In which we see no whales

The sailing was, in fact, a lot of motorsailing. Because of the threat of weather, we tended to hammer along with the four lowers set, and a shallow reef in the main – this is enough sail to steady the ship in rougher seas, and add an unexpected bit of speed to the engine power, but it is also enough to feel relentless and loud when it keeps going. We again spent the first two days in the Gulf Stream, so all our forward motion was augmented with a steady 3-4 knot shove from that. This part of the trip we did not heave to, and did not move inexorably north, completely sideways, at four knots. Instead we forged ahead more or less due north at, generally, roughly seven knots. There was one day where wind and current combined to get us to nearly 9.5 knots without the engine, which was deeply gratifying. Honestly, everyone perked up and was pleased with themselves that day. It mostly made up for a pretty miserable previous day where two of us got massive migraines, and the ship was pitching and heaving and wallowing in the crossing seas of winds from the north roughing up the current heading that way.

The Gulf Stream (did I say this already?) is a ridiculously lovely clear blue-purple color. I was deeply grateful to the instruments in the lab, and I got so attached to them that the science staff taught me how to do the hourly reports. I can say with authority that the Gulf Stream is substantially warmer and saltier than the US coastal waters, and that there is less Chlorophyll A in it than in coastal waters, and that the planktonic load is lighter. I got one of the visiting specialists interested in the edges of the Gulf Stream too – and we were watching the instruments and looking back over the readings trying to find where and when we’d left it.

This is where I admit that I had thought of the edges of the Gulf Stream as being much more definite – in/out, yes/no, here/there. And what was brought home to me, and what I think will inflect my thinking a lot about the work I want to make about the Gulf Stream, is that everything in nature is a gradient. There are nearly no hard lines. I was talking to the Center for Coastal Studies man and musing about lines in nature and my own words teaching about GIS came back to haunt me: raster tends to be best for natural phenomena such as elevation, rainfall, etc., while vector representations are generally manmade things – political divisions, roads, power lines – OR manmade distinctions, like contours in elevation. I was looking for a line, a manmade distinction, and what we traversed was a gradient. A very steep gradient, but it was still sliding between one thing and another.

This reminder about gradients rather than hard lines has opened a whole new way of thinking about representing the Gulf Stream in the pieces I am planning – I am awash in notes and theories and it feels exciting.

This morning early I was awakened by a large noise, and went on deck to try to see what our approach to NYC looked like. From fifteen miles out, it looked like a field of oil tankers – I could count ten in the pre-dawn light, and there seemed to be more ship IDs on the plotter. NYC itself was a hint of glimmering lights juuust over the horizon, and I am still not clear what I was looking at. As we approached the Verazzano narrows, we pulled in behind two oil tankers headed to NJ for processing. While we were in the channel we were overtaken by one of the Evergreen fleet (yes, I was absolutely hoping it would run aground) and it was reported that when asked how he would like to meet (the polite terms at sea for “which way ya going?? Ahead of me or behind me?”) their captain replied “you go one side or other, I take middle” and they steamed past us at an astonishing speed.

We pulled in just in time too – a north-easter is brewing, and it is cold and wet and rainy – better to be in Brooklyn than on the high seas. Even better to have new long underwear to keep me warm for the next leg!

More Sailing!

The Schooner Lewis R French, a (floating) designated national landmark, takes passengers around Penobscot Bay in Maine. I made my entire family come (both kids, one kid’s partner, my partner… I would have brought my mum too, but she made do with meeting us for lunch after and debriefing us) and we had such a nice time! The crew was competent and charming, the cook was skilled and also didn’t poison any of my allergy ridden family, the scenery was gorgeous, and our fellow passengers were delightful. We had ridiculous good luck with the weather. I would rate it 15 out of 10, would do again in a heartbeat.

