How cool is this?We’re sitting on a mooring at LIttle Harbor (it’s not possible to anchor here) and the boat next to us is playing beautiful, romantic French vocal music.Ryan is doing the dishes and complaining because, actually, it was my idea that we clean up after our lovely dinner of fresh-caught mahi, baked potatoes, and grilled peppers.He got down below before I did, and there really isn’t room for more than one person in the galley, so….here I sit, writing.There isn’t anything I can do, really, and he is vociferously complaining.“It wasn’t my idea and here I am doing the actual clean up.It isn’t quite fair.”No, it’s not.I’m happy not to be down below for once, sweating over the oven or stove.He’ll get over it.
And he is over it.And all the dishes are clean, hooray!After all, I got up at 6:30 this morning and washed all the dishes from last night’s dinner, which I also cooked, partly.Well, it doesn’t matter.These are the little spats that you forget about.We are happily listening to the distant tunes from Pete’s pub, which are largely drowned out by the roaring surf.What an amazing place Pete’s parents came to back in the day. His father was an artist at a university who sailed his family away from civilization to work on his art, found this place, settled here, in caves for probably 10 years, built a foundry, and drove on . What a tyrant he must have been. What an adventuress his wife must have been!
Ryan tells the story of the last time he was here.He was with his friend Robert and his brother Brady.There were two other boats, all anchored out.There was no mooring field then.They joined the other boats at sundown for cocktails and brought a bag of wine.They were drinking and goofing around and talking about their adventures.At one point, very early on, the elderly mother on the boat grabbed the mylar bag of wine and said, “this thing, it’s disgusting, it feels like a ball sack!”
Maybe you had to be there. There was nothing here then, only a few shacks and Pete’s pub, made out of an old sailboat, with a sand floor and, often, no bartender. It operated on the honor system. You poured and paid for your own drinks. Now it’s all developed, with fancy moorings and piers and shops and condos. We haven’t gone ashore, yet. More to come.
We sailed from Eleuthera to Abaco today with no real turmoil. The jib rolling furler failed, so we had to take the sail down and proceed with just the main. The winds started out in the 20s and settled down to about 11 knots, with clear skies and four foot waves. It was a bit rolly, but not too bad, sunny and pleasant. We had to scram north while the winds were blowing that way because, as usual during this very strange winter, we were running from the wild winds. I really wanted to stay in Rock Sound, where I spent a little bit of time with a woman who feels like a spirit sister, Janice, who runs her dad’s restaurant, Sammy’s, with a great deal of wit and skill. It was sad to say goodbye so quickly, but the cold front coming down from Florida was going to keep us from getting north for quite a while, and we are decidedly heading north. I have mixed feelings about it.
I love Bahamians. And I am sad to be leaving the islands where most of the businesses are owned and run by Black women, like Lorraine’s Restaurant in Rock Sound. The food is fabulous and the service unparalleled. There’s also a very homey, ordinary feeling about the place. You can go round the corner to visit with Lorraine’s mother, who bakes sweet coconut and whole-wheat bread that she sells right at her dining table. Get there early because it sells out quickly. While you’re waiting, you can chat with Lorraine’s granddaughter. Four generations of strong women live next door to one another, keeping the restaurant going and working other jobs, as well. Lorraine’s daughter has a white-collar job on the island, so her daughter stays with her great-grandmother and grandmother after school.
I’m not so happy to be returning to the Abacos, because the racial politics are so different there. White Bahamians dominate these northern islands, even though the majority of Bahamians are Black. Many Southern loyalists settled there after the English lost the Revolutionary War, bringing their slaves, if they had them. Slavery was abolished here earlier than in the U.S., but the institutions–prejudice and segregation–are still felt in the Bahamas as at home. Generally speaking, in the Abacos Whites have better jobs and there are still islands where Blacks are not welcome as neighbors, only as workers.
Consider Man-of-War, a pretty little island, to be sure, very industrious with a fantastic boatyard. There you’ll still see the Black people stepping wearily onto the ferry at the end of the day. They go home to their own neighborhoods on Abaco, the big island, which is segregated in many ways that tourists don’t usually see. Throughout the mostly White, northern islands, Blacks work as gardeners, fishermen, garbage collectors, waiters. On Eleuthera they are shopkeepers, grocers, owners of property and property-producing businesses. Below is a photo of Rosie, who owns a gorgeous house on a cliff overlooking the sea, where she cooks up the best food on the island.
