Rocky Dundas

March 19, 2015

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Fowl Cay to the left and Rocky Dundas to the right, seen from Compass Cay

We are still in the beautiful anchorage at Fowl Cay.  The horseshoe opens up to the north, where  two enormous rocks called Rocky Dundas hide deep caves filled with stalactites and stalagmites.  Cathedrals to nature’s splendor.  Fabulous elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata)  at the mouth of one cave.  

The water is clear and aquamarine…you must get tired of hearing about it.  I wonder at it and think how to describe it to convey the extreme pleasure of looking at it, of being in Yesterday was sweaty hot, even while sailing, the kind of heat that robs you of all energy and leaves you languid and parched.  So just after we anchored here, I jumped into the water.  The shock of the salt surprised me, as it does every time.  Extreme salt that stings your eyeballs and clears out your sinuses and wrings through you like a healing tonic. 

One of the reasons the water is so clear is that the salt kills most of the bacteria.  There is very little algae, no bloom of brown gray green organisms, only sharks and sting rays.  Coral seems to start out as small clumps of anemones and branches out into red candelabras and mustard-colored clumps that you dare not touch.  The sand waves in little hillocks, blown by the currant.  The needle sharp rocks are gray on the top, ochre underneath, where the waves runs in waterfalls back down into the sea.  There is a narrow pale beach here and a small airplane that crashed in the sand a few feet from the waterline.  Beside it is a grave marked with conch shells and a stone that reads, “Dilo, the island dog.” 

I am in heaven because I am here and I am reading Little Women, which I have read many times but not for many years.  What a warm and joyous imagination Louisa May Alcott had.  I love living again among Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy, and Marmee.  And Hannah.  No one ever talks about Hannah, the servant who lives with them and who is not described except through her speech.  Is she African-American?  And their father is away serving as chaplain in a war which is never indicated but which must be the Civil War.  It is an interesting counterpoint to Moby Dick, which I am still dutifully recounting. 

It is interesting to think about race, especially here in this nation in populated and governed primarily by the descendants of slaves. 

I would love to have a conversation with two people: a Black Bahamian who has lived in the United States, and a Black American who has lived in the Bahamas.  I would actually not have any pre-considered questions other than, “what is is like to live there as opposed to where you grew up?”  “What are the pros and cons of each society?”  This interests me because the ancestors of both groups came unwillingly from Africa, and also because my own ancestors held slaves in North Carolina, from whence many of the Bahamian slaveowners and their slaves came.  In fact, it would be fun to study the traffic between the two places.  No doubt someone has already done this. I can’t really speculate about how Black Bahamians or Black Americans think about their history, but I can ask. 

What I can talk about is how I, a White descendant of slaveowners in North Carolina during the 18th century, respond to Bahamian society.  What I notice, briefly, is a great friendliness and confidence among the people here, but not a great deal of intermingling between Blacks and Whites.  There is commerce, yes, and great warmth.  But I can’t help but wonder how the Bahamians respond to the subtle racism of the all-White cruising crowd, who must seem incredibly affluent to the locals, who are poor in materials as well as education.

Fowl Cay

March 18 2016

IMG_5889We are floating softly in a horseshoe-shaped anchorage, fringed with coral reefs, on a sea of silver like a mirror.  The rising, waxing moon is a brilliant white shield, a beacon of strength and comfort, and we can see the sand below, whiter still.  It is night.  Innana, the morning and evening star, shines above.  There are four other boats here at Fowl Cay, two on which we have good friends: Valinor and Solmate.  Tim and Dorothea and Steve and Karen came over for cocktails.  It was our turn and we had a great time.

After they left we turned on the country music that we know not everyone loves as we do: Lucinda, Dixie Chicks, Ray Le Montagne, Iris Dement, Johnny Cash, and so forth, and we are rocking out, grilling lobster we caught.  And now I am writing.  

The water is smooth like a mirror, a sea of milk contained within the dark, and the low rocks of the horseshoe surround us with loving arms, darker than the midnight blue sky.

What a fabulous life and yet.  Relationships take work, even in Paradise.  I am not the only one who thinks this way.  Perhaps not the only one on this vessel.  But here we are, two people afloat, working together to make dinner, to bring up and set the anchor, to sail, to keep each other alive.  It is good.

Chapter 28: Ahab

Once again Ishmael draws a contrast between the dark-skinned harpooners,

a far more barbaric, heathenish, and motley set than any of the tame merchant-ship companies which  my previous experiences had made me acquainted with,

and the three White sea-officers,

every one of them Americans; a Nantucketer, a Vinyarder, a Cape man.

