“Hard to Starboard, mate!”
“Hard to starboard, Cap’n.”
Spray rises over the port bow as we lunge into the wake of a south bound ship steaming past Appletree Point. From below comes a clamor of pots and pans.
McWhirr broods over the chart.
“We should make Foulweather Bluff by nightfall.”
“Would you care for crumpets and tea, Captain?”
“Does the haddock fly? Make it nice and strong. We’ll need it for this night’s passage.”
The light on Sierra Echo buoy flashes a mile off to starboard. I trim sails for a close reach with the wind on the starboard bow.
To the west, above Point no Point, the dark hills of the Kitsap Peninsula stand against a vivid red sky streaked with lime green and violet clouds.
The staysail draws us toward darkness, where sea lions bark from the bell buoy off Foulweather Bluff. We pass the headland, ease sheets and fall a few points to the west northwest. Old Hand pitches in the rut of seas as the wind rises to force six. A burst of spray strikes the jib with vehemence.
“Good job we tucked a reef in the main.”
“That it is.
Foulweather Bluff falls astern. Rain pelts the wheel house window as we pass the rocking buoy and hear, over the wind, the mournful sound of the bell. The confusion of cross seas make it hard to pick out the Kinney Point light off the south shore of Marristone Island.
McWhirr’s face is phosphorescent green in the radar screen’s light:
“Fall off three points to west. There’s a deep draft bearing down from the north east.”
“Three points west it is, sir.
In the lee of Marristone Island, the wind suddenly falls off and we ghost into the peaceful waters of Oak Bay toward the canal. We steam through the cut and open Port Townsend Bay, sailing past shadowy fishing boats moored off Boathaven and drop anchor under the town’s dark towers.
After a stroll on the deck, I say:
“It’s a beautiful evening, Skipper.”
The golden glow of the oil lamp illuminates the hourglass while Saturnius McWhirr scans the chart, compass in his gaunt hand, sweeping vast arcs across the eastern straits. He’s the very image of the leaden planet that circumscribes all our earthly endeavors.
“Best we were under weigh at 0800 hours.”
Though, at times, I am exasperated by McWhirr’s terse manner, we are of one mind about early departures.
An easy swell rocks Old Hand’s crew far into the night.
I wander over the Baja desert. My shadow rises before me as I ascend the moon bleached sand dunes and enter the rickety gate of a graveyard. The air is filled with breezes that tell of lost fishermen who mend starry nets and sing the old Mexican birthday song:
O, Lady Guadalupe
O, Lady Guadalupe…
It was your image, come in dreams, dear father, that set my course toward your dark habitation. I long to clasp your hand once more and learn the fate of our future clan.
Three times I have tried to nail this story. Three times it’s vain words have left me grasping at empty air. Like you I struggle to find expression of an ancient rage. Like you, I transmute the leaden ore of misshapen phrases– these avowals of love from the heart’s golden core