Sunday, June 25, 2017

Gray Flash and Purple Prose

As we bear down on the last 800 nautical miles between ourselves and Kodiak, I find my attention divided between mundane observation and the most outlandish wrap-up thoughts.

To whit.

This day that is just ending we passed at the center of a 1034 mb or so high. Absolute crap for sailing, but top marks as a day of decadence, spent lounging around in the greenhouse heat of the dodger. Something there is about a blue sky day that turns your most industrious kind of Protestant into an instant human lizard, happy to sun on a rock while thinking blank thoughts.

The unhappy truth is that we had been freezing our various small parts off for a few days previous, even though we are still well south of the latitude of Seattle, much less Vancouver. Neoprene boots and goat roper hats have appeared on the crew. We made the "that's sort of cool, sort of" discovery that Elias' deck boots still have dried penguin shit on them from South Georgia. So it was nice for us to shed some layers today and take a break from breaking the news to the boys that no, Kodiak will actually be much colder than this.

Elias noticed that even in the midst of that sunny day, the water kept what he called a "glacial" cast. The miraculous blues of the tropical oceans are now, for the Galactics, regulated to that place where god meant Teutonic Americans and Midwesterners of the Lebanese diaspora to enjoy them: as screen saver photographs.

Oh, fudge. "Screen saver." That's me speaking from my 2007 time warp again. Re-entry is going to be so problematic.

By dinner time (thanks, Alisa!) we had reverted to the gray skies at the edge of the high. Baking on a rock on a sunny day may be fine, but there is something about a gray-on-gray sky and sea combo that does make a mariner sit up to take notice. I found myself scanning the horizon, scanning the sea, glancing quickly back at a particular set of clouds to make sure they weren't trying anything while I was looking away. Maybe these gray seascapes put me on notice of the chance of something Nautical going down. Anyway, I'm apparently the kind of guy who comes alive around mother of pearl seascapes. Maybe it's all for the best that we're going back to Kodiak.

And so, instead of the blaze of a tropical sunset, the day ended with the sun just sort of collapsing into the wet blanket of clouds heaped on the horizon. "No more green flashes for us," observed Alisa. "Gray flashes from here out."

Well-meaning folks have occasionally asked if we have any concerns about returning to land life. There is one that I will easily confess to: that of immediately getting swept up into the chase-your-own-tail swirl of everyday life, so that this decade of full-time sailing just fades away, without us having the time to properly ruminate over everything that came to pass from that one wild-eyed act of selling up and sailing out just after our firstborn joined us.

This is where the purple prose comes in. This afternoon I was sitting in the sunny cockpit, enjoying the Captain's prerogative of an Atlas beer from Panama while coding away in R, the computer language for data analysis that has become the Esperanto of 21st century ecologists. Suddenly I found myself taking a break from my joint problems of noisy data and complex hypotheses in order to fire up a Word document and record How It Feels, this particular moment in my life that has me as close to Ulysses as I hope to ever come.

Unfortunately, my impression of How It Felt at just that moment had me yammering on about a fire that burns hot, about a desire to get out and know this world of ours in the least abstract way imaginable. And while I might not know where that desire might lead me, I do know by god that it's a desire that I would ignore at my own peril.

That kind of stuff. I blame the Atlas beer.

But, for all that this quick scribble was not-ready-for-Cruising World type stuff, I felt the glimmer of insight in there somewhere.

There is a part of me that feels like a wild-eyed, wild-haired lunatic riding back to Alaska on the bow of our little ship, completely transformed by two lifetimes' experience packed into a single decade. Alisa and I have played it very straight on this trip in a lot of ways. For my part, I've stayed gainfully employed for about eight of the ten years, I did my PhD, and I've managed to be a no worse than average sort of dad to our two boys. But for all that, we've been living these ten years on the bleeding edge in important ways. Alisa and I set off to follow our dreams, knowing in advance that we might dream in a vivid, Patagonia-in-winter sort of way. As a result, for days or weeks or months at a time we have been living in the arena where our seamanship and our love for each other and our willingness to meld entirely into a single, single-minded unit are tested in their ability to keep the family safe and prospering and pursuing happiness on the high seas, or in some southern frosty fjord far from anyone else at all. It has been a tremendously fulfilling way to live, and like most long-time sailors who are returning home, we look forward a little nervously to belonging to a milieu where we can't share an unspoken bond over that sort of experience with our peers. 2000-0000 watch is rapidly drawing to a close, so it's time to wrap up these late-night musings. A prize has been set for the first Galactic to spot an alcid, that guillemot-murre-puffin-murrelet tribe of continental shelf seabirds that will be our first notice that we really Have Arrived, even if land isn't yet in sight.

I'm putting my money on Elias to win the prize.

This post was sent via our high-frequency radio as we're far from internet range. Pictures to follow when we reach internet again. We can't respond to comments for now, though we do see them all!

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  1. When you collate your (and Alisa's) ten years of blog musings into another book Mike, Barbara and I will be the first to buy it. If your command of R is as good as your command of the English language, it's hardly surprising that you have remained gainfully employed throughout a decade of amazing cruising. Cheers from NZ Maid

  2. Perfect timing, Mike. All the black swans flying around the Global Ponzi should crash land sometime this October. I wouldn't sell the barky just now! Here's hoping the demand for scientific information isn't tied to the flight path of the Orange Tweeter. Unless of course your scientific number crunching has to do with quantifying the amount of guano produced by Our Bald Headed Leaders.

    Anyway, welcome to what the girlfriend and I used to call "The Land of Grey." And like you, when it comes down to it I prefer green mountains with snow covered peaks to sweltering in the most beautiful of tropical settings.

  3. I'm very grateful to have been vicariously along for nearly all of your adventure. A sincere thank you for the ride and insight. I hope the wisdom you share continues past the point of reaching Kodiak. Safe landing.