Rocky Dundas

March 19, 2015

IMG_5906
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.

Rock Sound Rocks.

We scoffed when our Cruising Guide said that Rock Sound was going to be Eluthera’s Staniel Cay, because we thought the former town was so sleepy. But I tell you, Rock Sound is way nicer than Staniel Cay, and a lot more affordable. If you are in the area, and you are a cruiser, you don’t want to miss it.

“Mirth, admit me of thy crew”   John Milton.

IMG_0734
Three graces: Sue, Francie, and Holly at Rosie’s Northside Restaurant, Rock Sound, Eluthera

We scoffed when our Cruising Guide said that Rock Sound was going to be Eluthera’s Staniel Cay, because we thought the former town was so sleepy.  But I tell you, Rock Sound is way nicer than Staniel Cay, and a lot more affordable.  If you are in the area, and you are a cruiser, you don’t want to miss it.

The extremely friendly locals walk right up to you in the market, or in the lane, to welcome you to their town.   There is a very cool Blue hole, a natural inland salt lake fed by underground tunnels and underwater caves.  There are hundreds or thousands of fish in there.  And you can swim with them.  IMG_5215

Be sure to visit Sammy’s restaurant for outstanding conch fritters, fish, souse, and ribs, and talk to Sammy’s daughter Janet, who loves to talk politics.  She claimed that “all Bahamians” stand in horror of Trump.  We assured her that we felt the same way and are convinced that he could never be elected.  She loved it when we said that we believe that President Obama is the best president we have ever had, and the first one to make us feel proud to be Americans.

IMG_5218
Jan and Rosie at Sammy’s

We were here with five boats, and ten delightful people who feel like friends.  We passaged from Abaco to Eluthera with Bobby and Francie on Barefootin’, and got to know their friends Holly and Rob on Hampshire Rose at Royal Island.  At Rock Sound we also met Irene and Phil on the wonderfully named Plan B as well as Sue and Steve on Peregrine.  All these folks and we walked across the island to Rosie’s Northside restaurant for excellent, traditional Bahamian fare and a gorgeous view of the ocean.

Sue, Francie, and Holly at Rosie’s Northside Restaurant

IMG_0735
Rosie’s dog relaxing on the raked sand in the bar at Rosie’s Northside Restaurant on Rock Sound
IMG_0750
Rosie and Alice preparing a meal for us at Rosie’s Restaurant
IMG_0736
Rosie’s Northside Restaurant, which overlooks the ocean on Eluthera
IMG_0746
Irene and Phil.  Phil’s shirt reads, “My I Aint Gonna Do Nothin’ All day T-Shirt”
IMG_0739
Steve and Sue
IMG_5230
Bobby and Francie at Wild Orchids in Rock Sound

Reading Moby Dick, Chapters 4 and 5: Ishmael learns to see Queequeg as a human being.

moby-dick-queequeg-and-ishmael

I got some interesting responses to my last post on Facebook.   A fellow wrote to complain about my usage of the term, “White privilege,” which he then proceeded to equate with paying taxes.   He then wondered if I had every paid any taxes, and asserted that if working hard and paying taxes affords one “White privilege,” then he would be happy to stand accused.

The writer is right on one point: Whiteness does have something to do with paying taxes, since we live in a society in which it is easier for a person with White skin to get a job and to earn money.  The writer is wrong, however, to maintain that White people pay more in taxes than Black people because they work harder.  The argument is patently racist. 

It seems a more precise definition of White privilege is required.  White privilege is a system that arises as a consequence of racism.  For a definition of racism, go here:  White privilege is a system that arises from and perpetuates racism.  As Jennifer Holladay explains,

White skin privilege is not something that white people necessarily do, create or enjoy on purpose. Unlike the more overt individual and institutional manifestations of racism described above, white skin privilege is a transparent preference for whiteness that saturates our society. White skin privilege serves several functions. First, it provides white people with “perks” that we do not earn and that people of color do not enjoy. Second, it creates real advantages for us. White people are immune to a lot of challenges. Finally, white privilege shapes the world in which we live — the way that we navigate and interact with one another and with the world.

Holladay observes a number of perks that she recevies as a White person in a racist society

• When I cut my finger and go to my school or office’s first aid kit, the flesh-colored band-aid generally matches my skin tone.

• When I stay in a hotel, the complimentary shampoo generally works with the texture of my hair.

• When I run to the store to buy pantyhose at the last minute, the ‘nude’ color generally appears nude on my legs.

When I buy hair care products in a grocery store or drug store, my shampoos and conditioners are in the aisle and section labeled ‘hair care’ and not in a separate section for ‘ethnic products.’

 I can purchase travel size bottles of my hair care products at most grocery or drug stores.

White privilege is not limited to perks like band aids and hair care products,” Halloday continues. 

“The second function of white skin privilege is that it creates significant advantages for white people. There are scores of things that I, as a white person, generally do not encounter, have to deal with or even recognize. For example:

• My skin color does not work against me in terms of how people perceive my financial responsibility, style of dress, public speaking skills, or job performance.

• People do not assume that I got where I am professionally because of my race (or because of affirmative action programs).

• Store security personnel or law enforcement officers do not harass me, pull me over or follow me because of my race.

Ishmael enjoys White privilege.  When he goes to apply for a job on the Pequod, no one asks him about his religious views.  Yet when Queequeg, a far more experienced sailor, appears, the captain objects to having a “son of darkness” in his crew.  Melville wrote Moby Dick at time when most White Americans and Europeans utterly denied the humanity of the Africans, Asians, Pacific Islanders, and Native Americans, and for this reason subjected them to cruel working conditions and slavery.  As many fine historians have demonstrated, our country was founded on brutality and bloodshed.  The original settlers sickened, slaughtered, and stole from the original inhabitants.   The United States became an industrial powerhouse based on the enslavement of Africans and the near enslavement of Asians during the 18th and 19th centuries.  Irish and Italian people were not considered to be “white” until just before the 20th century. . 