If you are really into small-town Christmas, and are White, heterosexual, and maybe also an alcoholic, consider spending the holiday in Hopetown. It’s very nice, very safe, and very…as a new friend observed, “it’s the way small-town American used to be 40 years ago,”… Norman Rockwellian. Think, for example, about race relations, attitudes towards homosexual and transgender people and atheists and people with mental illness and women in the United States 40 years ago. Not pretty.
I suppose my friend was right to observe that homogeneity and the illusion of social equality is a pleasant experience. It’s pleasant to be White and relatively well-off in a society where White people control most of the property and businesses as long as you don’t think too much about the Black people who live here, too, and who have lived here just as long. My friend is not a bigot but, like most of us White people, he may not always think about the White privilege implications of things that he says.
What I enjoyed most about the Christian winter holidays here in the Abacos was getting to know many interesting new people, most of whom come from Canada and the UK and the Northeastern US.I have so far met only two women who sail solo, one a psychotherapist from Chicago and the other a salty beauty born who just brought her schooner up from the Grenadines.
When you go to a bar here, you will find yourself among a lot of people very much like yourself, White, well-off, and heterosexual (which I am, for the most part).As long as you avoid politics and religion, you will probably have a very nice time.If you are lucky enough to meet with someone who shares your political point of view, then you will probably have a better time. There are Black people here, of course, but you will usually encounter them behind the bar or on a fishing boat or behind the register at the Post Office or raking the grounds of second home on a lovely beach.Race relations do not feel very different to me here than they do in the US.They trouble me. They troubled Melville, too.
Ishmael enters the Spouter Inn because it looks like a place he can afford, and there he finds that the only bed he will get that night is one with a “harpooneer.”Here Melville has a bit of fun with his readers, I suppose, by cracking a sexual joke in which Ishamel declares that if he must sleep with another man in a bed,
it would depend upon who the harpooner might be.”That this particular harpooner happens to be a dark-skinned man does not worry our hero so much as thethought that he he “should tumble in upon me at midnight—how could I tell from what vile hole he had been coming?Landlord!I’ve changed my mind about that harpooneer.
But Ishmael soon agrees to share the bed after all, since he can’t sleep on the hard chairs in thebar, and admits that he might after all “be cherishing unwarrantable prejudices against this unknown “harpooneer.”After a number of furious questions to the landlord, Ishamel finds out that this harpooner is not only dark-skinned, but not Christian, and business of selling shrunken human head..Still he agrees to share his bed.After the landlord shows him to the room and shuts the door, Ishamel tries on an article of his clothing, views himself in the mirror, and throws it off.
The Harpooner himself, when he finally appears, frightens his future bedmate with his all-over body tatoo, yellowish-purple skin, bald head and long, black pigtail, and his oblations before a “black mannikin,” which he also calls a “Congo idol,” and “little negro.”Not only this, but the “savage,” and “wild cannibal,” as Ishmael calls him, also possess a “tomohawk” pipe.Queequeg displays characteristics of various diverse peoples oppressed in Melville’s time: Africans, Asians, Pacific Islanders, and Native Americans.
Ishamels’ attitude towards him seems refreshingly tolerant:
For all his tatooings he was on the whole a clean, comely looking cannibal.What’s all this fuss I have been making about, thougth I to myself—the man’s a human being jsut as I am: he has just as much reason to fear me, as I have to be afraid of him.Better sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian.
Perhaps its not very nice of Ishamel to assume that Queegeg is a cannibal—he has learned that he only eats red meat, but has not yet found definitive proof that the man eats human flesh. Does his assumption proceed from his White perspective?I wonder how the White folks of Abaco would have read this scene, where Ishmael, the protagonist and hero of this strange epic, finds being groped by dark-skinned, tatooed, tomahawk-wielding, yellow-skinned, pigtailed man.It’s so juicy!So exciting, so funny, so delightful.
I wonder if my son got this joke right away?He probably did.His generation is so much more forward thinking than our own, as evidenced by the LGBT group he joined in junior high in mainstream, Arlington, Virginia.The members came together not necessarily because they had identified as one type of sexuality or another, but for quite the opposite reasons—-because they understood that sexuality is something that culture imposes on us, and that it takes time and open-mindeded and listening to the body and spirit to understand how one really feels, sexually, which is also to say spiritually.
Normative sexuality is not all that different from normative religiosity.It is a way of being that parents, schools, communities, courts, and governments impose on us—by making it easier to for those who agree to behave in a certain way, and harder for those who don’t fit in to the normative, heterosexual, “faith” adhering mold.There is no evidence that our universe was created by a god. And why should have have to identify as one way or another any way, if not to conform to an institution—the family, the educational system, the juridical system—that insists on this particular ordering of society?
