14 November, 2006

A Berth in Opua_________

At rest. The boat hasn’t moved, and neither have I if all be told. Willy is gone. He hoped on a new friend’s boat, a little 31’ and headed south to the call of culling sheep and hooking some trout.

Since he’s left I’ve slept a lot—trying to reacclimatize myself to my boat again. That is the longest I’ve had a roommate in many years.

I’m doing the most serious cleaning of Araby since I bought her. But my heart isn’t totally in it yet. My head is stuck in a book, a series really: “The Dark Tower”. I am almost finished with it. Seven books; I am on the last. It is hard to put down.

What am I really writing about?

What I really want to say is thank you. It has meant so much to me to receive letters from you all. I avidly look forward to reading them, feeling some thread of connection to my old “lives’. You all carry me through, help me to think better of myself, give me a face in my mind that I wouldn’t want to disappoint.

Sometimes I have to dig and scrap deep for motivation. Anyway, thanks.

I won’t be sending these emails as regular for a while. I’m going into hibernation for a few months, I think.

My boat is where it will stay through February, here on a linear dock in Opua. (Not so different from the linear dock I left in Port Townsend.) I am cleaning everything thoroughly ‘cause she’ll be on her own for a while.

On the 25th my friend Martina flies into Auckland. Martina and I met on a train from Chamonix. I was confused and asked her if she thought I was on the right train. We talked briefly and I somehow extracted her email address from her.

That was, what, five, six years ago?

We haven’t seen each other since. We’ve written back and forth, growing more frequent as the years have passed.

Now we’re going climbing and “tramping” around New Zealand together for a few weeks.

After that, it is home to see the family and to attend to personal affairs, watch the ducks fly.

Mid January it is back to Araby and, hopefully, by then I’ll have a plan of what is to come. Part of this upcoming tramp is to scope out harbors in the South Island that I may want to reside in for the coming winter.

I want to be near the mountains. I need to write.

Really, after the last passage and the intensity of the dreams I had then, I am a bit nervous. The exhilaration has worn off and now I am left with the gravity of what I saw.

Is it real? And worse: Can I really do that?

I am frankly intimidated. It was so exciting to see these images so clearly, see them like they are real—but because they look real the effort of achieving them is veiled. Because they look real, there is no question of whether I can or I can’t—it already is!

But now that all has passed and I am left haunted by what I have seen. I walk forward timid and a bit confused. Where do I start anyway???

This is neither here nor there, just something I realized on a run this evening. (I need to get in shape. The mountains here are BIG).

The point was to say THANKS. And to say I was going on sabbatical.

To be continued. . .

"Houses are but badly built boats so firmly aground that you cannot think of moving them. They are definitely inferior things, belonging to the vegetable not the animal world, rooted and stationary, incapable of gay transition. I admit, doubtfully, as exceptions, snailshells and caravans. The desire to build a house is the tired wish of a man content thenceforward with a single anchorage. The desire to build a boat is the desire of youth, unwilling yet to accept the idea of a final resting place.

It is for that reason perhaps, that when it comes, the desire to build a boat is one of those that cannot be resisted. It begins as a little cloud on a serene horizon. It ends by covering the whole sky, so that you can think of nothing else. You must build to regain your freedom. And always you comfort yourself with the thought that yours will be the perfect boat, the boat that you may search the harbors of the world for and not find."

by Arthur Ransome

06 November, 2006

New Zealand__________

Safe and sound across the Pacific. It feels so good, sitting here, tied up to a dock for the first time since San Diego. No more passages for a while now. I can sit back and relish it a bit. No fear for what’s waiting around the corner. The season’s over. Now to land. Now to the hills. Soon to home and family and food and fires under the pecan trees, stories to tell and here.

This passage was quiet. High pressure prevailed and moderated the winds and quelled the seas. We did slow days. Jumped in for a bath when becalmed—eerie swimming in 15,000 feet deep water. But it felt great, like an astronaut floating in space.

When we were moving fast enough to fish we did well, catching skipjack and tuna mostly on this trip. Lots of sashimi and seared tuna breakfasts.

What made this trip special, besides having crew and having that crew being my brother, was actually the result of a gear failure—a major one at that. After a few days out the windvane broke a weld and the servo-paddle just fell off (it was tied on from the bottom with a small string—so it didn’t drop the 15,000” to see Davy Jones)

I thought of JB welding where the weld failed—it would be the only solution. The pipe has to rotate in another tube, therefore no thru-bolting. But the odds of it working were so slim.

So I decided to make use of my crew and hand-steer the boat, like the heathen pirates of old!

