Monday, June 29, 2009

Sunday, June 28, 2009


                                                                Mr. Cedar.

Each tree is an individual just as each person is, but it is easier to consider each separate specimen as a part of a general class. Cedar trees for example.

Just across the field below our house is an average sized red cedar tree, perhaps ninety feet tall and as many years old. It`s base is typically buttressed, it`s trunk tapering up to a fine thin tip. Along the way branches hold feathery leaves up to the light. Nothing special, that is until I look at it as an individual and see the subtle variations that separates this one from it`s fellows.

Like any individual, this tree has it`s personal history, the chance events of storm or drought that somehow spared this particular tree while condemning others. The chance that dropped it`s seed here along the streambed to prosper rather than onto the rocky outcrop nearby. The chance of placement and size that had me choose it`s neighbour for lumber instead. Here it stands, still swaying in the breeze, it`s branches full of a passing flock of birds. The chancy life of a specific cedar tree.

When I occasionally visit a ‘big box store,’ I see humans as a herd browsing it`s way along the aisles and know myself to be part of that general class of beings, drawn here for much the same reasons. They, individually, like me, have had a long succession of chance events through their lives that have spared them up `til now - ridiculously chancy happenstances that have no real logic to them except as in statistics of the many.

So, Mr Cedar, we are more alike than might first appear: we belong to the most important class of all: survivors up `til now!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Amazon Adventure # 31. The Blue Peter.

                                                                Bay #1. Stocking Island.

A sandbar forms a hook to enclose the first of Stocking Island`s harbours and it is here that the kids played volleyball and had a bonfire party with their friends. One day we had Amazon pulled up to the shore and I found a yellow piece of rubber sticking out of the sand. There was something familiar here and with a mighty heave I dragged Hippolyta`s twin from it`s (not so) final resting place. I could not stir up much indignation at this form of disposal because I had often contemplated some nasty deed to our own dinghy as she had long had a persistent leak in a valve which meant that we paddled half deflated much of the time. Compared to the natty Zodiacs driven by our neighbours we were definitely declasse. My background is not in surgery but it is in making do, so it was the work of a moment to cut out the valves from the body and shovel it back under the sand. Later I performed a transplant with rubber glue on Hippolyta and it was a great success! I still had another valve as a spare part just in case we needed some more surgery on the way home.

All good things come to an end and after goodbyes stretched over a couple of days we finally got our propane bottle filled and started the long journey back up the Exuma chain.


‘Amazons forever!’ The Blue Peter was fluttering in the northerly breeze as this was departure day from Stocking Island, our home town for what seemed like ages. Chris and Lisa from ‘Set Free’ came over for a final goodbye and then we motored out and through the harbour entrance and got sail up. Wind then shifted east and then north east. We were close hauled and kept motor sailing as we were bucking into a chop. Finally at Soldier`s Cay we found a pass and were back in sheltered waters and floating on white, shallow water. Gwyn was navigator today with Heather`s help and it was quite a job keeping track as Amazon wove through islands, sandbars and reefs. The wind was now NW.

We decided to follow the ‘deepwater’ route through the Piblicoes to avoid the shallows we had skimmed across on the way south. We rounded a rocky corner and glanced down to see the sand bottom had come up to meet us after all. Soon, bump, bump, we were aground on a hard sand bar two miles off shore. I jumped over and pushed for a while until we finally were back in deep (five ft.) water again. I was steering with the tiller between my knees and the Cruising Guide in my hands as we crept along the channel to Farmers Cay and a cove for the night. Nine hours, 40 miles, 4.5 knots average.

                                                                               Pushing Amazon.

Tonight the sun set at 6:00 and the moon rose at 6:02. A very bright and calm night. The roosters in the settlement started crowing at 4AM.   Bill.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Amazon Adventure #30. A normal school day at Stocking Island.

Sailing in the harbour with friend Cris, from `Set Free'.