Melville examines racist prejudices in his countrypersons as well as in himself via Ishmael, who is White, poor, and not nearly as capable or valuable a seaman on a whaling ship as his dark-skinned, tattoed companion, Queequeg, who becomes his bedfellow.

Ishmael refers to Queequeg frequently as a “savage” and an “infidel,” betraying his common assumption that anyone who does not share the same cultural practices and religious beliefs as the majority must not belong, cannot be “civilized,” and actually requires the alleged improvements that the dominant culture would impose upon him– a correction of his diet and a conversion, by force, if necessary, to the approved God and dogmatic system.  By making Queequeg a cannibal, Melville locates him outside the pale; he is the Other, the not-me, the absolute antithesis of White, Protestant, bourgeois American culture.  And therefore Ishmael’s adoption of him is a stunning feat.     

Queequeg terrifes Ishmael at first.   But he becomes beloved, the bosom friend, the bedfellow of our hero, because his morality and decency exceeds that of  “civilized” White people whom Ishmael encounters.  Is he a noble savage?  Does Ishmael romanticize him?  I haven’t decided yet.  I haven’t finished the novel!!  

Reading Moby Dick, Chapter Three: Ishmael Goes to a Bar

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 the  thought 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 the  bar, 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. 

IMG_5115

Of the Barracuda and other animals

barracuda

December 30, 2015.

We sailed with Seahorse to another island nearby.  On its windward side, the Atlantic roars over an underwater reef and surges in great round swells, rolling boats side to side as they head through the strong current.  Here we are protected from that rollicking bay.  We found lovely calm, clear water on its leeward side. 

We sang Happy Birthday to Lily, who turned 10 today.   Ten is an excellent age for a girl.  She is not yet self-conscious of the pressure on her to be a sexual being and thus inhabits her body and mind without pretense or anxiety.  

On the island the Fowler girls met a dog, a black and white lab mix, female, very friendly.   We heard her barking during the night and saw a light or two.  They assumed someone was taking care of her.  I didn’t think anyone was there, as I hadn’t seen any boats and there were no footprints on the beach.

We spent the rest of the day on the water. It seems we are becoming more and more like those floating villages in the South Seas, where people spend their entire lives without touching solid ground.  “Land” is the cockpit, the foredeck, the galley, the salon, the tiny patch of teak floor in the v-berth, in the head.  These are the areas where we do our eating, our walking, our yoga, our lunching, our lounging, our reading, our writing, our preening, our teeth-brushing.  We create parties on rafted paddleboats and dinghies.

The water at this anchorage is swimming-pool blue and green, clear, and full of colorful fish.  Some of them, like the silvery, Bluerunner Jacks, swim freely in the open, but most of them stick close to the little boulders of coral, which spread out into flatter, lacy mounds with hidey-holes.  We saw small, pale, spotted Groupers lurking under the larger coral hills, magenta Squirrel fish and pink Blackbar Soldier fish sheltering in nest-like sandy hollows, tiny blue Wrasses, blue-yellow Damselfish, and larger black-and-yellow striped Sergeant Majors nibbling around the brain coral.  Two or three green and blue Queen Triggerfish with clownlike blue frown lines swam sideways and peered up me with star-burst eyes.  A three-feet wide, brown, Southern Sting ray hovered over the sands and then winged away.  Clouds of thin Yellowtail Snappers raced around and through the coral, while tiny, blue-white Fairy Basslets and baby-pink, -yellow, and -blue Cardinalfish hid in the grasses and poked their heads under the conch shells.

conch
Live conch coming out of its beautiful shell

We were diving for conch and other edible treasures, so I tied the painter of my paddleboard to my wrist and followed the Fowler sisters out towards the northern tip of the island, where the current flows strongly and the conch like to grow.  Lauren, who was swimming without flippers, met a four-foot Barracuda, who swam right up into her face to take a better look.  They are very curious fish, and not really dangerous when unprovoked, but sight of them sets off some ancient alarm in the reptilian brain that rings, “DANGER! DANGER! DANGER!”  She panicked and kicked at it.  Fortunately, she did not meet its teeth and it swam away peaceably. 

Back on our boats, Ryan and Travis tackled the shells in the cockpits, gloating and shouting to one another enthusiastically as they got better and better and the art of conch cleaning. Men.  I chopped up pearl onion, garlic, celery and red cabbage for the salad.  We didn’t have any fresh tomatoes, but I did find a box of tomato soup that had a few lumps that did the trick.  To this mess I added the conch, of course, which Ryan helpfully diced, hot pepper sauce and lime juice.  We had lovely curried beans and rice leftovers.  Ryan insisted we add pork to the mix, and  I made him do the frying since I was already sweating and wanted to get out of the galley. We still have one more bag of frozen pork, which was organically raised and humanely slaughtered near Oriental, North Carolina.  The pork is very tasty, but it did nothing for the beans and rice, which ended up very bland.  Mary made a rum cake for Lily’s birthday.  I drank too much red wine, which always gives me a headache.  The girls turned in at around 9, signalling that it was time for us to go home, too.  We dinghied back under a brilliant, starry sky.  Ryan stayed up for a rum nightcap.  I collapsed gratefully into bed, delightfully exhausted. 

Lynnyard Cay

December 29, 2015

We are still at Lynnyard Cay. 

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. Lynnyard cay