Endless August in Georgetown

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From the Cockpit of Sophia at Georgetown

I am writing this on our last full day in Georgetown.  The winds are still quite strong but should settle down this evening. As soon as Ryan finishes the third and final coat of varnish on the toe-rail, we’ll go for a hike up Monument Hill, which overlooks Elizabeth Harbor to the West and Exuma Sound to the East.   The weather here is as Melville describes the Quito spring,

which at sea, almost perpetually reigns on the threshold of the eternal August of the Tropic.  The warmly cool, clear, ringing perfumed, overflowing, redundant days, were as crystal goblets of Persian sherbet, heaped up—flaked up, with rose water snow.  Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Yesterday was very much like today.  Ryan varnished while I took a hike on the island with my friend Sandy, from Bel Canto, cutting palm fronds. I took my basket-making supplies and wove at the tables in the shade, where a number of other women were doing the same.  The woman who taught us all how to get started, Sharon, was there, and she looked at my work and said it was good.  I’m learning and my first basket looks a lot different from the ones Sharon makes.  It is strangely meditative to weave and very nice to do it with other women.  The tables are right next to the vollyball courts, where some of weaver’s partners were playing.  I enjoyed looking up now and then to see Ryan laughing and having fun, for a change.  He’s been working on the boat an awful lot. 

In the evening we sat in the cockpit and drank wine while watching the suns yolk slip behind the hills, basking in the delicious ocean breeze.  We talked about how glad we were to be freed from the endless chatter of the internet, the make-sensational non-news with which the media pickles the brain.  How liberating is feels to live closer to the rythyms of the sunrise and sunset, the movement of the water and the winds. 

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Volleyball Beach, looking towards the bar called ‘Chat and Chill’

When Sandy and I walked along a ridge overlooking the Sound yesterday, I observed that I have almost started to take the scenery for granted, it has been so constant.  Viredescent waves crashing on bone-white sand and glistening black rocks, surf eddying into ochre tide-pools, the sea like liquid jade rushing over the coral reefs offshore, molten emerald, crystalline turquoise, aquamarine farther out, above the sky the palest violet. 

The days roll by like a slow, glorious pageant, a stately procession of opulently bejeweled kings and queens trailing diaphanous silks.  It is an enormous pleasure, immense, a magnificent banquet of color and nature and warmth and sunlight, clear water and cooling breezes.

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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.”

Reading Melville at Sea: Jonah and the Fugitive Slave Law

Fugitive-Slave-Act-Newspaper-headlineChapter 9: Jonah and the Fugitive Slave Law

The sermon really is very good.  Father Mapple’s marvelous interpretation of the Biblical story about Jonah and the Whale is both an allegory and a confession.  Although I am currently doubting my original suggestion that this book as an epic novel, there are loads of epic elements in this chapter.  There is the lofty language; the Satanic hero, and this wonderful simile.

Like one who after a night of drunken revelry hies to his bed, still reeling, but with conscience yet pricking him,

as the plungings of the Roman race-horse but so much the more strike his steel tags into him;

as one who in that miserable plight still turns and turns in giddy anquish, praying God for annihilation until the fit be passed; and at last amid the whirl of woe he feels, a deep stupor steels over him,

as over the man who bleeds to death, for conscience is the wound, and there’s naught to staunch it;

so, after sore wrestling in his berth, Jonah’s prodigy of ponderous misery drags him drowning down to sleep.

I broke it apart so that you can identify the parallel elements.  Jonah is intoxicated, supersaturated with a painful, nearly fatal fit of guilt.  But for what?   Doesn’t it bother you that we never find out what crime Jonah committed? 

Father Mapple says he disobeyed God, but how he did it he never tells.  He describes Jonah as a ‘God-fugitive,” theoretically someone who runs from the inevitable wrath of the Deity.  But why is this god mad?   What has Jonah done? Something so terrible that can be forgiven only once he goes to the very bottom of the ocean in the belly of a fearful beast! Here, beyond the jaws of death, in darkness and squalor, he finds peace.  And why does he feel peace?  Because he has been punished!  For what?  For running away?