All the young people who are out cruising with their families are an interesting bunch. When sailing, they are an important part of their crew and take watches, navigate, and generally share in the family adventure. They relate to all adults straight across -person to person. They also have regular schoolwork to add to their duties and their aim is to see how efficiently it can be done so as to enjoy the afternoons off with any friends they might find along the way. This adventure story of ours started with the children in the Swallows and Amazons books by Arthur Ransome and our desire to have a Carribean sailing adventure just like them. We watch our children becoming more and more skilled and self reliant like the crew of the ‘Wildcat’ in the story ‘Peter Duck’.

Around noon each day, the VHF radio lights up as plans are made for the day and soon an inflatable dinghy will zoom alongside and the two eldest will be off for an afternoon`s adventure. Anne tells the story of a fishing expedition out to the reefs on the ocean side of Stocking Island.

While her sisters are out to play, Gwyn gets help with her homework.

From the journal:

Elaine, Aaron, Chris and I went off fishing “oceanside” of Stocking Island. We went through a narrow cut, -lucky it was high tide! Out we went bashing through the waves. We counted at least 13 other rafts out there, I bet there would n`t be any more fish or crayfish. Saw Mark off of ‘Sea Rogue’ he told us there was n`t anything on his reef so we tried another one, and another one etc.

They finally got a medium sized Crayfish. Aaron spotted it and Chris shot it with his spear gun. Aaron`s aim sucks!

Tried two or three more reefs- they got chased by a barracuda. Exciting! Went back to the reef where they caught the crayfish. They found a huge grouper -15 to 20 lbs. Got four spears into him and he flattened himself against a rock crevice. After an hour they finally got it up. Now I know how tiring holding spears is - I dove down to get the spears - 8 to 10 ft. Ugh!

Headed home but this time the tide was low so we surfed over the coral on a wave crest otherwise we would never have made it. Got back, did homework, went to bed. Anne.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Building Bridges, and Corkie at the Bridge - a tale of heroism and self sacrifice.

The wing bridge: the curved form looked like a birds wing, so why not fledge it!

Building Bridges.

Have you ever noticed how so much of the richness of our language hangs on expressions incorporated into it in the past. What happens when the population using them no longer have any real connection with the original experience? All those Biblical metaphors stemming from a five thousand year old pastoral and farming tradition, - a lost sheep for example. What about all the nautical expressions that are meant to give vivid images to the language but which are just so much extra freight for modern people. We are ‘between the devil and the deep blue sea’, yes, but what exactly does that mean and how alive is it if I have never caulked that particularly difficult seam on a ship`s hull? There will be ‘the devil to pay and no tar hot’!

Recently I built two bridges across our seasonal stream and as I hammered and sawed, mixed and poured cement I was experiencing the reality of the expression we use on a casual basis: ‘building bridges’ between opposing opinions, tribes, points of view. Well, it turns out that the reality, like the metaphor, requires a fair bit of sweat and creativity. It imagines first and then works with the materials at hand to convert them into a new and useful structure to serve the people on both sides of a divide.

The concrete and masonary bridge with Corkie standing guard.

Corkie at the Bridge.

A while ago we were browsing through the local thrift store and while I waited for Heather to select her purchases I casually glanced through the used stuffed toys shelf. The usual collection of mindless, fuzzy, characterless stuffies. Squeezed in their midst was a sorrowful looking brown fellow who was definitely of a different breed. The prices was a little confusing: was he a one dollar critter or an expensive five dollar one? On such considerations lives can hang in the balance. Off the shelf, into my arms, and up to the counter where the lady at the till told me a sad tale.

There was a woman who had a very bad drinking problem and she also had a dog. The dog, in an attempt to save his mistress from herself, would force himself to lap up her drink when she was past noticing. For a while he managed to save her from an alcohol overdose and keep her alive but at a terrible cost to himself as you can imagine. This was taking ‘man`s best friend’ to a new dimension, but in the end the story ended unhappily but predictably. The woman died and the dog went to new owners. What a terrible load of sorrow and guilt this dog must have carried on his furry shoulders. Life is cruel a lot of the time and the most difficult burdens to shed are the ones we place on our own shoulders.

The new owners soon noticed something odd about their noble but sad pet. Whenever they opened a wine bottle by pulling the cork, the dog would come running!

