Bubbles at the Bow

Entry begun at Comfort Inn, Providence, Rhode Island, Friday, July 4, 7:15 pm

Evanescent bubbles, taut lines, wires, and chains

Evanescent bubbles, taut lines, wires, and chains

After I came up from the hold, and watched another tacking maneuver, we got word that Voyagers who wished to could take turns leaning over the bow to watch our ship cut through the water.  Actually, they advised us to kneel, not lean.  This was a mesmerizing experience I tried to catch with my iPhone and GoPro, but I also took Sean’s advice and made sure I gave plenty of direct attention to simply being present and fully engaged. Those two taut wires running out along the bowsprit above the two chains below them took on a new meaning when Joee Patterson, one of the female crew members, interrupted my reverie by walking out on the wire to make some adjustments to the sheets of the headsails..

Dana begins her high-wire act

Joee begins her high-wire act

This was one of many fleeting moments that passed during the day in a way that is impossible to recreate at the airport now a week after the fact, but whose residue still remains clear and fresh even before I get home to consult the three kinds of images I took on the trip in hopes of enriching this journal as I enter it into the blog: digital camera, iPhone, and GoPro.  Now that I am home, you can see Joee walking out on that one bare wire above the sea, tugging on two of the lines she will deploy in new positions, an act she executes with the grace of a ballet dancer and the fearlessness of a sherpa.  I was fortunate to catch her coming and going with my GoPro running, and have posted the live footage on YouTube..

Dana having a full-body experience

Joee having a full-body experience


Tossing the message in the bottle

Tossing the message in the bottle

Bubbles at the bow naturally evoke the message in the bottle that Sean Bercaw tossed from the Morgan. I think it was in the morning, soon after giving us safety instructions, that he first showed us the bottle with the message within. At some time in the afternoon he thought the timing was right to toss it over the side. I happened to have my GoPro handy and tried to catch it on the fly before it splashed into the sea. I’ll see when I get home if I caught the toss. A little later I asked Sean what message he had put in this one. In addition to the basics (a note identifying the ship, the time, and the place), he had also included that beautiful little letterpress sheet from Mystic’s nineteenth-century print shop, so that anyone who finds the bottle can have an appropriate sense of the uniqueness of the voyage.

Bubbles from the bottle

Bubbles from the bottle

 Having known Mike Dyer so well as head of the Research Library at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, it was a special treat to sail with him. He has a quirky sense of humor at times. For some reason he thought it was really funny when I came up on deck after breakfast, saw a container of lemonade next to the coffee Juls would be supplying all day, and blurted out, “Great. We’ll have lemonade all day.” Mike and I had many opportunities to chat during the voyage, but given how bookish we both can sometimes be, I am glad that we can both now say with Ishmael, together, “I have swam through libraries and sailed through oceans” (“Cetology”).

Peter Whittemore being interviewed by stowaway Ryan Leighton

Peter Whittemore being interviewed by stowaway Ryan Leighton

Peter Gansevoort Whittemore and I usually see each other about once a year, at the annual Moby-Dick Marathon at the New Bedford Whaling Museum in early January, when he is often a featured reader because of his impeccable genetic heritage. He had chosen not to come to the Marathon this year, not wanting to put every reporter again in the position of having to ask him the same obligatory questions, so it was a double pleasure to see him on this voyage. I enjoyed getting caught up with the recent history of the Gansevoort and Melville clans. Most of all, I loved being able to share this experience with one of the persons in the world most equipped to savor it. In the photo posted here, Peter is being interviewed by Ryan Leighton, the official “stowaway” of the voyage.  Peter’s column expressing what this voyage means to him (“Melville’s Spirit Calls as the Morgan Sails”) appeared in the New Bedford Standard-Times yesterday, July 3, the day I drove to the Providence airport in which I am again sitting today, writing this entry as I await a plane, this time to Philadelphia, not Charlotte, on the way to Cincinnati.