Society is not simple, not orderly, not easy, as Melville knew. Through Ishmael the outsider he seems to be exploring the viewpoint of the insider, the White, heterosexual, Christian man, sympathizing and communing with the people that his society had defined as “outside,” outside the same system of justice, denied the same rights and freedoms that Ishmael, and Melville himself, enjoyed.
Towards the evening, a funny old man who was quite drunk motored up in a small boat. “I hope you’re enjoying it,” he said, approaching us where we sat at the table.We had just finished lunch.He said he spent 50 or more nights a year there, and that it was his special spot.He said he knew the owner but that the owner did not know him, and claimed to have built the tables and to have furnished the picnic table we found there.He also brought a couch with him.Ryan helped him to bring it to shore.He said he had a friend, whom we saw in a rowboat just offshore, who was “too shy” to talk to people.They seemed to be waiting for us to leave, so we did.We ate dinner separately.
I am feeling a little bit better.I made a poster about Tethys and other ancient Greek goddesses of the sea for Lily, who is a fierce mermaid warrior and a free-speaker.I like her very much.
We stayed another night at Tahiti beach because Travis and Mary and the girls liked it there.We were surrounded by noisy, light-polluting charter catarmarans.I hated it.
December 28, 2015
We sailed, with Seahorse, south to Lynnyard Cay, where we found our first very nice, remote anchorage in clear, swimming-pool blue waters.On the sail here the car that holds the mainsail to the boom flew off the end, not for the first time, and the part that keeps it on the boom broke off.Ryan repaired it.
On the way here, we caught a fish: a Horse-Eyed Jack.I made tacos with it.Very lovely.We made water today.
Lynnyard Cay is a long, thin island with some pleasant anchorages and a only a few houses.We anchored off a small beach that had a white picnic table and some plywood tables nailed into trees, also a broken-down platform with a ratty mattress on it, exposed to the rain.We followed a trail from this beach to the ocean side and spent hours walking there.I found a lot of small sea-sponges that had washed ashore, and made two leis to adorn our dodger.I also found an interesting salmon-colored, round float with the words, “Rosendahl, Bergen, Norway,” imprinted on it.
I am feeling a little bit better, but still a bit sick to my stomach and weak.
If you are really into small-town Christmas, and are White, heterosexual, and maybe also an alcoholic, consider spending the holiday in Hopetown.Here the locals and the cruisers build a “Christmas village” at the center of town, complete with an “ice” skating rink made of slippery plastic and plastic skates and lots of evergreen Casurina (sp?) trees stuck into the sand, tents, a manger with a white plastic Mary, Joseph, and baby, which also served as the backdrop for the stage where kids read religiously themed storeis to the crowd, gift shops that supported local charities (the school, the community center, the animal rescue leagues) and an outdoor bar where you got rosemary margeritas and a gin or vodka based Bahamian “switcha” made with sweetened sour orange juice. Everyone is very nice and very clean and very friendly.Ryan and I joined the carolers and enjoyed the lights and small-town cheer at the Christmas village, but frankly its a depressing holiday for me, always the seaon when I regret how far away I am from my family, not only physically but also emotionally.It’s a very lonely time of year for many people.
We celebrated with our friends aboard “Seahorse,” Travis and Mary Fowler and four of Travis’s five daughters, Lauren, 23, Mary Kate, 16, Mary Helen, 15, and Lily, 9.They flew down for a few weeks with their kids.
We also met a number of other truly great and fascinating people from Canada and the UK and the US
.The cool thing about cruising is you go around meeting people with whom you already have a lot in common, even though you may have grown up on different continents.Most people are gregarious, open-minded, and helpful to others. Every now and then you meet folks with whom you feel a very strong connection.
While I’ve really enjoyed Hopetown and, as I’ve said in previous blog posts, can see why people sail into the harbor and stay for a lifetime, I’m happy to be moving south.The mooring field was starting to feel very crowded, and dinghies and fishing boats and ferries and freight carriers constantly weave through the boats until well after sundown.For the past two nights loud music from somewhere on shore or a boat somewhere in the harbor blared late into the early morning.Many people who come and go from Hopetown are one-week vacationers chartering a boat, and they can be inconsiderate, loud, and even dangerous, when inexperienced. I’m looking forward to getting away from crowds.
