Posts Tagged With: anchoring

Old Han’s Indonesian Voyage–part 4. I meet the Great Marlow


Soon, having to pump the bilges, I made my way to the back of the Stygian nightclub where I saw a distinguished, bearded gent who sat before an old Underwood typewriter. His gaunt frame mummified in musty, moth-eaten tweeds while his ponderous brows were wreathed in a smokey corona of golden light. On closer inspection, I saw he was merely one of the automated fortune-tellers found in the Batavian Capitol. His face was vaguely familiar. On the table front was displayed a sign which read:  The Great Marlowe. Your fortune 25 cents.
I dropped a coin into the slot. There was a slight sound from under the table which again halted, began again and increased in speed and volume until the music of bellows and steam pipes sounded over a cacophony of grinding gears like the high registers of Saint Mark’s Cathedral organ. The tweedy automaton typed, sputtered to a wheezing halt and ejected a sheet of paper at my feet.
It read:  You will soon meet a distinguished monkey.
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Old Hand’s Indonesian Voyage–part 3

We piled in the skiff and I rowed toward a dilapidated pierhead while McWhirr continued his narration.
“My grandfather also told a darker tale. He said the streets of old Batavia were paved with sorrow, the walls built with the grief of mothers who toiled over an illusory harvest, it’s ramparts manned by desiccated souls who invested all their goods in the virtual fun-house of Mammon.“

We ascended the quay to the cobbled road.  McWhirr’s words had conjured a fantastic image of despair, though, in my green youth, I could scarce fathom the depths of his narration.
McWhirr hailed a bicak.  How this small guy was going to haul us and our seabags in the little tricycle was beyond me. His name was Rubio.  He was a grinning, eager pilot who pedaled like a fiend and navigated Jakarta like some Vasco de Gama of the alleyways.
Rubio brought us to the crumbling, neo-classical facade and we passed through the weathered teak door into the club.  While McWhirr ordered a couple pints I looked around.  A Strawberry Alarm clock tribute band blasted onstage.
Soon McWhirr came with the drinks and said: “Here’s to the Queen.”

I picked up a battered book lying on the table and read:
–And it came to pass that a great swarm of splog descended upon the land and the
soundcloud was darkened with idle slander and empty promises of sensual delights.  Worshippers of the true faith were subjected to the false blandishments of priests and the perfidious purveyors of illusory commerce.  And the once mighty creatives of the realm looked upon their followers and found naught of artistic merit and grew heavy in spirit, seeing therein ought but Jezebelian allurements by comely maids in unseemly attitudes of licentious repose–

“I’m glad I wore my sea-boots,” said McWhirr.
“Listen to this, Captain:”
–And lo, the verminous swarm of splog grew apace, and the goodly scions of the realm gnashed their teeth in anguish, for their earnest, artistic efforts were devoured by the black vultures of Satan. The fat herds of the righteous became but reeking carrion for the voracious appetites of the infidels–
“What fools would steal such windy bombast anyway?” asked McWhirr.
The joint appeared to serve a clientele of wharf-rats and scurvy rum-bots from dilapidated bum-boats.  One smelly clutch of waisters clicked madly at their laptops, their rummy faces aglow in the in the villainous blue light.
“Get this, a real Byron he thinks he is,” said a muscled hulk in a pink tutu.

“Ya really read that BS? “
Asked his mate in a voice  that sounded hollow and grating-like 50 fathoms of hause-fouled chain.
I’d heard of the splog pirates, but thought them mere paranoid tales by rummy tars around the fo’c’sle stove. And now here they were, as big as life, waylaying the earnest efforts of my myself and my literary colleagues like the nefarious ship wreckers luring unwary vessels with false
lights on the storm-wracked coast of Cornwall.

I continued reading:

-The once proud sites of the righteous became barren wastes of vacuous splogs and brazen images of bouncing titties–

“Maybe there is something to it after all,” says McWhirr.

“Aye, Captain. And look what we have now in this rank grog-shop of the internet-a foul lot of brazen cut-throats  who’d just as soon steal your traffic as say how-do-ye-do.”

One such galoot, a skanky brigand with a striped shirt and cutlass, approached the bar next to McWhirr with the slithery movement of a wolf eel saying:

“Eh mates, stand us a pint.”

I hastened to intervene.

“My good sir, may I introduce Saturnius Machirr?”

At this, the miscreant grew pale as an albino beluga and withdrew with an obsequeous bow.

“Most honored to meet you.”