If you’re not a sailor you may not realize how little time is really spent behind the tiller or wheel these days. No one steers anymore. Autopilots are the rule. Or windvanes. Coming in or out of anchorages and through passes are the only times most people take over from the machines. (This is not always true, of course. My friend Tilikum would always steer during her shifts.) I do occasionally, but not often enough.

This trip was different.

It was wonderful to be at the helm. Suddenly, instead of being able to hide behind a book or under sleep I was forced to stare at the horizon, watch the sun rise and fall, watch the moon slowly wax toward full night after night after night. Four hours at a time.

Steering a boat can be very meditative.

Before leaving Vava’u, I had some amazing conversations with two great new friends, Ben and Lisa on Waking Dream, about lucid dreaming (waking dreams). We talked about the future, how fortunate we had been in the past and how we had come to be where we were. It was a grand time and put me in a place of contemplation along with meeting Trevor on Iron Bark.

Now, sitting at the helm with so much lying just beneath the surface of my thought, it all erupted. Each shift I could dive into dreams and find things I’ve forgotten or overlooked for some time. I laughed and laughed at the things I’ve overlooked in life and how they could come back to me again, here, now, in the middle of the ocean.

I spent 10 days this way. Laughing at myself from the helm. Plotting out my future, imaging different routes and exploring them. Sacrifices and pleasures.

It is hard to explain how liberating this passage has been, how clarifying. I feel as though I’ve shed many heavy garments with the onset of spring. My spirit is lighter for it.

This is what made the trip special.

Otherwise, we had dolphins near the Bay of Islands and two whales as well. The real pleasure was watching the sea birds day after day. They are the most graceful fliers I’ve ever seen and Willy agrees as well. I can’t be sure what they were: boobies and petrel—maybe terns. We had some albatross occasionally and they are a true sight to behold. They don’t look quite real; unworldly. Wonderful to have around. We watched them endlessly.

We were very lucky to have no storms. We paid for it with calms.

We had a high number of failures: windvane, main halyard (no surprise there), autopilot (again), main sheet shackle hinge…..there were more that slip my mind. But we arrived safe and that was the goal, ever the goal. The rig saw us through and now she can rest a while. Now comes a time of recovery, slow work to make her look new again, loved and professional—not all hacked and half-assed as she currently looks. Now I finish the jobs properly. Now I have time, plenty of time. I hope to stay here in New Zealand a long time.

So that is it.

Actually, the most exciting part of the trip happened today after we had arrived. Will and I were sitting on the porch of a seaside restaurant having a celebratory beverage. There is a ferry that shuttles cars across to another island just next to the restaurant on one side and a long quay juts out on the other. (Imagine a small narrow horseshoe. A restaurant and a ferry landing at the head, anchorage in the middle.) So we are sitting there and I notice the ferry doing a sort of doughnut, or maybe a three point turn in the middle of the very small anchorage. A bit odd yes, but I didn’t think about it. We were talking; Will was rolling a cigarette. Then I noticed him doing it again.

What the hell? “Willy, what’s this guy doing? This is his second one?” Will hadn’t noticed anything yet. Now the ferry had our attention. As he came around he slowed a bit and then looked as if he’d straighten out and head out of the anchorage. And just then he’d veer again. And hard.

“Holy shit! He’s gonna hit. Oh my god.”

Then he’d goose it and just miss hitting a boat on the dock, a friend’s boat as it were, turning sharply. He didn’t make it this time. “THONGG” He nicked off one piling and crashed hard in to the next one.

It was out of control. Again he straightened up. But just a bit. He had slowed. There was wind. He had to go. And then he’d mysteriously loose control. It was terrifying. He came so close to wiping out a little red powerboat at anchor that we couldn’t see how he hadn’t hit it.

Again, he came only several feet from another catamaran on the wharf. Mere feet! Before slamming into the piling along side it. (Those people had sailed that catamaran all the way from Europe, crossed the Atlantic, the Caribbean, and the Pacific—only to get sunk here in NZ by a ferry boat!!) They were so so lucky.

I think the ferry made six suicidal doughnuts in the anchorage. Hit no boats! Before getting it together and pulling into the landing. The captain was met by a roaring cheer from the small crowd on shore.

As it would happen, one of the two engines had failed, there making him turns circles. Doesn’t make good sense to me, but I’m not a ferry boat captain. But it was one of the most terrifying things I’ve seen in ages. Seeing something that massive so out of control. . . I was damned glad to have my boat far elsewhere. It was an hour and a half before I was calmed down again. Seriously.