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August 31, 2007

Honorific: Crew

As The Captain steered and navigated us along the Atlantic seacoast and up the Connecticut River, I marveled at our isolation.


No, we were not the only people on the water (although many times, especially in the early morning, it felt this way). We were the only people sailing. Cigarette boats, smaller fishing boats and larger cruisers pounded by, sometimes slowing considerately so as not to pummel us with their wake, but not always. How is it, I wondered, that people seek to escape the frenzy of daily life by transferring the same frenetic energy to their recreation? Everyone we met commented on the "speed" (as in lack thereof) or our humble craft. There we were, two women (egads!) on a tiny boat (one kayaker who stopped to chat boasted his boat was longer than ours by two whole feet!), rejecting modernity's rapidity and its characteristic exertion of control over the environment.

Sailing is a wonder. I was blessed with spectacular weather during my stint as crew for Shemaya's Serenity Sail - a bit of rain the first night (for which we were totally prepared), otherwise sun and the vagaries of wind and current. The second night boasted a spectacular sunset, a full moon and an eclipse! We had nice long downwind sails on Day Two and Three. By Day Three I was doing pretty well with steering - having worked out how to work the rudder to keep the bow pointed where we wanted to go. In the little bit of down time just before bed, we read Over the Edge of the World. "By sailing west until they reached the East, and then sailing on in the same direction..." (p. 2), Magellan and his crew changed humanity's conception of the world. While discussing this as we tacked back and forth up the mouth of the Connecticut River (the first time!), I had a flatearther moment. I don't know how else to explain it; I was sitting in Serenity, with water stretching quite a distance in all directions around me, land rising up on two sides and the Long Island Sound behind...I tried to imagine the magnitude of the shift in consciousness required to reject the obvious evidence provided through the perception of my own eyes: the world seemed flat. I comprehended the world as flat (for all of a second or two, just long enough to register).

Our vessel is a catboat, which means it has one main sail and no jib. I thought it amusing that a Catboat could be manufactured in a Hen series: the smallest version (fourteen by six, with a twelve inch draw) being a Peep Hen.

I'm not in danger of learning any forbidden knowledge anytime soon (in the Portugal of Magellan's day, navigational charts and maps were considered state secrets (p. 14), the Captain told me most nautical knowledge was forbidden to crew on pain of death. Thus was knowledge controlled and linked with power). We got into this conversation because of my intrigue with the rivalry between cosmologists and pilots described by the author of Edge, Laurence Bergreen:

Explorers setting out on ocean voyages to distant lands needed...their inspiration from cosmologists, but they relied on pilots for execution. (p. 11)

The pilots considered the cosmologists "impractical dreamers" while the cosmologists looked at pilots as "coarse men" with "little understanding." (p. 11) I learn some crucial terminology - how long it will stick is another question entirely! The gaffe jaws gave me grief with the throat halyard, and it took me awhile to actually look at the progress of the peak halyard and adjust the gaffe to the desired position without direction. Cleats and blocks still invoke other images in my mind than the parts of the boat they refer to but I was still able to work with them according to their nautical functions. The boom gallows strikes an ominous cord, and the centerboard had a way of drifting into (and out of) consciousness. I did enjoy scrambling around. :-)

On our most mellow day, we ventured into a narrow creek.

That's the view looking back after we entered.


and this shot shows where we were heading.


Yep, there's a curve and what follows is unknown, unpredictable, a mystery, surprise. :-)

We settled into a lovely shady spot with our sail in the trees, tied to a fallen log, and whiled away the heat of the day.

The labor of sailing, however, became clear to me when I got my turn to practice sailing upwind. Once we left the protected shelter of the inland waterway and returned to the Connecticut, the current was with us but the wind agin'. I learned how to tack. This is so different than steering downwind! Instead of aiming the bow to a specific point on the horizon, when sailing into the wind one has to use the rudder to align the sail with the wind. Direction (hence, destination) are secondary to momentum. Muscle is involved with both activities, but anxiety accompanies the upwind "beating to weather" in stark contrast to the downwind state-of-mind.

I did have a deja vu moment as we approached the far (west) shore and prepared for my first tack. That shoreline was "seen" by me sometime in the preceding 24-48 hours. I was pleased by this confirmation (according to personal ontology) of my being-in-the-right-place-right-time-right-path. :-) We sought the best place to position ourselves for the next day's debarkation. Did I or did I not see a turtle poking its head up in the vicinity of the ultimately dropped anchor?!

After the Deep River Jet Ski social club finished their two-hour evening romp around the river, we had a mild evening, buffeted only by the occasional motorboat ignoring the No Wake zone. The moon was gorgeous again - third night in a row! The morning was stunning (as were they all, but this was our last, imbued with a special aura):


You'll have to tell me what you think about our other sighting that misty morn. The zoom on my inadequate digital camera could not penetrate the mist or the distance. Is it possible we encountered . . .


the loch ness heron?

Besides actual wildlife, we were privy (unfortunately) to some harbor drama (lives of the rich and infamous?), which somehow complemented the soap opera of Magellan's travails. One escapes the less appealing aspects of the human condition under no circumstances. Sailing, however, did bring many strengths and pleasures to the fore. Many people stopped to chat when we were at dock or temporary anchorage. The friendliness and curiosity of these men (and - for whatever reason - it was only men who would chat, although women would often wave or grant a smile from a distance) fed my optimism. No doubt they were on good behavior, intrigued by these "girls" and somewhat amazed at the boat itself, a type many of them had never seen.

Posted by Steph at August 31, 2007 12:58 AM


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