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.”

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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. 

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