane reaching into the sky. She loomed large in the Menemsha landscape, large and lonely, and Mrs. Donald Smith of Menemsha and her daughter Robin began to speculate on the crew and the cheerless Christmas they would be spending so far from home. The decided to send some Christmas goodies to the men, who were unable to come ashore. A number of friends and neighbors joined enthusiastically.

Angela Madison, who has been scalloping with her husband Jeffery in Menemsha Pond and so was very much aware of the Scilla, became enchanted with the idea of taking them a Christmas tree. They even considered taking one out in their 17-foot scalloping boat. The water in the Sound was far too rough.

Among those who donated things for the Christmas box for the Scilla besides the Smiths and the Madisons were Jean Hancock, Hugh and Jeanne Taylor, John Alley, Janet Cuetara, Julie La Hart and Hollis Smith. It was Hollis Smith, who had been hunting that morning, who supplied the two geese, full-feathered. Other items were homemade bread and cookies, a raspberry torte, nuts and fruit, popcorn and cranberries and candy canes to trim the tree, some bourbon, and some quahaugs that the Madisons had got that morning in Memensha Pond.

“It was a spur of the moment thing,” Mrs. Smith said. “We just gathered up from people the things they were making for Christmas.”

Having gathered together two large decorated boxes of such fare as well as an eight-foot pine, the well-wishers were faced with the problem of getting them safely to the ship. Robin Smith called the Coast Guard to see if the boxes would have to be officially inspected. The Coast Guard said they needn’t be, that the ship was out of its jurisdiction. When Miss Smith asked if they would deliver the gifts to the ship, the Coast Guard replied that they did not do charity work.

Herbert Hancock volunteered his 60-foot sea scalloper, the Bay of Isles, and Donald Smith agreed to captain it. Those that went out on the Bay of Isles besides Mr. Smith were his children Robin, Russell and Hollis Smith, and David Kahl, Hugh Taylor and Angela Madison. The towed behind the Bay of Isles a 17-foot skiff belonging to Robert Flanders. They set out at 1:30 in the afternoon.

The wind was up, the tide was running strong and the water was rough. They approached the Scilla. Captain Smith was wary of trying to tie up alongside her in that sea. Those on board the Bay of Isles waved at the Germans and shouted Merry Christmas and held up the Christmas tree. They wished to establish radio contact with the Scilla, but no one present knowing any German, they made elaborate gestures to indicate the Scilla should call them on Channel 6, holding fists to ear and mouth and putting up six fingers. Finally one of the men on the Scilla called back in good if accented English: “You mean you want us to call you on Channel 6? O.K.”

The captain of the vessel came on the radio and spoke to Captain Smith. They had expected to be home for Christmas, he explained, but the loading in Boston had been delayed, and here they were, still waiting.

“He sounded sad,” said Mrs. Madison afterward.

It was agreed the Christmas presents should be put in the small skiff and taken alongside the Scilla. The skiff was manned bu Hollis and Russell Smith and Hugh Taylor. “I wouldn’t have gotten in that skiff for anything,” Mrs. Madison said. “It was really rough.” The skiff looked even smaller beside the cargo vessel. It was approximately 40 feet from the water to the deck. The Germans lowered a box of rope and pulled up the gifts. There were special cheers at the sight of the geese and the bourbon. Then they pulled up the Christmas tree, and then, lowering the rope for the third time, presented a return present of two bottles of German brandy. The whole operation hadn’t taken much more than an hour.

“It was a spur of the moment thing,” Mrs. Smith said again. “But the feedback on the Island was tremendous. When they heard about it, everyone wished that they could have helped. If we’d had more time, we’d have had ten times as much stuff. We’d have needed the Uncatena to carry it all.”

The Scilla continued to lie at anchor all during the holidays and finally left on Wednesday, taking home with it what must have been warm memories of Martha’s Vineyard.

Compiled by Hilary Wallcox