Some intrepid souls swam, insisting you got used to the cold after a bit. We ate absurd quantities of lobster on a beach one night, and watched the tide go out. I waded around and found hermit crabs of all sizes, and some other scuttling crabs, and some tiny nearly transparent shrimp (all remarkably difficult to photograph). We cranked ice cream by hand, and whoever was cranking (only two minutes) had to tell about a thing they’d done they didn’t think anyone else might have done, or recite something. We got some excellent tales, about bats, and seeing the Red Socks (unexpected, in that the individual hailed from Australia). I recited The Owl and the Pussycat. Aerin and Jared chose bits of Shakespeare. One person talked about climbing one of the tall construction cranes, which sounded equal parts glorious and insane. It was an excellent way to introduce people in a kind of stealth fashion – a social engineering win.

And now we’re home again and I am lightly sunburnt, having washed off layers of sunscreen, salt water and bug dope, and pleased to be in my own bed again.

Source to sea

I live close to the Connecticut River, within the Connecticut River watershed. The river, and the valley it runs through, is the arena for a lot about the things I do for fun, and has been since I came out here as a grad student in cough*1983*cough. We have paddled sections of the river from Bellows Falls VT to Northampton, MA. We have hiked all the marked trails (and several unmarked) on the edges of the valley, stopping at places where the view is good for a picnic. We have ridden bicycles over most of the roads between Brattleboro VT and Granby, MA within the valley, and from the eastern border fault to the western hill towns.

What I have never done, and what I have thought about for a long time now, is paddling the river from the beginning to the end – source to sea. The Connecticut River Conservancy has a page of people who have done similar things, either in one fell swoop or in sections. This is the summer I am going to work my way down the river, by boat where possible, in a boat of my own making when possible, from the top to the bottom, north to south, well spring to Long Island Sound.

I am definitely going to have to do it in sections. I’ve invited a friend to come along as well. She writes, and has summers off, so we can do a fair amount in parts of July and August. The next thing is to decide how exactly we want to do this – we need guidelines, and goals, so we’ll know if we are doing roughly what we mean to be doing.

I’ll write more, as it becomes clearer what we want to do.

Trip Report April 21-26/27

Thursday morning started with an email from SEA World Headquarters saying something had happened in the Seaman’s rig and it needed attention. We would still gather at 2:00 pm on the ship, and stay aboard until something became clear. I also got a phone call to make certain I had read my email, and they were still expecting me.

Participants straggled onto the dock, and onto the Seaman’s deck between 1400 and 1500 hr. After rapid covid tests to ascertain we were healthy, we were allowed to take our gear below and stow things. We mustered (there were a lot of bad puns about mustered on the quarterdeck, and relish the moments and take time to ketchup) and heard the actual news. The tang where the forestay attaches to the foremast had a large crack in it, and it needed to be cut out, replaced, and certified fixed by the Coast Guard. The hope was that it could be done in two or three days, leaving us some time to actually set sail. The worst case was that we’d be dockside for the “trip” and figure out other things to do. 

The participants were a mixed lot. We had a couple guys from the earliest days of the program in 1972, then me, then a handful of people from later on with the old ship and some from the newer ones. In my bunk alley I had someone who sailed in 1980 and did microbiology, and a guy from the early 2000’s who had been a student and then deckhand and asst engineer, and graduated to work at Space-X doing non-destructive testing. He wound up being a great resource for the people looking at how the tang came to be cracked. Everyone had a fascinating backstory, it was pretty cool. 

We spent a long day Friday doing basic stooging about and orientation things, and also spending a lot of time staring up at the guys trying to drive the cherry-picker so they could reach the rig. Towards afternoon, there were tours of the lab, the engine room, and a talk on current and proposed programs for students. Seeing the newer technology fitted into a purpose built lab was delightful after my memory of being wedged into a corner of an after-thought deck house with everything sloshing about. The engine room was an enormous maze that existed under the sole of most of the living space – there were two generators, a main engine, an auxiliary engine, a watermaker/desalinator and some additional bilge pumps. It was not a quiet ship! The generator was always going, driving fans and ventilation and also the fridge (for some reason called a reefer on a ship), freezer and hardware in the lab. 