“Yes”, the cashier said, “ That is a true story, and that will be one dollar! “Ok”. I replied, “Then we`ll call him Corkie”.

Corkie now lives with us and he is an ideal pet/companion, if still a little serious and apt to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders. ‘Corkie at the Bridge’ for example: we know that he set himself up there to guard the bridge just like in ‘Horatius at the Bridge’: to be a guard dog. He is trying to find a new noble sacrifice that he can perform in his new setting. Even though there are hungry cougars around who love dogs to bits we let him do this - let him transfer to this new role. We suspect that his fuzzy brain will not be able to retain the old sad story once he has his new persona well established. No popping corks from wine bottles though, ever.

* ‘Horatius at the Bridge’ by Thomas Babington Macaulay

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Amazon Adventure # 29. ‘We shall go rejoicing, laundering away.’

The Georgetown dock where we bought our fruit and vegetables.

The spit. Stocking island.

Heather has been dreaming of an island that we could settle down at for a while instead of constantly moving on, looking for warmer weather and inexpensive local fruits and vegetables. The girls have missed contact with other young people and wish to make up for lost time. I of course have become addicted to a new voyage and new horizons every day but we all find Stocking Island and Georgetown a good place to be for a while.

The Journal.

What a nice day! A relaxed morning. We all went overboard and washed ourselves. Heather did a major clothes wash. She washes on deck in saltwater using dishwashing detergent in a bucket. Tosses each piece to us. We rinse it in the sea, wring it out and toss it back where Heather gives a final rinse in a small amount of fresh water. Anne is so efficient she becomes our ‘Speed Queen’! The family that launders together stays clean, smells good.

We take Amazon across the harbour to Kidd`s Cove ( That`s Captain Kidd to you.) in Georgetown and wade ashore through the shallows to shop and explore the very clean friendly town. There are so many yachts in this area that we are all the main economy. We fill our water jugs from the park stand pipe.

Back across the bay to anchor beside the beach near ‘Thor’ and ‘Gambler III’. The girls go running off into the distance on a gorgeous beach. I clamber up a hill to get a photo from a high place of Amazon and the other boats. A monument on the top. What a view. Beautiful beaches, excellent harbours and miles of coconut trees. Then bang come the mosquitos. We pull off the beach for the night. Bill.

The three linked harbours of Stocking Island.

Feb 1st.
We went kneeboarding on the ocean side of the island [ with a whole bunch of new cruising kids] Met some French Canadian people on a catamaran, girls name was Avril. Me, Anne, Cris, Aaron and Lisa went to play volleyball. Got back to the boat at 6:00. We were anchored over a blue hole kind of thing with a cave and sergeant major fish in it. Me and Anne went to ‘Set Free’ for a movie. Got back at 10. Elaine.

Today we woke up beside a big cavern. Fought with math and mom for an hour or so and then we headed for Georgetown. Mom and dad went shopping at the fruit warehouse -lots of bananas, grapefruit, Bahamian pumpkin, but no oranges. All at prices we can afford. ‘Malakai called and Aaron came and picked Elaine and me up and we spent the day watching Eddy Murphy`s ‘Delirious’. Great movie! Walked around town and got a ride back with Cris and Lisa. Oh no! Got our wires crossed - we were supposed to be only one and a half hours, not the whole day! Anne.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Amazon Adventure #29. A dash for Stocking Island.

                                                                                     The Cut.

From the journal:

Jan 29.
Family conference first thing. We all decided that as we were so close to Georgetown and Stocking Island ( 30 miles) and with the wind favourable in the NE we might as well make a run for it. We left Cave Cay under the puzzled eyes of some plastic yacht people. Don`t think that they ever understood that we preferred to anchor shallow and rest on the beach for half the night. That would be their worst nightmare.

The wind was gusty and strong as we left under the genoa and sailed along a shallow winding channel marked on the chart. There came a point where to follow the channel would mean a big dogleg so we turned right and crossed a big sand bar. It seemed only a few inches of water with sand and small coral lumps under our keel. We were going like crazy through the water but a strong tidal current flowing the other way made us slower over the ground. - just as well!