Last night I met only the second solo woman cruiser since I got onto this road.She, like eveyrone else I have encountered so far on this journey, is White, heterosexual, and Christian. Where is everybody else? There are Black people in boats but I have yet to see who cruise.Black and White Bahamians are civil to one another but seem to live separate lives.Nearly everyone here appears to be Christian, and most of them are Protestant.Like the American South, from which many of the original settlers, Black and White, came in the late 18th century, this is a very stratified, homogeneous society.
My tone may sound particularly cranky because I have been sick for the past couple of weeks, and am actually getting worse.I think I’m anemic and have started to take iron pills.I’m not sleeping well, am really fatigued, and get stomach cramps every time I eat.I’ve been drinking a lot of water, and did get a nap today while Ryan went snorkeling with our friends.I took a nap on the boat.
I don’t know when I’ll be able to connect to the internet again.It was hard enough to do in Hopetown.We still haven’t been able to fix our M2 Bullet and therefore have to go ashore to get a signal in a coffee shop or bar, where the connection is always extremely slow.Even with a good connection, it takes 1 hour to upload a 15 second video, and photos are only a little bit faster.
I’ll keep up with the blog, for the sake of discipline, I suppose.But I’ll have to post everything all at once, and will probalby not even bother with pictures.When you’re anchored off a gorgeous beach in turquoise water and a soft wind is blowing your hair, you do not want to be tethered to a damn machine drumming your fingers while you wait and curse and wait and curse and wait for photos to upload.And most of the time you can’t connect at all, and you’d much rather be swimming or snorkeling or walking or paddle-boarding or reading.
My goodness it is blowing here today! Early this morning, Euroclydon, the Northeast wind, howled in at about 30 knots and spun us completely round on anchor.We are now nose to the north and nothing not nailed, screwed, or lashed down above board will stay put.The wind stole our nylon purple shopping bag and sent it floating past the boat behind us.Our friend, Muffin, who lives on that boat, rescued and delivered it to us at about 9.Ten minutes later, it was in the water again, and Ryan had to go after it in the dinghy.
Defying the gale, I practiced yoga on the bow this morning. The wind tore my mat out from under my feet and tried to yank it into the water. I finally threw it down the forward hatch. Sun salutations went okay, but standing poses were hard. Triangle was the most difficult. I didn’t even attempt one-footed forms, like tree or dancer. I did side plank with my feet propped against the hatch, which seemed like cheating, but really was pretty impressive, because the wind kept trying to knock me down and I held out for ten breaths. Chair was awkward, since I had to plant my feet wide apart to stay upright on the foredeck, which is not flat but slightly hill-shaped. If I broke a sweat, which I usually do, the wind whisked it off my skin before I noticed.
I found it impossible to relax during corpse pose.I tried to imagine myself dead, the flesh falling off my bones and all my muscles falling slack.Usually I come up with a lovely image of myself in a white shroud, surrounded by candles and flowers in an oval, narrow cave with lovely ochre walls, and I feel quite serene contemplating myself while ever thought falls away from my mind.But this time I just thought, death, death, death and about how hideous I will look when I am dead, my cheeks all saggy and my body heavier than ever. Narcissism really gets in way of inner peace.
Euroclydon will not stop blowing.The long leaves of the coconut palms are rustling furiously, and their trunks, like the many breasted Lady of Ephesus, are leaning, perilously loaded with green globes.The coconut gives life and takes it away. With a machete, one could live a long time without money on these islands, where the coconuts litter the ground. Locals never tire of telling me that more people die from getting hit on the head with a coconut than by being struck by lightning.
We have three coconuts awaiting the machete in our dinghy.We made the rookie mistake of opening a coconut on board, and had to spend half a day scrubbing and bleaching the stains that the pith created in the gel coat.The fibers are very good to plant in, as they have nutrients, but they make a terrible mess.When the wind dies down we might take the three coconuts to the beach and whack away at them.Fresh coconut tastes divine. But we are probably too lazy to do that today.In fact we have been too lazy to whack them for the last ten days or so. Lucky for us, the wind is going to blow into next week.
Euroclydon has been pushing Sophia back and forth on her anchor lines like a kite, rolling us this way and that. A satellite image shows the blow bearing down on us as the whip-like tail of a great white swirl at the center of the Atlantic ocean. I’m sitting, safe and sound, but shivering, on the comfortable veranda of the Hope Town Inn and Marina. A girl in jeans and jacket just slapped past in thongs, complaining, “It’s soooooo cold! I’m not used to this.”