Saturday morning it became clear that the repairs would not be accomplished before we were due to leave the ship. At that point, participants began seeping away if they had other places they could go, or things they wanted to do. I wanted to stay on the ship, in part because I like staying on ships, and in part because the community was compelling. The trip was declared a Port Stop, a very loose watch schedule was established, with no assumption that participants needed to be awake if they chose not to, and Monica was named Cruise Director in charge of Amusements. A handful of vans were rented to take people indifferent directions, and many plans were laid.

I went first to the Bishop museum, a curious place with Victorian era collections bearing a more recent gloss of multiculturalism and a valiant attempt to talk more about how the island had functioned before being colonized. There was also a paper mache whale, with the skeleton visible from the near side, and a bunch of very dusty and moth-eaten birds hanging in the center of the larger Hawaiian Hall. The part I found most engaging was the special exhibit of Polynesian tattoo art, including some of the families that had practiced for centuries and the patterns they had developed and handed down. 

We ended the day with a glorious sunset, shown above.

Sunday was declared a free day for everyone. Crew organized themselves into two vans and went one one direction, participants organized themselves into two vehicles and went another direction. We stopped in Hale-Iwa for smoothies and to admire a bridge. We then went further north along the coast to Shark Cove, which was actually an extremely large tide pool, roughly waist deep, filled with tourists snorkeling for the first time, and about fifteen fish; one very large blue/silver one, four smaller yellow, white and black stripy guys and a small flock of thumb sized silver ones. Mostly what one saw underwater were people’s legs, or other people snorkling towards you. Every couple of minutes, a large wave would break over the rock reef along the outside edge of the pool, and it would look like waterfalls, cascading in. A food truck lunch was delicious, the fish tacos spectacular, but also utterly unlike Capt. Jack’s. 

In the afternoon we travelled a little farther north to see the Pipeline, a classic big wave beach where we watched surfers. We were forbidden to go in the water there because it was frequently so hazardous, but we found out later that surf season and whale season overlap and both were finishing up. 

A pair of brothers who had left the ship the night before had found a small boat for an evening sail, and I managed to tag onto them. Saturday afternoon found us on a 40’ trimaran captained by a very well travelled individual who had grown up in Marion, Mass, and sailed back and forth across the Pacific in this boat and also all through Polynesia. The first thing he said was that he’d almost bought Westward, which brought a roar of amusement from all of us, and we spent the trip swapping stories about boats and sailing and captains and ports – just that connection would have made it a very fine sail, but we also had perfect weather and saw whales and a flying fish and an albatross and a red footed booby and a shearwater and a sunset. The whales were humpbacks, here for calving and then back to northern waters to bulk up again. The capt and his crew had recorded some of the whale “songs” and were playing them for us, identifying different voices. One was a baby, babbling… there would be some adult warbling and the babby would sing “woo-hoo!” and this repeated a couple times, getting funnier each time. We finished the evening at a moderately fancy restaurant, and discovered the waiter knew Captain Porter, and more stories ensued. That was a very good day. It fulfilled my internal requirement that I spend some time ON the Pacific ocean as well as in the shallows of it, and we did sail, and sail happily.

Unfortunately the all the sun on Sunday gave me a migraine Monday, so I stayed on the ship and ghosted about, thinking about quiet things. The metal fabricators came and cut off the tang with the crack, a very heavy-duty piece of metal. I did help with the provisioning – a Sysco truck arrived with boxes of things to be refrigerated, and we lined up and got them onto the ship, out of their cardboard and into the reefer as quickly as possible. I put some paint on canvas, and stared at the water, the port and the idea of ships resting before heading out to sea. We finished Monday night with dinner for everyone at a local restaurant, hosted by SEA. We ate like kings, and were riotously funny. I skipped out a little earlier, with some of the crew, and slept early. T