The wind went more into the east and slackened after lunch so up went the main. We really zipped over the shallows in the gusts. Eventually we exited into the open sea through a narrow cut in the hope of finding more wind and had to start the engine when we drifted toward the cliffs. We kept motor sailing along the coast in steep seas. A wave suddenly broke nearby on an isolated rock and we edged a little farther out!

The wind increased as the day died and Georgetown was still a long way off. We were surfing along in a race with the dark. I worried about breaking waves at the entrance channel just like happened near Little Harbour but in the end we followed the chart and slid across the shoal section with no problems. We were then in a final race for the bays of Stocking Island and I had never seen Amazon go so fast! Just when we thought we are at top speed we transitioned in a flurry of foam and rocketed forward. Amazon is heavily laden with all our family and supplies so she is wet when bucking into the waves, but here in the sheltered lee of the Island at last, we could carry sail that would lift a hull if we were not so heavy!

We groped our way into the bay by spotlight and found many boats at anchor. Two anchors out, a line ashore, quick, up with the tent and down came the rain. The rain stopped before bedtime so down with the tent and I got a lovely night`s sleep under the tarp. Bill.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Water Music: composition.

                                                                                     Water Music.

The red maple foliage, three blue irises and the spray of irrigation water were all backlit by the afternoon`s hot summer sun. The mist of water rose and then fell, constantly renewed. I got to work with my camera shooting from different angles, with different shutter speeds and apertures. I knew there was something here that was important and I was casting my net wide in the hope of bringing it in for closer inspection.

To my eyes, the water droplets had been a blur. Later, on the computer screen, some of the faster shutter speeds captured a dance of light cris-crossing across the evocative colours and forms: for all the world like a kind of musical score transcribing the sweep of colour and form. What I had discovered was a composition that could express itself equally well as image or music.

I`ve always been aware that somewhere in my brain, images and sounds are tied together. A piece of music starts a flow of shifting abstract forms and colours moving before my inner eye and a scene like this one hints at sensuous equivalents in sound . When these lines of water appeared as a kind of notation stitched across the colours and shapes, it was really to be expected that I would understand them as the score for this afternoon of hot sun, emotional colours and flowing water.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Amazon Adventure #28. ‘It`s bitter in the Bahamas.’

                                       Out to lunch at a boaters get together.

We visit with other yachties at a beach party and begin to experience the international and friendly inter-reliance of the cruising community. We stop to stock up on supplies at Staniel Cay and freeze overnight on the beach at Cave Cay.

The journal:
Today we woke up, ate breakfast and did homework. Yuck! Russ/Thor and Jim/Gambler came over and invited us to lunch over on the beach. Russ, Pat and Jill came over and took Gwyn with them to the beach. A guy came over from a boat from England and asked dad and if he knew anything about electricity, motors and junk like that.
Then we paddled Hippo over to the beach. We had an interesting conversation over lunch with people from all over the world and then we hunted for shells. Some of us got rides home but Anne, dad and me paddled Hippo just about as fast. Elaine.

Jan 28th.
Mom and Elaine went snorkeling, mostly to wash their hair but I convinced them to go look at a little reef as well. They washed their hair alright but mom started giggling as soon as she put her snorkeling stuff on, - laughed and laughed etc. Finally dad hauled her up on deck (beached whale) and she laughed some more.

We decided to get going without motor -what do you know it worked - sailed down the harbour through all the boats. Passed the English guy -he thinks his motor is charging his batteries now ok. Headed for Staniel Cay passed the Thunderball Cave Cay which does n`t look interesting from the outside but I`m sure is terrific inside. Passed another Wharram cat,’Smile Orange’. He said to come and visit him but we said we would on the way back. Staniel is very clean just like people told us -bought some groceries including frozen milk. I wonder why so far noone else has thought of it. No ice, so used milk instead in our ice box. Stopped by ‘Smile Orange’ again, had some tea. He is headed for Jamaica but does n`t have crew.

                                    Smile Orange and Thunderball Cay.

