Little Harbor

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Rachel’s wells–Exuma Land and Sea Park

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.

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.

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

 

 

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.”

Reading Melville at Sea: On Women

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My friend Karen driving her dinghy in the Ragged Islands.

Captain Bildad’s sister, Charity, steps into and out of the narrative in the blink of an eye in this chapter.  She seems more like a symbol than a character, for she really plays no role in the movement of the plot.  She personifies goodness, largesse, generosity, thoughtfulness:

Never did any woman better deserve her name…and like a sister of charity did this charitable Aunt Charity bustle about hither and thither, ready to turn her hand and heart to anything that promised to yield safety, comfort, and consolation to all on board a ship in which her beloved brother Bildad was concerned, and in which she herself owned a score or two of well-saved dollars.

She’s sexless and, interestingly enough, an investor in the whaling ship.  Not simply a fountain of good works for others, but also a woman who promotes her own financial interests, and seeks to make a profit through her good works.  She’s the perfect Protestant capitalist. 

She’s also a Quaker.  Melville’s Puritan ancestors used to strip and whip Quaker women through the streets of town, punishing them for thinking differently, indeed for thinking at all, and for speaking their thoughts in church.  Ishmael seems to regard her as a somewhat frightening force:

But it was startling to see this excellent hearted Quakeress coming on board, as she did the last day, with a long oil-ladle in one hand, and a still longer whaling lance in the other.

The oil-ladle for dispensing the substance that burns and provides light; the lance the weapon that castrates. 

It seems that many male sailors still regard women in these absolute, polarized terms.  They want us to be kind and merciful to them, to cook and clean and shop and provide, but they don’t want us to drive the dinghy or steer the main vessel, and they certainly don’t want us to have the upper hand. How many women captains do you know?  How many men would consent to the status of “admiral” or “first mate?”  None that I know.  And we women go along with the game, and fail to do our homework and allow them to wield the power. 

At any rate, we’ll hear no more about Aunt Charity in this novel, and no women will sail with the Pequog.  Does that make it a “man’s book,” as many of my women cruiser friends assert?  More to follow.