Race is on Melville’s mind.  No doubt about it.  But where he stood on the issue, how he felt about slavery, that’s the question that critics can’t decide on.  Because the novel is not simplistic.  It’s not a pro- or con-anything kind of book.  It’s not a politician, or a manifesto, or a vehicle for any particular ideology, but rather a complex portrait of a complex, violent society of violent injustices.

At last, also, we meet Ahab, who emerges on deck for longer and longer periods the further south the ship sails.  Ishmael compares the Captain’s “whole high, broad form” to a Cellini bronze statue of Perseus.

The myth of Perseus,son of Danaë, whom Zeus impregnated as a shower of gold, is worth considering here, for it is deeply bound up with the sea, with brutality, murder, and money.  Again and again, beginning in his infancy, Perseus is exposed to terrible dangers that should but don’t kill him.   

Here is the story that Robert Graves assembled from various ancient sources, which suspiciously blame women for starting all the trouble:  

Danaë’s father, Acrisius, having heard that his grandson would kill him, locked Danaë and the infant Perseus into a wooden ark, which he cast into the sea.  It washed to Seriphos, where a fisherman, Dictys, nets it and takes it ashore.  The King of that place, Polydectes, adopts Perseus and tries to marry his mother, who resists him.  Polydectes tries to trick Perseus by sending him after the Gorgon Medusa’s head, which he ostensibly wishes to present to another princess as a marriage gift.  

Athene helps Perseus because she hates Medusa, originally a beautiful woman who led the Libyans of Lake Tritonis in battle.  Somehow she offended Athene, who transformed her into a hideous creature with venom-dripping snakes for hair and a face so ugly that she turns all who look upon her to stone.  Hermes also helps Perseus to kill Medusa by teaching him how to obtain winged sandals and a helmut that renders its wearer invisible.

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Pompeiian fresco depicting Andromeda and Persesus.

On his way back to save his mother from Polydectes, Perseus falls in love with Andromeda, the Ethiopian princess chained to a cliff to be devoured by a female sea-monster.  Andromeda’s mother, Cassiopeia, had boasted that her daughter was more beautiful than the Nereids, and Poseidon responded by insisting that she be sacrificed to the beast. Perseus slays the beast and wants to marry Andromeda, but her parents attack him with a force of 200.  Perseus turns them all to stone with the Medusa’s head and returns home with the marriage-gift and discovers his adoptive father threatening his mother, Danaë, and the fisherman Dictys.  He rescues them, turns Polydectes and his aggressors to stone, and then gives the kingdom to Dictys.  Then he sails with his mother and Andromeda to Argos, where he accidentally kills his grandfather with a discus.

Perseus is a tragic hero who, like Ahab, kills female monsters and sails oceans.  He murders the King who wishes to marry his mother, his wife’s parents, and his only grandfather, along with hundreds of others who oppose him.  The gods help him to commit these deeds for arbitrary reasons of their own.

persee-florence1The author of an on-line guide to reading Moby Dick observes that Melville alludes again to Perseus, whom he calls the first whaleman.  He leaves out Medusa’s head altogether and suggests that the monster the demigod slays to save Andromeda is a Leviathan. Ahab’s skin is bronzed from his time at sea and his singular, mad pursuit has made him hard.

What strikes me when I look at Cellini’s statue is the prone, sensuous body of the Medusa under Perseus’s feet and the beautiful visage on the head he holds up.  I’m wondering if Melville, whether consciously or not, imagined Ahab as a dominating man, whose patriarchal power derives from his ability to conquer the dangerously sensuous feminine elements in the world?

Lee Stocking Island

IMG_5785The wonderful thing about sailing with a buddy boat or fleet is the opportunity to get to know people really well.  We left Georgetown with Bel Canto (Sandy and David), Solmate (Karen and Steve) and Valinor (Tim and Dorothea).   We didn’t know Tim and Dorothea until we got to to Lee Stocking Island, a gorgeous anchorage that used to be home to a Caribbean Marine Research Center, now deserted.   As you might guess from his boat’s name, Tim is a Tolkien fan, so we had a great conversation about science fiction (he’s an old school fan) and books in general.

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Tim and Dorothea

At least once each day we spotted enormous sharks, about 8 feet long, that we hoped were nurse sharks.  We also swam a lot.  The water was so clear–you could easily see the bottom in 30 feet–that we felt comfortable splashing around.

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Water to snorkel in at Lee Stocking

We snorkeled in huge yellow forests of Elkorn coral and caught lobster off pristine white sand beaches.  We gathered sea-fans that had washed ashore.  We gathered for drinks and dinner in each other’s cockpits—Valinor, a Manta catamaran, had by far the nicest one, although Solmate, a 40-something Hunter, is pretty swanky, too.

