Almighty Neptune, ruler of the seas, please look kindly on thy good ship, Luna, and protect her and all who sail on her wherever on your oceans they may go.
And so began our second southern voyage with a bottle of champagne (proseco, actually), provided by our friends, Diane and Charlie Gottlieb, and drunk as a toast by your captain, the Commander, Carol Hanley, and able first mate, David Watts. David kindly agreed to accompany us through the Champlain locks to Catskill, NY, where we would re-step Luna’s mast before continuing to New York City and south. Of course, we poured a healthy libation into the sea (Lake Champlain in this case) to ensure Neptune’s favor.
This would not be the only time we invoked the divinity in the early stages of the voyage. We kept a wary eye on hurricanes Irma and, right behind her, Jose, as they coursed inexorably toward the Leeward Islands, where some sailing friends keep their sailboat (St. Marten), to the Bahamas where other sailing friends are stranded in Georgetown waiting for the heavy wind and rain to stop so they can get home to Canada, to Cuba, and onto Florida. As Irma aimed toward south Florida, I prayed it would turn westward and not northward and eastward up the east coast of the U.S. and into our proposed path.
Actually, truth be told, I also prayed it would score a direct hit on West Palm Beach and take out Mar-a-Lago before it turned west. Mar-a-Lago, of course, is the Palm Beach home of current U.S. president, Donald Trump.
From the Gospel according to Al, added to the Bible by the human survivors, none of whom was white, in A.D. 2200:
“Thus saith the Lord:
Blessed are the explainers, who maybe could help me out with this one: I spent 6 days working day and night, creating the heavens and the earth, the animals, the plants, the lakes and rivers, and seas, the forests, and you, mankind. To you I gave dominion over all the rest. And then you make this, this white monstrosity, this tacky monument to greed and self interest. Tell this to me, O humanity: is this the very best you could do?
Humanity, into the air you put all sorts of carbonated gook that threatens the beauty of the Creation and all the work I did and the gift I gave you. And, lo, did I not send terrible storms and floods and wildfires and earthquakes as a sign for you? As a warning? (What more do you need, shit heads? These are signs more clear than locusts, frogs, boils, death of first born, burning bushes, and the rest) And what didst thou, the leader of the free world, do then? You walked away from the Paris Climate Accord! You arrogant twit!
And so, Mar-a-Lago sanketh beneath the surge of the great storm at last.”
Of course, my mother also lives in Palm Beach County and has elected to shelter in place, hopefully to weather the storm. Would I sacrifice my own mother just to score a few political points and to save the earth and all life as we know it? I imagine her hunkered down in her house, darkened even in mid day by the closed hurricane shutters. In the run up to the storm, they didn’t have any more bottled water in the stores, so she has gallons of iced tea on hand. She doesn’t fear the storm so much, but hates the idea of the alligators and snakes that come up out of the flooded ponds. On my dear mother, would I wish a direct hit by Hurricane Irma?
Naturally, I couldn’t wish for that. But I know what she would do: She would say, “Bring it on!” She hates the bastard.
Fortunately, my mother survived the blow. So did Mar a Lago. Irma passed to the west and caused more serious flooding to Florida coastal towns further north before turning toward the west and fizzling out over the southeast. We were relieved, to say the least, but the feeling was greatly tempered by the thought that here we were, worrying about our trip, thankful that Irma altered her course when all along the track were people rendered homeless and worse by the disaster.
Our friend, Krista, said it best. Hers is Harmonium, her and Phil’s Island Packet left down in St. Martens. To paraphrase, “It’s just a boat. Just a thing. Our hearts go out to the people on that island and hope for their safety.” Well said. Luna is just a boat, and worrying about it (and ourselves on it!) is a first world problem of first degree.
But yet. But yet….There is something about Luna. Something about any cruiser’s sailboat, I suspect. She is a she, which confers a degree of personhood right there. She demands a measure of loving attention, freely given, and in the bargain, we believe she agrees to keep us safe. She brings us to beautiful places and experiences of pleasure and excitement. We get to know her every sound and vibration, and we can trim her sails by the sound of the wind playing across them and by the way she heels and lifts when the sails are set just right. She is friend. She is family. To lose her would not rise to the level of pain felt by those who lost nearly everything in the storm. But it would hurt. And our thoughts and hearts go out to all those who are worried about their boats tonight.
How is it that mariners refer to their boats in the female gender? There are theories of course: “She” invokes the spirit of the earth mother who protects us. Oddly, women were felt to be unlucky shipmates aboard sailing vessels of old. This probably had more to do with the unfulfillable sexual desires of the male crew members on very long sea voyages and the jealousies that would ensue from a very skewed male to female ratio. So early sailors carved elaborate female figureheads and referred to the ship itself as “she” while lavishing their attentions on her as a shared group hug.
Enforced on occasion by a harsh master too quick with the lash.
The most plausible explanation, and the least fun, is that early indo-european languages, as Latin, ascribed a gender to any object. Thus, in Spanish, a boat is barca, the feminine form. As the English language developed, it added a gender-neutral pronoun, “it,” but to the ancient sailors, their boat was “she.” I understand that Lloyds of London now refers to boats as its. Pity. Who’s to protect them when they are out to sea?
As Irma’s track skewed away from the east coast, we were on the Hudson River, anchored near Catskill Creek where we spent a rolling evening with the shifting tidal current and passing barge traffic.
In the meantime, the Commander and I could walk into town where we shopped at a delightful little specialty shop for fresh produce and cheese. We also walked up to the supermarket, and I even got a ride to Ace Hardware with Richard, our boat neighbor, to fill our propane tank and then to Walmart for some other stuff. Great little town, Catskill.
With the replacement of the mast, we cemented our commitment to continue on as planned. Fears of Irma lay behind us. But, then there was Hurricane Jose, circling around in the Atlantic, of uncertain course, but suspected to head toward the mid-Atlantic states in a week or so. Back up the anxiety level. Back up the heightened awareness.
What is it about this hurricane season that is so terrible, yet so full of irony. Imagine Jose in the middle-Atlantic region of this country, blowing up to Washington, D.C., knocking on the White House door, and saying, “Hola, señor, I am Jose. Do you think you can build a wall to keep me out? You arrogant twit.”
We left Catskill at noon, planning to sail down to Cape May and up the Delaware River to the Chesapeake Bay before Jose got to the east coast. We could wait out the storm in the streams or nooks along the upper bay if necessary. So, we filled the diesel tank and spare water jugs and fuel cans on the way out and took advantage of the last of the outgoing current to anchor about 25 miles downstream in a nicely protected spot behind Esopus Island.
We intended to leave a little before slack current the next day to ride the full extent of the ebb down toward New York City, but we woke to dense fog. We waited about an hour, and departed as it cleared slightly, the Commander navigating with GPS course plotter and auto pilot and me, blowing our trifling fog horn one long blast every two minutes. We raised a radar reflector up the mast as an extra precaution.
Fortunately, river traffic is light, and we hugged the side of the channel away from the center where the large river barges go. The fog cleared to a lovely sunny day as we passed West Point and were treated to the beauty of the scenery in the Hudson River Highlands. In the meantime, Jose appears to be remaining harmlessly out in the Atlantic, away from the U.S. coast.
We anchored for the night just north of the Tappan Zee bridge, about 20 miles upstream from the city. We’ll spend a few days in Manhattan, and then, as the wind is forecast to turn from south to north, we’ll head out down the Jersey coast. That is, barring any reports of new storms coming our way. For us, and all those impacted Irma and Jose, we’ll say a prayer.