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Captain's Log

16 May 1999
41 north, 68 west: Crossing George's Bank

By now , I had hoped to be summing up, reflecting on a long and thusfar successful voyage. But once again the weather took us by the throat, squeezing out all pretensions to philosophy, as it tends to do here in the northern North Atlantic, our so-called home. Whereas in the Caribbean one has the luxury to be fascinated by everything, here the elements squeeze you flat, press you down until you are as grey and monotonous and sullen as the waves that assault boat and spirit; rank upon rank of waves crowding in from the horizon like some ghastly horde of IRS auditors, or the JCAHO itself, that incarnation of implacable idiot bureaucracy. God and Tammy Norie between us and evil! Yes, once again it was eat or be eaten, no romance about it, and we have been eating our way into the eye of the wind since half way across the Gulf Stream, at 37-1/2 degrees north, when the convergence of a large high moving in from the north with a low to the west combined to give us a northeast gale; precisely what we, like everyone crossing the Stream, had hoped fervently to avoid. So we got wet. And once across the north wall of the Gulf Stream into the Labrador Current, cold and wet.

Now it is just cold, here in the middle of this big high from Alberta, but who are we to be talking to you about cold, we who are looking at 2, perhaps 3 days of what feels like winter, compared to the real thing which you are done with? At about noon today the wind finally let up, just as we crossed the Continental Shelf and into 50 degree water. Now it is 3 am, the wind has eased into the southeast at 14 knots and we are moving gently homeward; far from the shrieking and plunging, groaning timbers and spray in the face of 24 hours ago. The diesel heater is humming, rig and engine are in perfect order, and all is well under this great blaze of familiar stars, Mars chief among them and Polaris at 41 degrees above the horizon, almost back to his rightful place. The blessed Tammy Norie, heart of African iroko and ribs of stout english white oak, is moving her 9 tons gracefully now, cleaving the sea into bright green light-foam, her prop shooting a long luminescent comet's tail of startled plankton. The engine is turning over slowly, giving the sails a little added boost to get us in while the weather holds. Lubberly perhaps, but there it is; home calls. The ocean has that familiar dull green color, and the faint fishy smell absent from the more lifeless bluewater of the tropics. And we are again seeing lots of whales and dolphins. It is a sort of homecoming, this return to the waters near where I sailed with my father as a little boy, and where as a cold wet Outward Bound student of 15 I decided that Maine would eventually be home. And with a very benevolent-looking 48-hour forecast, our true homecoming seems not very far off. It is a happy moment, this movement toward home after an arduous journey; certainly I am happier than one has any right to be on this earthly plane of suffering and chaos.

But I am dangerously ahead of myself and begin to wax
philosophical, which will just have to wait till we've dried off a bit more and the phrase "safely home" sounds less like hubris. Never count your chickens--not even Freestyle, famous swimming chicken of the Cape Verdes-- until they are tied up at the dock, or something like. It is still 175 miles to Monhegan. Besides, the midnight coffee is starting to wear off and the metaphors are getting too mixed up to follow; it's time to go below where it's snug and warm, and let Joel's nose get nipped for the few hours until dawn.


Captain's Log

17 May 1999, 0200 EDT
60 miles south of Monhegan

Tonight it is time to say goodbye to the stars. It will be a long time until the next midnight to 4 am watch, when I again have the leisure to watch these brilliant companions in their stately march across the sky, or the pleasure of pulling the best and brightest down to the horizon with the sextant to find our place on the terrestrial globe. Long gone are the southern stars: the Southern Cross; the Centaur with our nearest neighbor Alpha Centauri, Rigel Kent to the navigator. Canis Major, the Great Dog, and his dog star, Sirius, have politely retired, leaving the field and our hearts to our little earthly dog, Teague, who we will see soon. Scorpius is still there in the south, still long and impressive, but with his tail sadly clipped at the horizon. Venomous creatures, so teeming in the tropics, are not permitted here in Maine, by the extended orders of St. Patrick himself, in order that the Irish would have some safe haven in their flight from famine and oppression to the New World.

To the north now is Cassiopeia, that great Westinghouse logo in the sky, reminding us that we are returning to the land of washing machines and dryers, thank god, and isn't it about time for a bit of proper laundry. Mars is out there bullying the rest, no doubt singing "I Did It My Way" in some horrible celestial arrangement. This is a song, by the way, that we have heard in every country we have been, including Cuba, and in every preposterous style and language imaginable--Portugese, Spanish, Reggae,Calypso, even Salsa, for all love-- so we would not be at all surprised to find it had found its way to Mars. After nearly disappearing from our view in Tobago and Bonaire, Polaris and the Big Dipper are back, center stage where they belong. And there to the northeast, the navigational triangle- Altair, Deneb and Vega- which helped us find our way to the Azores, and now are helping us find our way home. How could humans not use the stars for navigation, when this trio makes the task so easy; even at twilight, when constellation patterns are hard to distinguish, they fairly beg the sextant out of its case.

We look at the stars and planets, and think of friends and family elsewhere on the planet looking at the same stars, and other humans back through time looking up at the same sky and making up stories of their own to give it order. Even the names that we use today carry a long history: some Greek, some Roman, some Hebrew, some Arabic. Interestingly, the list of navigational stars is a kind of Arabic Who's Who- Alkaid, Alphair, Deneb, Dubhe, Zuben'ubi- which serve as a reminder that there was a flowering of Islamic learning centuries back; hard to imagine in these days of deranged Ayatollahs and Talibans, with their jihads and fatwahs and oppression of women. So, goodnight moon, goodnight Rigel and Betelgeuse, goodnight Castor and Pollux, goodnight Orion and Canis Major and Procyon. Thank you all for keeping us company, and lighting our way, and telling us where we are.

We'll be back.


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