August 4, 2011
“Have you ever wanted to do something for so long then suddenly found yourself doing it?”
Sanding, painting, varnishing: casting off. Sailing on Flathead Lake as a kid with my grandfather I loved hearing of his Pacific Coast cruising a variety of home built boats. Montana boy me dreaming “I must sail the San Juan Islands,” that’s exactly where I am. And I’m exploring them aboard a classic square rigged tall ship. Forty days now aboard the Hawaiian Chieftain; “Two Weeks Before the Mast” just wasn’t enough. Welcomed to continue on as a volunteer topman, though I may never be an amazing hand-over-hand rig monkey like some of my crewmates – Tyler and Maple Syrup – but I don’t need to be. Mine are more simple joys. “Welcome to my home. Yes, I do live here. I’d love to take time and share with you this heartbeat passion’s steady silence binding such a beautiful asymmetric kaleidoscope of souls into nothing less than honest family.”
Exhausted after the first 24 hours boarding in the midst of Westport Pirate Daze, I started wondering why people do this; it’s so much work. Looking out our aft cabin windows that evening our neighbors eternally convinced me; a pair of playful harbor seals not a heaving line away. Cruising upriver to home port Aberdeen. Taking my school kids to visit last year, and they walked away in utter amazement that inside that big blue shed, virtually in the middle of no-where, Black Pearls get built, the Lady Washington now hallowed ground to any true fans of Depp or Bloom. and as Chieftain crew I get to shoot her (with blanks) every weekend. Unleashing “Lady Killer,” the dark deck gun does its dirty deed echoing off Lady’s hull the skillful precision of both our gunner and our crew. Battle Sails are far from staged, aching palms the evening’s reminder: “Yeah, that was a great sail today.”
The crew skylarking, watching fireworks aloft from the yards, and two days later it was transit time. Quickly sea stowing gear below deck, there was nothing to see topside either. Gray fog, grim channel markers, a growling bar crossing swells guarding the river mouth from the open ocean, it took four hours before I finally found out, “Yes, I do get seasick.” A tough 22 hours up the unseen coast rounding Cape Flattery into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, away at sea appeared a dim light. Quickly closing getting brighter by each bell, the four of us on watch soon envied in mile apart wonder, “She has private staterooms.” “And Jacuzzis.” “And all you can eat buffets.” “And can go twenty-plus knots when we’re struggling to reach eight,” me adding in silent angst, “and I bet the cruise ship has sea stabilizers.”
Sailing into Anacortes, literally realizing, “Yes, I like boats again,” picking up our youth camp kids and cruising the San Juan Islands I couldn’t help laugh at the girls on Stuart Island shopping, stopping mid-hike going through “honor system” t-shirt boxes. And exploring Sucia Island, young teenage boys constantly exclaiming at the sandstone cubby holes, “Wow, this would be a great spot to make out.” A few weeks later, laughing no longer, it’s scary realizing I’m suddenly an old hand teaching new crew to furl sail aloft when I’m still figuring it out myself. Purple sunsets high in the rigging, our Peter Pan shadows cast nimbly across the sails seem almost wasted on transient volunteers, only making goodbyes that much harder; such defining moments just beg to be cherished together. I wonder now how long I’ll have to wait before they finally are.
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