In chapter two of Moby Dick, Ishmael quits “Manhatto” and arrives in New Bedford, just missing the last boat to Nantucket for the next three days.He searches for shelter on a “very dark and dismal night, bitingly cold and cheerless.” In a funny moment, he stumbles into an ash-box at the door of a Black church, where he sees “a hundred back faces” and “a black Angel of Doom” preaching on “the blackness of darkness, and weeping and wailing and teeth-gnashing.” Ishmael backs away from this “wretched entertainment” at the bar he’s named “The Trap.” That’s the joke. But the meditation on blackness here is a puzzler.
He wanders on and stops in front of the Spouter Inn, a wooden house with a sign that speaks ominously of coffins and spouters, also known as whales. It’s just drab and dreary enough to appeal to our hero, standing as it does on a
sharp bleak corner where that tempestuous wind Euroclydon kept up a worse howling than ever it did about poor Paul’s tossed craft.
Ishmael is thinking of that story in Acts, where the tempestuous northeast wind stirs up a storm that rages for two weeks, nearly sinking the vessel that carries the Apostle as a prisoner to Rome.After three days, Paul tells the sailors not to worry, because an angel stood next to him in the night and promised that God will protect them all. Euroclydon rages on 11 more days, and the sailors throw things off the boat, and generally freak out. It’s one of the Bible’s best sea tales.Ishmael mixes it up with the saga of Lazarus, who may or may not actually be in the street by the side of the Spouter Inn:
Poor Lazarus there, chattering his teeth against the curbstone for his pillow, and shaking off his tatters with his shivering, he might plug up both ears with rags, and put a corn-cob pipe into his mouth, and ye that would not keep our the tempestuous Euroclydon.
Perhaps Ishmael is just imagining him there, thinking as he is about the myth of Paul, who heals many sick people after his boat runs aground at Malta. The foreshadowing is pretty straightforward. We are to expect a storm at sea and a miraculous survival. But the guy who rises from the dead, poor Lazarus, does not seem to be doing so well. And then there is the fact that Ishmael has just referred to a church as a trap. Juicy stuff for the atheist reader!
Throughout the chapter Ishmael has been thinking about the difference between being on the inside or outside of warm houses in cold climates. He passes by “The Crossed Harpoons” and the “Sword-Fish Inn,” and the sight of the jolly warmth within them only seems to underline his own misery.Now standing before a “palsied” house that looks “as if it might have been carted here from the ruins of some burnt district,” (perhaps a reference to Gommorah, with which Ishmael associates the ash-box at the Trap) he considers that Euroclydon might be experienced as a “pleasant zephyr to any one in-doors, with his feet on the hob quietly toasting for bed.” The opposite viewpoint is not, as you might expect, from the cold outside looking in at the warmth, but rather from the inside looking out through a “sashless window, where the frost is on both sides, and of which the wight Death is the only glazier.”
Attempting, perhaps, to make light of this dark thought, Ishmael compares his body to a frigid house and his eyes to the panes that Death has fashioned:
What a pity they didn’t stop up the chinks and crannies though, and thrust in a little lint here and there.But it’s too late to make any improvements now.The universe is finished; the copestone is on, and the chips were carted off a million years ago.
It’s witty but bleak, finally, and myopic.It is here that Ishmael evokes the image of Lazarus, chattering his teeth against the curbstone.He rouses himself with a pun on blubbering and whaling, and ventures into the inn.
If Euroclydon can make even the Bahamas feel cold, imagine what it does in New England, or Pittsburgh, or even as far south as Richmond, where my son proposes to go for New Year’s Eve?
B has lived for short periods on the street before, and goes about in ragged clothes. A friend took pity on him and gave him a pair of shoes.Another kind soul presented him with some sturdy boots.He won’t accept new shoes from me.Nor can he buy them for himself.
No, he doesn’t take drugs.In fact, I wish he would.If he would only take the medication that three different psychiatrists have recommended, he would feel better, steadier, calmer.But he is afraid of side effects, I guess.I’m not sure.
When I think about Ishmael as a young man alone, depressed, stuck in his head, a person who could be my own child, alone, in the wilderness, forlorn, lost, friendless, cold, meditating on death—I know this is not a conventional way to read the novel, but it is the way I come at it—I worry. Ishmael is just a character in a novel, I tell myself, get a grip!But what can I do?I’m like the mother who sends a text to her son, “start worrying, details to follow…”
Q: What’s the difference between a Rottweiler and a Norwegian mother? A: Eventually, the Rottweiler lets go.