Sophia Says: Do yoga between two seas

I can’t remember if I posted these photos of Man of War in the Abacos yet or not. We’ve been away from the internet for so long (three weeks) and I only have a few minutes, too few to go back through to find out if I’ve shown you these yet or not.  But here they are.

 

Christmas in a strange world

December 26, 2015. 

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

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Interesting art on Man-O-War Cay, Bahamas.

.  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.

Good anchors are good

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Our travels over the last couple of weeks

 

Sorry for the long delay in posting, my friends.  We’ve been sailing and anchoring off shore, far away from the internet.  Only in the last 30 minutes have I had access to it again, here at Buddha’s Bar and Restaurant in Spanish Wells, Eleuthera.  I will post photos as soon as I can.   Until then,  I will publish what I’ve written in order.

By the way, Buddha’s is a colorful bar with an interesting gray parrot.  But the food is not that great and I wouldn’t want to be here when all the big screen tv’s are on and the music is turned up loud.  Spanish Wells is so named because the Spaniards, the ones who killed all the original Lucayan inhabitants of these islands, dug a number of wells here back in the late 16th century.  There isn’t anything Spanish about this place.  It’s a fisher-town, with lots of biting flies, hot streets, and murky water.  As on many of the other out islands settled by Loyalists during the late 18th century, the White locals look inbred as they are all rather tall and large bodied.  Most of them  sound as though they never went to school at all.  They say “ain’t got no” and seem gruff but are fairly friendly and nice enough.

We are here only to get propane and gas and provisions and to do a couple of loads of laundry.

I can’t tell you what a relief it is to be on land again, after the past four, no five, days without setting foot on solid ground.  We’ve been sitting out a “big blow,” as they call a system of 50 knot winds, torrential rains, and screaming, howling, screaming, howling.

We found out about the need for good anchors over the past few days at Royal Harbor.  The water is a lovely chalky green, due to the gloopy sands that make for poor holding in rough weather.  We were fine up to 30 knots, but we started to sweat at 40 and decided to set a second anchor when the winds started to gust up to 50.  The water was only 10 feet deep, but we had to let out 100 feet of chain, 50 feet of chain on the main anchor, a 33 pound Rocna, and 30 feet of chain and a 150 feet of rode on a 23 pound Fortress.    Still, we didn’t sleep, as the winds clocked around the entire compass during the three days we stayed here.

I’d love to show you a few pictures, but didn’t take any.  We were kind of busy keeping our boat safe.  Plus it was raining sheets and windows.  But I have posted a lovely photo of Ryan on Abaco, below.

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Ryan walking on the beach on Man-O-War Cay

 

 

 

 

Moby Dick, Chapter Two: Euroclydon, The Northeast Wind

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No, I did not practice yoga here today.  I practiced here three days ago.  And it was glorious.  The Low Point, Man-O-War Cay, Abacos, The Bahamas

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.”

2981517e808ad36fbe4154803daa15baIn 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.

Boat Repair at Man-O-War

Having the bottom of our boat painted at a famous yard on Man-O-War Cay.

 

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Rough Waters,” a classic Abaco sailboat designed by William H. Albury and built in this yard in 1975.  Sophia, with a newly painted bottom, is proud to stand next to her.

We have been at Man-O-War Cay for the past four days, having Sophia’s bottom painted.  The hull looked pretty good last August, just before we bought the boat and had it hauled for the survey.  Just three and half months later, it had grown a slimy, shaggy coat. 

Man-O-War was the best place to bring it, for a number of reasons:

  1. The people of this island are famous for their expertise in boat building and repair; and Keith Albury, who has built boats here since 1960, directed our project and engaged personally in much of the labor.  
  2. When we called around, we learned that Edwin’s yard could do the job right away, while Marsh Harbor and Green Turtle could not start until January;
  3. Edwin’s yard is cleaner and quieter than any yard we have ever seen before (and we’ve seen a lot—Sophia is not our first boat);
  4. All the workers at Edwin’s are assiduous, courteous, and knowledgable; and, finally,
  5. Man-O-War is gorgeous.

The apparatus for hauling a boat fascinated us.  A large wooden frame affixed to metal runners, like railroad ties, slides down under your boat at high tide.  The side braces adjust to the width and shape of your hull.  Then a machine operating a belt and pulley system hauls the boat up on the hard.  

We arrived Thursday morning, and the guys started scrubbing away by 7:30.  They water-sanded the bottom as they cleaned it, and had hand-brushed the first coat of primer on by the end of the day.   They worked all through Friday and finished at the end of Saturday.  On Sunday morning, we splashed back into the water. 

For a place with such a bellicose name,  Man-O-War is sure peaceful.  Situated near Elbow Cay and Marsh Harbor on the “mainland,” Abaco, the islet is a mere 2.5 miles long and, at its narrowest point, only 30 feet wide.

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The Low Point on Man-O-War Cay

 The sheer rock path passing though “the low point” lies barely above water at high tide.  The locals say that the islet began as a place to farm, but was later settled by a few pious, Protestant families who still live here today. 

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Windswept tree on Man-O-War

Nearly all the roughly 300 permanent residents  are related to one another through the Albury or Sweeting family.  You can tell they are one big clan, as most of them look alike: tall, light-haired, and heavy-set, with broad faces and small, closely set eyes.  Friendly and helpful, the residents of Man-O-War welcome visitors and cruisers, but not drunkards. 

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Ryan and our friend, Lloyd, at Dock & Dine

The majority are still boycotting the restaurant at the marina, Dock & Dine, for selling beer and wine, even though they managed to ensure a provision requiring a person who buys a drink to purchase something to eat with it.  We don’t mind having to buy food, since it’s  fabulous.  Be sure to try the pizza, which is made from scratch each day!