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

 

 

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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.”

Women Who Won’t Drive the Dinghy

The number of women who either cannot or will not drive a dinghy in our times astonishes me, especially when you consider that 99.9 % of cruising boats have two crew members: a man and a woman.    It’s a simple safety issue.  If he falls over or gets sick and you can’t drive….

Perhaps this should not astonish me, given the astonishing difficulty that so many Americans seem to have in electing a woman for President. 

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Who is at the helm?

Paddle Board To the Rescue!!!!

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The beach where I dropped the boat hook and retrieved it with the paddle board. 

Here are two good reasons for keeping an inflatable paddle board on the deck of your sailboat if you are a cruiser.

  1.  Paddle boards help you repair your boat when you are out to sea. We ran into a sea spider, a tangled mass of nylon line that wrapped itself around our propeller.  We were motoring from Wardrick Wells to Staniel Cay, admittedly in fairly shallow water  (about 20 feet) and relatively calm seas.  Still, diving on your prop in the middle when you’re out to sea is not the easiest thing to do, especially when your dinghy is tied up to the davits and you can’t put down the sea ladder.  It was easy to get into the water, but not so easy to get back on the boat, even with a boarding ladder on the side.  Solution:  put the paddle board in the water, just below the boarding ladder.  This provided a platform for the tools Ryan needed (a line cutter and a heavy duty wrench) to clear the propeller, and also an easy step back on board.

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    The sea spider that fouled our prop.  
  2. Paddle boards help you tie up to mooring balls.  I dropped our boat hook overboard while trying to pick up a mooring ball that did not have the usual float for the line that you pull on board and fasten around your cleats.  Instead of pulling on that line, I hooked the line attached to the heavy cement block on the bottom, the weight of which dragged the boat hook out of my hands.  Twenty-knot winds and waves quickly carried the boat hook into shallow waters that we couldn’t possibly navigate without running aground.   As Ryan laconically observed while we watched it drifting further and further away from us, “a boat hook is a fairly important piece of boat equipment.”  Yes, indeed, and there it was, way over there.  What to do?  Paddle board to the rescue!  I threw the board into the water (after making sure that the painter was attached to the boat of course), got aboard, and paddled after the hook.  After retrieving it, I muscled my way, upwind and up currant, of course, to the mooring ball, pulled the line out of the water (it was simply drifting!! with no float!!) and held on valiantly, standing tall on my board, like Alvid the Norwegian Pirate queen, while Ryan maneuvered the boat over to my side.  Even had I not dropped the hook overboard, we would have had to put the board in the water.  Sure, we could have dropped the dinghy, but then we would have had to anchor first, which is sort of stupid when you’re trying to tie up to a mooring ball.  The paddle board was much easier, simpler, and faster.  Efficient!

Continue reading “Paddle Board To the Rescue!!!!”

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. 

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Spanish Wells

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Looking out at the ocean from Spanish Wells.

Wells.  Because there is a lot of sweet water on this islet, which is part of but actually not quite connected by land, to Eleuthera.  The Spaniards who explored these islands in the late 16th century and then enslaved and murdered the Lucayan inhabitants, dug a lot of wells here, apparently. They do not linger, neither the Lucayans or the Spanish. One would like to think that the natives left their spirits.  But one does not believe us such stuff, any more than any other mythological nonsense, like the virgin birth.  But the locals do.  They are very religious here, very Christian.  I don’t hold it against them.

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Sophia at Spanish Wells, Bahamas.

I have to confess that I like it better and better.  Well, it is rather nice.  Quaint?  Not quite.  Not quite funky, either, but something along those lines. A  working community.  Fisherfolk, mostly.    They sing here, more than on other islands.  I feel as though we are a bit closer to the ‘real’ Bahamas here, as here no one is particularly wealthy.  It is kind of like Pittsburgh in the Bahamas without the fabulous restaurants.   A strong working class ethic prevails here. And they are very welcoming and friendly, once they get over their shyness.

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The active harbor at Spanish Wells

For example, today we walked into a hardware store and set out empty propane container outside the door, out of politeness.  No one wants you coming into their shop wielding an aluminum bat.  A blue-eyed man in his late fifties, by my estimation, wearing a blue and white colored shirt and shorts,  welcomed us warmly as we entered.  We smiled at him and proceeded to the diving gear section. As we were looking over the flippers and masks, the proprietor approached us and asked, “Are you looking to buy cooking oil?”  I was confused at first, since we don’t call it cooking oil, but propane.  He didn’t notice my hesitation, or perhaps Ryan answered for us both, “Yes.”  “Well, there is a young man standing outside and he is leaving RIGHT NOW and offering to take you to the shop where you can get cooking oil.”  Right.  We stopped looking at the diving gear and went outside, where the blue-eyed man greeted us.  Being slow, it took me yet another minute to realize that HE was the “young man.”  He drove us up to the shop, which was a garage, and urged the owner to fill it up immediately.  It cost a bit more than we had to pay in Hopetown, but not a lot more, perhaps because our “young man” was looking on.  That same good friend to us took us back to our dinghy and wished us a good day.

He wasn’t in his fifties, by the way.  He declared himself to be 66!! He had spent most of his life fishing as a part owner of a local boat, which we passed on our way to and from the garage.  He now keeps himself fit and busy by taking care of a few properties on the cay.   I note this because he, like many of the older men here, looks pretty healthy and younger than his years, while the younger folk tend to look older than they are.  They run to fat and why?  Because they do not walk.  They go everywhere in golf carts.  It is a problem, in my view, on the islands.  Why do people who have less than half a mile to walk for everything they need go by gasoline, when feet or a bicycle would do?

I am reading Agatha Christie, by the way.  And loving it.  Feeling rather like Captain Hastings in my slow-witted, overly emotional responses to things, too.

Spanish Wells was settled in the late 18th, early 19th century.  Here’s a photograph of concrete oven still standing on the island:

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We’re so glad to be able to walk around on land. We’ve been living aboard for the last two weeks.  We haven’t spent more than 10 minutes ashore since we left Hopetown, just after Christmas.   When you live on a boat, you learn what it means to stretch your legs!

I am feeling a bit better, by the way. Have decided that the illness and stomach aches have to do with lack of sleep, anemia, and lactose intolerance.  Have cut out all milk products and started to take iron pills and general vitamins.   Below are a few photos of Sophia anchored just off Russell Island, near the mouth of the entrance to Spanish Wells harbor.IMG_5181IMG_5180