One of the best things I did while I was on the ship was sign up to stand a watch. At dock, everyone takes a single hour watch, to keep people off the ship, and do a boat check. Boat check is exactly what it sounds like. A trip up and down the decks, checking on dock lines for chafe, making sure the anchors are still there, that there’s no fuel in the cofferdam, the lab cooling is working and nothing is leaking or spilling water or fuel or noxious chemicals on the deck. Then below to check for leaks in the heads and showers, make sure everything is turned off in the galley, no extra water in the bilge, especially in drystores. Finally the engine room, checking on the outputs from the generator, temperatures for anything running, water in these bilges, and that the watermaker is running properly. I signed up for the 1-2am hour each night, and got a chance to stumble about the ship in an official fashion. Even better, I got a chance to visit quietly with a different member of the crew each night. It is a good hour for just talking, and I felt grateful to these people for letting me share their time. They said they were pleased to have company. The watches were some of my favorite moments. 

Tuesday we were fed breakfast, thanked and sent ashore. Some of us didn’t have places to be until later in the day, so we were allowed to leave our gear on the ship. I explored a little bit of the terrain around the docks – a very different part of Honolulu than Waikiki! – and was invited to lunch with Peg Brandon, current SEA president but also past captain, past head of marine operations and also for a different interim, head of Maine Maritime, and the two oldest past students. We had a funny lunch talking about Westward, and how things had changed just from the very first trip with Cory Cramer to the time I went, and later, Peg’s experiences as a student and then in charge. 

The last shuttle from the ship took me to the airport, and the rest is just complaining about flying these days. I had seven hours from Honolulu to Chicago (arriving at 6am) then a layover and my flight to Bradley, arriving at noon Wednesday. I slept that afternoon, slept most of Thursday, and managed to get up at a reasonably civilized hour Friday morning, whereupon I sat down to write all this. 

In short, it was a very good trip; even if nothing actually went as planned, nothing was as bad as I was dreading either. The participants were uniformly smart and interesting, the crew was delightful, the ship relatively comfortable, and the entire process was definitely an adventure.

Trip report – April 20

I applied zinc white to canvas this morning, in the form of paint lightening almost all the colors of the landscapes I am seeing. I might need to do a series on palm trees, because I am smitten with them. They are not trees, they are giant grasses with no sense of scale or dignity, designed by Dr Seuss. I am collecting photos for that project.

In the mid-afternoon I applied zinc white to my skin to keep from turning an unappealing and painful pink, and I dipped myself in the Pacific. It was lovely.

I met up with another person on the SEA trip for supper – John Page – from W4. I am (now) officially not the oldest or creakiest person on this trip, which feels like a stupid thing to be relieved about but I am. He’s a nice person, and we swapped stories over poke bowls before heading off in different directions for sleeping.

I join the ship tomorrow at 2 pm – and I don’t think I have email from then until the 26th. If I get to write a blog post, I’ll let someone know, I promise. And I will attempt to write down the high points of the trip, for one last email when I get back.

Trip Report – April 19

Today I took a trolley around the south end of the island and up the coast to Sea Life Park. This was a curious personal pilgrimage where several pieces of my past intersected.

In middle school, I gave up on lunch and went to the library, where I attempted to read my way through the fiction section alphabetically by author, starting with A. I got to W, and a book by Philip Wylie called The Spy who Spoke Porpoise which made an ENORMOUS impression on me. I reread it later, and all the parts that mattered most to me were about the park and that was a tiny sliver of the book itself, but a huge part of it took place at an unnamed sea life park outside Honolulu, of which there just are not that many. Like, one, exactly.

A couple years later I found a book by Karen Pryor called Lads Before the Wind which was about establishing Sea Life Park on Oahu in the early sixties, and how she learned to train dolphins, and also, incidentally, ponies, children, seals and sea lions… everything except otters. If you can find the book, I recommend it highly. It turns out Karen Pryor is Philip Wylie’s daughter, and he was visiting and so impressed with the training process he made it a central part of his spying book.