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Tim and Dorothea visiting Solmate

Solmate and Valinor left after one night, but we stayed with Bel Canto and had a deliciously lazy day doing as little as possible.  Finally we had the hot weather and slow breezes we have been waiting for!  I paddled around the anchorage and saw seven Southern Stingrays measuring at least five feet across.  Then we headed off too a beach from a postcard and “wallowed” in the water, drinking cold cans of La Croix and munching tuna wraps.  We made a bunch of silly videos that I can’t show you here, unfortunately.  It takes hours and hours to upload even the shortest clips to Youtube, so I’ll have to add them all back in after I get back to a “normal” internet connection.

 

On our last night at Lee Stocking, the moon rose a like an enormous upside down fan.

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The Beach where we wallowed
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Ryan wallowing
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The beautiful Sandy

 

 

Endless August in Georgetown

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From the Cockpit of Sophia at Georgetown

I am writing this on our last full day in Georgetown.  The winds are still quite strong but should settle down this evening. As soon as Ryan finishes the third and final coat of varnish on the toe-rail, we’ll go for a hike up Monument Hill, which overlooks Elizabeth Harbor to the West and Exuma Sound to the East.   The weather here is as Melville describes the Quito spring,

which at sea, almost perpetually reigns on the threshold of the eternal August of the Tropic.  The warmly cool, clear, ringing perfumed, overflowing, redundant days, were as crystal goblets of Persian sherbet, heaped up—flaked up, with rose water snow.  Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Yesterday was very much like today.  Ryan varnished while I took a hike on the island with my friend Sandy, from Bel Canto, cutting palm fronds. I took my basket-making supplies and wove at the tables in the shade, where a number of other women were doing the same.  The woman who taught us all how to get started, Sharon, was there, and she looked at my work and said it was good.  I’m learning and my first basket looks a lot different from the ones Sharon makes.  It is strangely meditative to weave and very nice to do it with other women.  The tables are right next to the vollyball courts, where some of weaver’s partners were playing.  I enjoyed looking up now and then to see Ryan laughing and having fun, for a change.  He’s been working on the boat an awful lot. 

In the evening we sat in the cockpit and drank wine while watching the suns yolk slip behind the hills, basking in the delicious ocean breeze.  We talked about how glad we were to be freed from the endless chatter of the internet, the make-sensational non-news with which the media pickles the brain.  How liberating is feels to live closer to the rythyms of the sunrise and sunset, the movement of the water and the winds. 

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Volleyball Beach, looking towards the bar called ‘Chat and Chill’

When Sandy and I walked along a ridge overlooking the Sound yesterday, I observed that I have almost started to take the scenery for granted, it has been so constant.  Viredescent waves crashing on bone-white sand and glistening black rocks, surf eddying into ochre tide-pools, the sea like liquid jade rushing over the coral reefs offshore, molten emerald, crystalline turquoise, aquamarine farther out, above the sky the palest violet. 

The days roll by like a slow, glorious pageant, a stately procession of opulently bejeweled kings and queens trailing diaphanous silks.  It is an enormous pleasure, immense, a magnificent banquet of color and nature and warmth and sunlight, clear water and cooling breezes.

The Brutal Business of Butchering, aka Whaling: Reading Melville at Sea: Chapter 24 – 27

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My anchorage in Georgetown.  Early morning.  No whales here.

Written over three days with nasty winds whipping the waves into froth and rocking the boat uncomfortably.  It is not too bad as long as you don’t try to do anything, like move.  I have been sitting in the cockpit reading books that keep my mind off my troubles.  I finished Julie Czerneda’s Beholder’s Eye, about a feminine being who can transform herself into any life-form in the galaxy.  It was mildly entertaining.  Much better, totally compelling, in fact, was Marcel Theroux’s Strange Bodies.  Beautifully written, thoughtful, literary science fiction.   A meditation on what it means to be human, individual.  “The job of words,” he writes, “is to construct the fiction of our separate identity.” 

I really am finding Melville tedious these days.  Here we go:

Chapter 24 The Advocate

Ishmael—or is this a different narrator?  advocates for “the business of whaling” as a poetical and reputable pursuit, not the “butchering” that the world perceives. 

Butchers we are, that is true.  But butchers, also, and butchers of the bloodiest badge have been all Martial Commanders whom the world invariably delights to honor.…what disordered slippery decks of a whaleship are comparable to the unspeakable carrion of those battle-fields from which so many soldiers return to drink in all ladies’ plaudits?

I found this rant a bit tedious and difficult to take seriously.   Whaling is butchery and the 19th century whaling adventurers, the White financiers who slaughtered these highly intelligent ocean mammals nearly into extinction, are indefensible.  Melville’s advocate fails to persuade. Or perhaps he does succeed.  Whaling is butchery, like warfare, he says, and Yale and Harvard are involved in this butchering business. 