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Old Hand’s Indonesian Voyage–episode 1

The bewitching breezes that had vexed our northerly course along the bleak, rocky coast gaveway to an absolute calm as we steamed into Sunda Kelepa Harbour and brought up under the ornate, lofty spires of Jakarta.  It was as though the anchorage were under the spell of somevengeful deity that held the stagnant seaport in irons– a fitful sleep of waking dream.I gazed up at Jakarta’s towers and heard, high on the ramparts, Rama’s  gong-struck plea to deliver a flute-weeping Sita from Ranga’s jangling curse.  A sword held against a blood-red sky by masked Barong tragediennes brought down the threadbare, red curtain in the ritual re- enactment of the primal leave-taking and arrival; when carved gods glared from the bowsprit, holding vigilant watch against marauders while we were moored off the savage isle of dreams.  I too, have sat hungry around those ancestral fires, a villan, hero or common swab, subject to the changeable turns of karmic law..

.“Skip lively, Mister Spencer.”

The resonant voice was hoarse, as if weathered by eternal watches on the Greenland ice, or worn ragged from hurling oaths into the teeth of a gail.  I flaked out 5 fathoms of chain from the locker with hamfisted elegance.

“Nicely done, lad. Ye’ll be a sailor before long.”

McWhirr is a pain in the ass sometimes. He’s a relic of working sail and can be as dark as Ahab in rehab on a bad hair day.  He stood stark against the red sky like a weathered piling on a  rocky cape.  Light flickered through the dark shrouds, his shadow looming on the limp stays’l behind him, as if projected on a movie screen.  The  harrowing passage through the Sunda Strait had frayed my nerves and I groped clumsily the 3/8ths chain from the locker.

“All right, Mister Spencer.”

I let go the anchor. There sounded a low rumble as I paid out 3 fathoms of chain into the muddybottom of Sunda Kelapa Harbour.

“Have you paid out enough scope, lad?”

“I cast the anchor in 6 fath…” I said.

“Avast, Ya greenhorn! You don’t “cast” anchors. This isn’t fly-fishing! My gorge rises at suchlubberly misuse of sailing language.”

His wrath, like a line-squall, subsided as rapidly as it came.

“Did you know that to raise an anchor you must first let it go?”

“That’s true, sir.”

He always makes these pithy pronouncements like they were scripture.  And, for McWhirr the act of sailing is a religious rite. He hails from Zoroastrian, Quaker stock and, for him, a ship is a vessel to carry his weary spirit ascending through the 7 concentric spheres of corporeality to the final landfall of essential being. He has seen the beatific vision reflected on the sea’s mirror and it draws him ever northward in search of the true face of divinity behind the mask of appearance.

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Of Time and the River


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Endless departure


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Old Hand’s Voyage to Babylon-part 4


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The Saga of Eagle Harbor


Here is a picture of me painting on the old houseboat, Wicca, in Eagle Harbor.  Most of the liveaboards have been evicted since then.  Here is a fine article about the destruction of this once vital community from the online sailing magazine, Three Sheets NW.

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Port Headlock

I’ve been anchored in Port Hadlock for 5 days.  Actually, after being pinned down here so long I’ve come to think of it as Port Headlock.  As soon as I start to haul in rode, a sound rises from the far north, a deep rush of sound that gives me pause, and my hand is stayed from weighing anchor.

Since the Equinox, the weather has taken a nasty turn, with savage gusts from the Austral quarter of this turbid globe cast into the swirling cosmos.  After long, night-watches, I see the gale steam the weather-glass a frenzied, vaporous scene of genesis. The glass is the vessel which holds the primordial spark and the damp, hylic goo of the Prima Materia in a seething, Hylic confluence.  The torn north hangs rain-slanted like a black curtain fallen over the final act of a Doric sea tragedy.

Like I said, it was a nasty storm with gusts to 70.  But now I pace the deck and see over the port beam, young men learning the old shipwright’s trade at the Northwest School of Wooden Boat Building.  A vessel went by that’s based on the old longboat design of Vancouver’s rowing/sailing launch and skipered by a young, pretty lass who calls from the bow with all the assurance of an old salt.  Does my heart good to see the old tradition of working sail carried on by such eager hands.

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The Galvanized Emblem of McWhirr

“ Gusts up o 70 miles per hour are possible.”

The bland, melancholy voice on the NOAAH weather radio intoned the dread prophesy with all the passion of a jaded, Norwegian automaton.

Bagpipes wailed over the anchorage at sundown and the grim sight of the northern horizon almost made me cry.  Clouds billowed white over the eastern Straits while, below, the horizon fell into the blackest gloom that ever haunted the nightmares of sinful, erring tars.

I had read in The Complete Anchoring Handbook that it all comes down to the right ratio of depth to scope of anchor rode.