Vanessa Hodgkinson descending from mainmast rigging

Vanessa Hodgkinson descending from mainmast rigging

One might have thought that Vanessa, Lesley, and I would have seen each other quite often during the voyage itself after the good time we had together the day before on Martha’s Vineyard. But this happened less than I expected. We were each necessarily somewhat self-absorbed in trying to achieve the goals we had set for each of our projects. Once the ship was under way, there were endless things to experience and try to understand about the ship itself and those who ran it. What I remember most about Lesley during the voyage is how eager she was to climb the rigging a second time after the exhilaration of her first ascent. I had hoped to go up the rigging on one mast while Vanessa was ascending that of another, so we could pantomime one of the masthead arias that Queequeg and Greenhorn sing in Heggie and Scheer’s Moby-Dick opera. But I’d gotten the call to climb the foremast rigging so quickly that I did not have time to see where she was. When I got back down from the foremast, I saw that she was herself descending the mainmast. We had been up at the same time without realizing it.

(I have just now arrived at the departure gate here at Providence for Philadelphia, when the gate attendant has announced that one of the crew members is not yet here but rather on a flight to Providence from Washington, DC, which will delay our departure for one hour only. I found when I got to the USAirways arrival counter why I could not get my boarding passes online after filling out all requirements this morning—the connecting flight from Philadelphia to Cincinnati had been postponed for one hour, then for an hour and fifty minutes, and now for two hours, the good news there being that the one-hour delay into Philadelphia will not not affect my connection to Cincinnati, if indeed I am going to have one.)

Matthew Bullard standing next to Steve White on morning of the sail

Matthew Bullard and Steve White standing on shore before the Morgan on the morning of the sail

Among my fellow Voyagers I was particularly drawn to Matthew Bullard, in part for his receptivity and innate stature as a person, but also because of his decision to leave a fine ancestral background in New Bedford to start a new life out west—the opposite of what I had done in leaving my Puget Sound roots to go to graduate school in New York and then spending the next forty-two years of my life, so far, in northern Kentucky. Matthew’s interest in sustainable energy on both the east and the west coasts would seem to be sustainable for him as both a young professional and as a father, so I am very interested in seeing how his career, and his western quest, will develop.  He is one of several fellow Voyagers who had shared some of my fears about sleeping in the forecastle (especially since he is 6’ 4”), but, like me, did not do that sharing until the ship was under way the next day.

Cassie with her gear

Cassie with her gear

Among the crew members I got to know, either by observation or in person, I’ve already mentioned Jens, Skip, Bill, Sean, Sam, Kip, Rocky, Foreteck, Ryan, Joee, Jen, Cassie, Dana, and Mary K.  Cassie Sleeper, the deckhand who first let us loose from the Sirius, is a Californian who has been sailing tall ships for at least nine years. She has a handy little marlin spike in her tool holster than not everyone has. Her boyfriend travels on his job too, which makes for nice reunions when they are off at the same time. Jen Dexter, like Foreteck, is a formidable force in hauling sails. When we had a chance to chat, I asked if some voyages are better than others and how this one on the Morgan stacked up. The worst ship she had every sailed on was one on which half of the crew were having sexual affairs, always hard for morale, and especially so considering the lack of privacy on board and the brazenness with which some shipmates carried on their intimate relations.

The randomness of conversations you have on a ship is one of the great pleasures. I had very much enjoyed getting to know my mother-rescuing seatmate on the flight from Philadelphia to Providence, but our proximity was possible only because we had been assigned adjacent seats (and neither of us had a chance to speak with anyone else during the duration of that flight). On the Morgan you might find yourself speaking with anyone at any time, depending on what happens to be going on and who happens to be nearby. Some of those conversations are as random and evanescent as the bubbles bursting from either side of the Morgan’s bow as it cuts through the water, each bubble soon to collapse its shape and release its little capsule of oxygen into the sustaining, all-engulfing sea.  “Healed of my hurt,” Melville wrote in “Pebbles,”: a late poem, “I laud the inhuman Sea.”

A few more bubbles and more bright light below the lines, the wires, and the chains

A few more bubbles and more bright light below the lines, wires, and chains


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