Posted in Saturnius McWhirr stories

Over the bleak whale-road

Bewildered Grebe

A bewildered Grebe in a punk hair-do ducks under the lightly rippled, gray surface of Eagle Harbor as we steam past the green buoy marking the channel. Old Hand heels sharply to port in a sudden gust as the honk of the Bainbridge/Seattle ferry echos over the rolling hills of Eagledale.

It’s Spring, season of departures; when we  succumb to the age-old lure of quest, and deeds of heroism, tragedy or folly are undertaken.  They are the stuff of legend, of epic voyages recounted around the galley table by dreamy minstrels or aged salts over a pint. Something in us is forever departing along the imaginal meridians vaguely descried in youth, over the bleak whale-roads of yore.sailing Old Hand 08 021

There’s Agamemnon’s dramatic farewell and foul sacrifice for a fair breeze toward windy Troy. Oaths hurled into the spray are drowned by the weazy bellows of a fake northerly gale.   A sword held against a blood-red sky by a masked tragedienne brings down the threadbare curtain. It is the ritual re- enactment of the primal leave-taking, when carved gods brooded from the bowsprit, holding vigilant watch while we set out toward the golden isle of dreams.

I too, have sat hungry around those ancestral fires, a villan, hero or common swab, subject to the changeable turns of an unswerving fate.

I haul the main halyards as the mainsail flaps in the freshening breeze. Old Hand hesitates, like a portly dowager lifting her skirts before a pier-head jump, and falls off on a starboard tack toward the red buoy that marks the southern extent of Tyee Shoal.

We hear melodious calls to haul away in the pump shanty’s that float over the troubled waters of time- a theme that has lifted the spirit  of land-lubber and salt throughout the ages.

In Watteau’s painterly celebration of leave-taking, Voyage to Citheria, we see jaded gentry waltzing down a winding path to a moored lighter bound toward the Arcadian isle.

Courses drawn on a yellowed, dog-eared chart mark the departures and arrivals that make up the saga of Old Hand. She recedes forever like a fog-bound light, into the theatical haze of memory.

What am I departing from? I set out before dawn, with only my own noisy mind as mate. The Captain, asleep below, will soon ascend the companionway stairs, glare at the rising swell, shout imperious commands like Gregory Peck, and set the unsteady keel of this narrative on a true course toward an imaginary landfall.  He is the guiding spirit of this voyage, a horn-fisted old coot named Saturnius McWhirr.


I am an artist, writer and sailor in the Pacific Northwest.

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