50 feet times 5 make 250…good enough for a Coney Island swan boat.

I went below to lie on the pilot-berth. After a few fitful gusts, the wind fell into a tentative, uneasy calm.

Let’s see, 5 to 1 in 50 feet times…

“Have you paid out enough scope, lad?”

The bass tones welled from Old Hand’s bilges as from the aged, bronzed vessel of oxidized words.


The angular form of Saturnius McWhirr was faintly illumined by the oil-lamp’s amber glow.

“I cast the anchor in 8 fath…” I stammered

“Avast, Ya greenhorn! You don’t “cast” anchors. This isn’t fly-fishing! My gorge rises at such lubberly misuse of sailing language.”

His wrath, like a line-squall, subsided as rapidly as it came.

“Did you know that to raise an anchor you must first let it go?”

“That’s true, sir.”

He always makes these pithy pronouncements like they were scripture.  And, for McWhirr the act of sailing is a religious rite. He hails from Zoroastrian, Quaker stock and, for him, a ship is a vessel to carry his weary spirit ascending through the 7 concentric spheres of corporeality to the final landfall of essential being. He has seen the beatific vision reflected on the sea’s mirror, and it draws him ever northward in search of the true face of divinity behind the mask of appearance.

“Look at this arm.”

Like some cloaked tragedian in a nautical horror show, he furiously tore his sleeve to reveal the tattoo of an anchor engraved upon his sinewy fore-arm.

“I carry the fouled, cold-forged, emblem of hope engraved upon my soul.”

He leveled his eye at me as thunder rattled the wheelhouse windows.

“Have you any family, Mister Spencer?”


“Do they weigh upon your heart; do you feel their woes as your very own?”

I was too unglued by his interrogatory glare to answer.

“Are you willing to set aside your pleasant, little cruise to do service if called upon?”

“I don’t know if I’d call it a pleasant cruise with this weather.” I said defensively.

“Would ya be able to leap into the maelstrom to save a foe?”

“If I had a PFD,” I answered lamely.

He fell into deep silence. His spectral image receded into the oaken bulwarks of unfathomable woe.

“Then you are no shipmate of mine,”   Said the fading echo of his baritone.

From the infinite distance came a low, thrumming tone that set halyards frapping on the mast. The sound rose steadily to a piercing shriek-as if all the denizens of hell had let loose one frenzied howl of pain.

Old Hand skewed violently in the blast.

I rose from my bunk, put on my foul weather gear and ascended the foredeck.

Let’s see 50 x 10 = 500…that’s 10 to 1…for 85% holding power…

Not bad odds.

Categories: Saturnius McWhirr stories, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Anchor-a cosmology

DSC01780 (1)

Here is a painting of the Vickers memorial in Kane cemetery.

anchor 2 An angelic stone figure holding an anchor stands on a pedestal gazing up into the golden light that filters through the maple trees.

jacobs ladder

Jacob’s Ladder, by William Blake

The anchor has long been a symbol variously interpreted as faith, hope and soul.  But I think there is another level of interpretation.  The anchor and movement of chain as the tide rises and falls is  a cosmological image.  As the tides rises, the circle occupied by the vessel in its revolutions gets smaller until the chain is vertical, and remains, theoretically, in the center.  This movement describes a cone shape.

Single Gyre

The geocentric, medieval image of the universe, though out-dated by Copernican discoveries, has its origin in human experience and is set to the measure of man’s ratio. It is a true cosmology because it defines spiritual co-ordinates  and gives meaning to a world that, at certain points in history, tends toward a state of dissolution, of entropy. This image of the universe reflects a recurring pattern in civilization’s rise and fall,  yearly cycles, and, on the microscopic level, the alternation of breath.

In Dante’s Divine Comedy, the downward vortex where Satan resides at nethermost point of hell, cast down by gravity and the weight of sin, is mirrored  in the ascending spiral of Mount Purgatory.  In the medieval scheme of salvation, this point is the earthly paradise at the mountain’s summit.  Martha Heyneman in her fascinating book, The Breathing Cathedral, likens this spiral to the movement of thread on a spindle.  She sites Yeats’ vision of  gyres, where the  reciprocal upward and downward movement of these vortexes occur simultaneously.  This reciprocal movement is like the souls ascent through the heavenly spheres at death and the corresponding descent of Divine Intellect into the manifest world, of the timeless dimension into the field of time.

In traditional societies, the dead were honored for their humble service, and the relationship between the dead and living was one of mutual reciprocity. We are culturally enriched by such simple gestures of remembrance. The honor conferred upon the dead completes a pact with the living and the departed are helped in their ascent toward knowledge and liberation.

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