We headed for Farmers Cay but decided to go further to Cave Cay. Got there, almost dark. Passed yachts that tried to warn us that it was shallow inside of the dredged part of the bay. We just waved, zipped by and beached on the sand for the night. A cold wind, good for sailing, but for night? No way! Bundled up, and started homework. Elaine and I did ‘Communications 3', - pretty fun!

Mom and dad took the tent down and bundled up for the night. It`s strange to get burnt by day and then freeze at night. ‘It`s bitter in the Bahamas!’ Anne.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Amazon Adventure # 27. Elaine saves the day.

 Disaster averted.
The wind shifts overnight and morning finds us beached in the shallows with a west wind blowing breaking waves into the bay. We push off, swing and hold Amazon so she is pointed towards the entrance. We have to be slick about our exit through the waves and between the two jagged rocky points on either side. We plan to start the engine, jump on board and pick up the last anchor on the way by. As we pass by, the anchor resists, the line tightens and we are swung across toward the rocks. Yikes. That would hole our quarter inch thick plywood hull for sure. Heather gets the engine in reverse just in time, Elaine jumps overboard and gets the anchor. We point Amazon out toward the entrance once more, jump on board, and this time we crash through the waves and away! Now, with the wind coming from the west we sail down the east side of the island chain in one long lovely downwind passage keeping careful track of our position as we pass beside the islands.

          Sailing south down the Exuma chain.

The Journal:


The wind was great and we enjoyed it more than ever. We made 25 miles from Hawksbill Cay to between Little and Big Major Cays near Stanial Cay.

By the way, we saw ‘Puffin’ today but no ‘Anticipation’! Anne got a hold of ‘Thor’ on the VHF and we are anchored beside them now. Anne and I went snorkeling. Anne thought she saw a barracuda. A lovely fish there! Now mom is making bread and chilli and frogs eggs (tapioca) and apple sauce for duff (desert). Dad`s asleep and we are spacing out. The wind is blowing a little. Hope no more. Good night, Gwyn.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A whir of wings.

I am late this year gathering next winter`s main lot of firewood. The forest floor is full of Spring flowers and ferns - Calypso orchids and Trillium sparkle amid the dry twigs, the fresh leaves of salal and the swathes of vanilla leaf. It feels strange to be thinking thoughts of chainsaw destruction now in this time of renewal rather than in midwinter`s frozen stasis.


                                                                             Vanilla leaf and trillium.

I carefully bring down a couple of dead balsams so they fall with shattering crashes through gaps between two Douglas firs and onto the mossy knoll we call Cat Hill. Brief moments of shattered tops and flying limbs. I rev. the saw before I shut it down, my usual message to let Heather know back at the house that I am still alive, and then slip the hearing protectors up onto the sides of my helmet and the screen from my face. In the sudden silence I hear the whir of wings as a hawk pulls out of a dive somewhere above the forest canopy. A brief riffle of sound; it catches me. I could try to analyze the relationship, to understand why this confluence of season, destruction and bird of prey resonates so, but I let it go free. Whirrr!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Amazon Adventure # 26.Skimming the shallows to Hawksbill Cay.

Amazon off Hawksbill Cay.

South down the Exuma Chain.

The shallows. The black shadow that moves is a ray and not a coral head.

From the journal:
As things go... a good sleep. Warm and dry. Still tired from yesterday. The let down from a stressful day`s sail. We decided to motor south against the still strong wind in the lee of the island chain. We were looking ( as usual) for the shelter of a GOOD LEE - a precious commodity. We passed over some very shallow banks -touching on occasion - saw a big ray - we thought it was a coral head until it moved off. We found the creeks of Shroud Island to be too shallow and with low banks so continue on to Hawksbill Cay.

More shallows with small coral heads that were difficult to see against the sun but crystal clear in our wake. We pulled into a little bay beside a high ( 40 ft.) headland with a cairn and post box on top. We found a posted message from the Islands Trust ( part of a national park) inviting folks to help slash out a trail across the island. Sorry, no cutlass.

As the tide rose we were just able to tuck into the little bay (creek) for shelter. Hope the wind won`t shift into the west tonight or we will be exposed. Two anchors out and a line ashore. Raining, big tent up. Everyone doing schoolwork. Bill.