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.

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?

Dived or Dove?

It has come to my attention that some of my friends who sail and snorkel might be wondering whether or not to say “dived” or “dove.”   If you dive on your anchor or mooring ball, as we do often, and are actually confused, you have good reason!  The usage is somewhat murky, as the waters around anchors and mooring balls tend to be (unless you are in the Exumas, of course).  So, what’s correct?

The most correct usage is dive, dived, dived.  I will dive on the anchor. I did dive on the anchor.  I dived on the anchor.  I have dived on the anchor.

The reason you might be confused is that, in the United States and Canada, the usage of “dove” has become more acceptable.  So, for example, it is also correct, in speech more than in writing, to say, “I dove on the anchor.”  That is perfectly okay.

It is not correct to say, “I did dove” or “I have dove”.  That sounds wrong to me, obviously wrong.  But I frequently hear people ask, “have you dove on the anchor?”  This only makes sense if you are so accustomed to the colloquial usage of the word “dove” to indicate the simple past tense, as in “I dove down to the bottom.”  That latter phrase is fine, but it is not correct to say, “I have dove,” or to ask someone if she or he has already “dove” down to the bottom.

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Black Point.  Great town.  Mostly Black, too.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!!!!”

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.

 

DERECHO!!!

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You can’t see the rain sheeting down here, or get a sense of how rough the water was.  But it’s the only picture I had time to take!   Royal Island, near Eleuthera.  January 7, 2016

On January 6, 2016, we expected a “big blow” with winds shifting through all directions except Southeast.  We took shelter in the very well protected harbor at Royal Island, near Spanish Wells and Eleuthera.   Sophia is 36 feet long and weighs 13,500 pounds—pretty light in comparison to many bluewater yachts.  We have great ground tackle—a 33 pound Rocna and 100 feet of 3/8 inch chain attached to 150 feet of a 5/8 inch nylon rode.   We sheltered in the north west corner, in front of the biggest hill on the island.  We set anchor, let out all the chain, set a snubber, dove on the anchor, saw it solidly in the ground, and kept a close watch all day.  We didn’t budge an inch and felt quite relaxed when we finally turned out the light around “cruiser’s midnight,” 9pm.  We were in for our first big cruising lesson.   

“Bam!”  “Bam!”  Silence.  I awakened at about 10:30pm.  This was a new sound.  “Bam!”  “Bam.”  Something was hitting our hull.  Could it be waves? I wondered.  “Ryan!  do you hear that?” “What?”  “Bam!”  “That!”  He bounded out of bed. The winds were screaming overhead the air was thick with electricity.   I raced to the cockpit and could not believe what I saw.  We had dragged about 200 feet, right past another boat, and stood 10 feet from the rocky shore with 1.5 feet of water under our keel.   Our hull had been hitting either the sand, or rocks, or something else.  Royal Island harbor is littered with old cars and other metal trash. 

Sheer terror. Adrenaline shot through me, clouding my mind, making my hands shake.  Think! I clawed open the stern lassarette and pressed the engine warm-up button, counting with ragged breaths—never had 15 seconds passed so slowly.  The engine roared on  Ryan took the helm and drove us away from the rocks while I scampered up to the bow, shivering in underwear and tee-shirt.  It was impossible to see, and we had to rely on flashlight signals to communicate about the operation of the windlass.  I had to put down my flashlight to get the snubber off the chain. “I. HATE. THESE. THINGS!” I remember screaming as I urged the metal hook around and off the links.  

Finally we got the anchor up and motored to the other end of the harbor.  This was a terrifying journey,  because not all the boats had their anchor lights on and we couldn’t see where we were going.  My eyes were playing tricks on me.  I saw two boats where there was only one—later I realized it was a ketch, and it was so difficult to think!  Ryan stayed calm, fortunately, and shouted, “here!  we’re dropping the anchor here!”  We let out all 100 feet of chain plus an 25 feet of line, in 10 feet of water.   We were far too agitated to sleep, and finally took turns watching until morning, which came slowly.

The weather got worse the next day.  It rained so hard that the bimini leaked, especially right over the wheel and chart plotter, making it malfunction.  We clamped a plastic Ikea bag over it, lifting up the edges to see the chart, and stayed soaked for hours while the storm raged around us.  The wind roared at 40 knots per hour for much of the afternoon, and gusted above 50.  A neighboring boat dragged a couple hundred feet.  We sighed with relief when they stablized their position, not far from our stern.  We monitored the wind gauge and our breadcrumbs on the chart plotter, watching, watching.  My skin crawled with anxiety.   It was impossible to settle down, even though there was nothing to do but watch, watch, watch and watch. 

I attempted to calm myself by tidying and eventually felt comfortable enough to start a lasagna.  Just as the sauce was starting to bubble, Ryan informed me, “we’ve dragged 40 feet.”  FREAK!  went my system.  But I calmly  turned off the burner, put on my rain gear, and went above.  It was time to learn how to set a second anchor.  Our second anchor is a 23 pound Fortress on 30 feet of 3/8 inch chain and 200 feet of 5/8 inch rode.  The Fortress is actually designed for the messy, slimy sand we were sitting on.   Setting it seemed like a good idea, but only after a nervous discussion. By this point, Murphy’s law seemed to be in play—if it could go wrong, it would.  We didn’t carry on for any length of time, as the winds were still wailing and the rain was still sheeting, thunder was booming, lightining was flashing, and we were dragging.  By this point, we were fully suited up in foul weather gear with harnesses ready to clip into the jack lines.  We set the second anchor.  And we held.

And we held.  Ryan seemed to relax finally, but I couldn’t unwind, even when the winds finally went away at midnight or so.   I sat up reading and checked our position every hour or so. And we held.  Finally, around five in the morning, I allowed myself to sleep. 

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Relatively peaceful waters at Royal Harbor after the gale.  January 8, 2016..  

Chris Parker wrote, “In 13 years, I don’t think I’ve seen an event like this in the Bahamas.  He said it may have been a Derecho, essentially a “self sustaining linearly-organized storm.”   As Parker explained, “A Derecho often starts as a series of outflow boundaries/gust fronts extending from squall/T-storms, advancing ahead of a pool of cold air aloft. Over time, these outflow boundaries/gusts can merge into a long line, and be self-sustaining.” 

We learned a lot.  In the long run, we were really lucky, much more fortunate than our friends.  For a rousing, well-written tale about how awful this storm was for many folks, please read Neko’s blog.  Some other people we care about suffered the worst loss that we know about.  Their beloved terrier, who had sailed with them for ten years, washed overboard during the gale.  We have talked to many cruisers who have sailed all over the globe for many years, and every one of them says that this was the worst experience they have ever had. 

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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