Karen Pryor went on to write a book for nursing mothers, (which I read when I was nursing because while it is natural it is not at all intuitive) and then about six different books on how to clicker train dogs and cats and horses, and all the other things. Her techniques have been used by every animal trainer who wants their animals to work with them and not against them. I used clicker training to teach one horse, in particular, to put her nose on something terrifying in return for a peppermint. I don’t know how many things she decided she could act worried about and then put her nose on for additional peppermints,  and I don’t care, because the process helped a lot with deeply terrifying things like mailboxes and trashcans.

So I went to Sea Life Park. It was kind of wild seeing it through the lens of these three older experiences. During each show for the public, the presenter talked about using operant training to teach the animals what they needed to know to be taken care of, and to keep from being too bored. It was fascinating to see how profoundly this philosophy was still embedded in the park, long after Pryor left. It was started in 1963, and is still going. Next to Sea World it is small, and quaint, and definitely runs on a shoestring, but it also has a lot in a small space, and a truly fabulous view  anytime you look out off the coast.

The taller, lumpy island visible off the coast is called Manana, which is also the name of a tall, lumpy island right next to Monhegan. I thought the parallel names thing was unexpected.

Trip Report – April 18

I found fresh fruit for breakfast. Accompanied by two waffles and some ice cream.

I am thinking I was looking very approachable, or very tired, or secretly wealthy, because I was accosted by a man with stunning cheekbones and no pores, and told I needed to use some under eye thing, (and called gorgeous, which was a trip) which was carefully applied only under one eye, so I could tell the difference later on. The nice (and also gorgeous) young lady applying the glue wanted to know what my “usual routine” was and when I told the absolute truth and replied “nothing, really” she asked “busy or lazy” (which I am still wrapping my head around?) and was so disconcerted by my telling her I did not care that they never once told me the cost of the secret solution, and let me amble out without further incident.

I took a sketchbook and a bathing suit to the beach, but I only used one. I couldn’t quite figure out the logistics of leaving something on the beach while I swam, even though I had a towel from the hotel, and also it was a very high tide (Hawai’i has tides! New Info!) So I attempted to sketch three views of Diamond Head, which is scenic, but also none of my colored pencils are the right color – they work for Maine!

A restaurant called Basalt provided dinner, preceded by charcoal colored? flavored? Hawaiian sweet rolls, which tasted no different. Also a gin thing with some jalapeno in it, and two appetizers with All The Flavors, including some Hot.

My mental map is broken. I am completely certain I am facing north, but the sun is in my eyes, or I finally suss out east, and the setting sun disagrees with me. This happens every time I sit down to figure out which way is, well, anything. The streets are fine, I can navigate my way from my hotel to most of the walkable things, but when I decide I have it figured out? I do not.

The moon is GORGEOUS. The ocean is a lovely and ridiculous color. The stars, in between the small puffy decorative clouds, are stunning, although they will be better at sea. There is a steady north-east wind, so it is a lovely temperature in the shade, and the palm trees rattle in a very tropical fashion. It feels very far away from everything else? and still utterly American, but also the proportion of non-white people makes it feel different – faintly foreign, or not entirely absorbed.

changing your point of view

Anyone walking over the bike path bridge this afternoon found a pair of humans with a lot of neon green parachute cord and a neon pink water proof case with a phone in it, giggling madly. My friend Matt (new to blogging, doing some interesting things with card stock construction) and I tied my phone in a pink water proof case and tossed it dropped it carefully off the bridge as close to the river as we could. We got it down near the ice, and near some open water off a different section of the bridge, and even right into the water in one place (it was dark. And not at all clear what we were looking at).

We made a couple videos too, but they have a lot of extraneous motion and are hard to parse. Also they take to upload.

Seeing the underside of the bridge, seeing the river up close, seeing the ice, and the surface – all those made me think about the river a little differently. Which means I can make some new art based on a different point of view.