What a strange religion!  Here is a sadistic god who punishes people who refuse to acknowledge his authority, and who favors those whom he scourges.  And his victims thank him for whipping them.     

But think a little futher about Jonah, the fugitive.  Father Mapple describes him thus:

O! most contemptible and worthy of all scorn; with slouched hat and guilty eye, skulking from his God; prowling among the shipping like a vile burglar hastening to cross the seas.  So disordered, self-condemning is his look, that had there been policemen in those days, Jonah, on the mere suspicion of something wrong, had been arrested ere he touched a deck.  How plainly he’s a fugitive! no baggage, not a hat-box, valise, or carpet-bag, —no friends accompany him to the wharf with their adieux…in vain essays his wretched smile.  Strong intuitions of the man assure the mariners he can be no innocent.

As allegory, the story that Mapple delivers corresponds to the story about slavery that Melville is telling in his novel.  Did it not occur to you that Jonah figures as a slave or a freed Black man running not from God, but, rather, his master?  Did it not occur to you to understand the sermon as a kind of allegory that White ministers used to preach to justify the Fugitive Slave Law?  I’m sure I’m not the first to assert this.  Surely whole dissertations have been composed to demonstrate this very point; articles advancing the same claim have made careers. 

Not convinced?  Consider the way Melville describes Jonah’s last desperate moment when he is tossed by the sailors into the sea, and the storm follows him:

“He goes down in the whirling heat of such a masterless commotion that he scarce heeds the moment…”

(my emphasis).

Jonah’s crime is what, again?  We are not told.  I will tell you.  Jonah’s crime is that he is “masterless.”  He will not obey his master and he has run away. 

This is not to argue that we should read the novel as an allegory.   In Moby Dick Melville creates a “historical allegory.” It makes reference to its time, its political and historical reality, but not through verisimilitude, as in the European novel of the same period, or in a point-to-point fashion, like a roman-a-clef.   A historical allegory, like science fiction, comments on the present in a story that seems to be about something else.  So here, we have a historical allegory with epic elements in which the fictional story comments on the political, social, spiritual, and economic realm in which it was composed: a politically complex, industrial capitalist, Christian society in which dark-skinned men, women and children were bought and sold for profit and light-skinned men and women were generating arguments for White Supremacy.

As Michael Rogin astutely observes, Moby Dick is more than a political allegory, because it remains,

“paradoxically, above politics, neither losing itself in political complexity nor transforming its political present into something new.  Allegories take positions inside a given structure of controversy.  Those who see Moby Dick as a political allegory choose one side or another in the political debates; Moby Dick undercuts it all.  It points to no fixed political truth above and outside its own story.”

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

 

 

 

Leaving Hopetown, Again

December 27, 2015

We stayed another night at Tahiti beach because Travis and Mary and the girls liked it there.  We were surrounded by noisy, light-polluting charter catarmarans.  I hated it.

December 28, 2015

We sailed, with Seahorse, south to Lynnyard Cay, where we found our first very nice, remote anchorage in clear, swimming-pool blue waters.  On the sail here the car that holds the mainsail to the boom flew off the end, not for the first time, and the part that keeps it on the boom broke off.  Ryan repaired it.   

On the way here, we caught a fish: a Horse-Eyed Jack.  I made tacos with it.  Very lovely.  We made water today.

Lynnyard Cay is a long, thin island with some pleasant anchorages and a only a few houses.  We anchored off a small beach that had a white picnic table and some plywood tables nailed into trees, also a broken-down platform with a ratty mattress on it, exposed to the rain.  We followed a trail from this beach to the ocean side and spent hours walking there.  I found a lot of small sea-sponges that had washed ashore, and made two leis to adorn our dodger.  I also found an interesting salmon-colored, round float with the words, “Rosendahl, Bergen, Norway,” imprinted on it.

I am feeling a little bit better, but still a bit sick to my stomach and weak.

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