“A whaling ship was my Yale College and my Harvard.”

Perhaps that is the point, and the elevated tone of this and the next few chapters is meant the paean to sound like the farce it is. 

Chapter 25: Postscript

Ishmael is still ranting in defense of the dignity of whaling, unfortunately..

Chapter 26: Knights and Squires

Our narrator introduces us to the commanders on the ship, the higher-ranking “Knights” and then invokes the “just spirit of Equality, at the end of the chapter.  He begs this spirit to lift him up, as the “great democratic God” lifted John Bunyan, and fill him with the power to continue to celebrate the allegedly noble men who make a living slaughtering majestic mammals. 

Chapter 27: Knights and Squires, Round 2

For all his cant about the “just spirit of Equality,” Ishmael reminds us that there is a hierarchy aboard the ship.  It is racial and repugnant, even though the ridiculous rhapsodic tones suggest that Ishmael—our naive narrator—finds it all too wonderful to bear.  He tells us that White “native American” men command while “the rest of the world” do the hard labor.  Bizarrely, the indigenous peoples of North America somehow count as foreigners.  Tashtego’s eyes are

“Oriental in their largeness, but Antarctic in their glittering expression.” 

Indeed, he hardly seems human:

To look at the tawney brown of his lithe snaky limbs, you would have almost have credited the superstitions of some of the earlier Puritans and half-believed this wild Indian to be a son of the Prince of the Powers of the Air.

Daggoo, a “gigantic, coal-black negro-savage” who “retained all his barbaric virtues” is one revolting racial stereotype.  

Reading Melville at Sea. Chapters 22-23

After a Storm on the Lee Shore.jpgWhat does it mean to be reading at sea?  To be reading while at sea, at loss, in grief, in loss of sense, in madness.

at sea confused, perplexed, puzzled, baffled, mystified, bemused, bewildered, nonplussed, disconcerted, disoriented, dumbfounded, at a loss, at sixes and sevens; informal flummoxed, bamboozled, fazed, discombobulated; archaic mazed. 

For personal reasons which have nothing to do with sailing or cruising, I am very much at sea for the past few months.  Lately things have gotten worse.

Chapter 22: Merry Christmas. 

No tree, no candles, no singing, no feasting, no warmth at all.

Parsimonious Bildad pilots the boat out of the harbor while drunken Peleg kicks sailors to make them “jump.”  Ahab remains below, unseen, unheard, allegedly ill, possibly mad. Ishmael stands on board shivering with “wet feet and a wetter jacket” and describes the ship moving out of the harbor:

…as the short northern day merged into night, we found ourselves almost broad upon the wintry ocean, whose freezing spray cased us in ice, as in polished armor.  The long rows of teeth on the bulwarks glistened in the moonlight; and like the white ivory tusks of some huge elephant, vast curiving icicles depended from the bows.

Bildad, at the helm, sings “Sweet fields beyond the swelling flood/ Stand dressed in living green,” and shivering Ishmael dreams of “many a pleasant haven in store.”  Bildad and Peleg take their leave of the ship and drop into a boat that will carry them back to shore. 

Ship and boat diverged; the cold, damp night breeze blew between; a screaming gull flew overhead; the two hulls wildly rolled; we gave three heavy-hearted cheers, and blindly plunged like fate into the Atlantic.

Interesting that Melville writes that they plunged “like fate” as thought fate were a thing that could plunge or dive or swim through an ocean.

Chapter 23: The Lee Shore

The Pequod is like fate.  It “thrust her vindictive bows into the cold malicious waves.”  And as it does so, Ishmael spies Bulkington, the gnarly old sailor previously encountered in the dismal New Bedford pub, a man who had only just returned from one dangerous ocean voyage to head out for another.

  The chapter is called “the lee shore,” which is the line of land downwind from you on a boat.  It is dangerous to sail along a lee shore, because the wind constantly blows you against it, and you have to work hard to stay off the rocks.  Our narrator observes,

deep memories yield no epitaphs; this six-inch chapter is the stoneless grave of Bulkington. Let me only say that it fared with him as the storm-tossed ship, that miserably drives along the leeward land…in that gale, the port, the land, is that ships direst jeopardy; she must fly all hospitality; one touch of land, though it but graze the keel, would make her shudder through and through.  With all her might she crowds all sail off shore; in so doing fights ‘gainst the winds that fain would blow her homeward; seeks asll the lashed sea’s landlessness again; for refuge’s sake forlorly rushing into peril; her only friend her bitterest foe!

Melville compares the paradox of seeking shelter where none can be had to the search for truth itself:

“all deep, earnest thinking is but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea.”