Thursday, May 1, 2014
Ten Reasons I’m Excited about Writing on a Windjammer
Writing on a Windjammer is an event with award-winning author, Pam Houston, on the historic Maine schooner, Isaac H. Evans. More at http://fairwindswriting.com/.
I know I’ve been focused, perhaps overly focused, alright maybe mildly (or wildly) obsessed about the Sep. 30th through Oct. 3rd 2014 event, Writing on a Windjammer. Here are ten reasons why:
Reasons 1-5 are obvious. I’ve written about them before, but here’s a quick recap.
1) Pam Houston. She’s a talented, award-winning writer and a damn fun writing teacher. I love her work, and I’m thrilled she wanted to teach on a boat.
2) Captain Brenda Thomas. She’s been a hero of mine since she bought the Evans. She’s been a friend for even longer. I can’t wait to sail with her.
3) The Isaac H. Evans. Every boat in the Maine windjammer fleet is a treasure. I’ve sailed on three; I hope one day to have sailed on them all.
4) The coast of Maine. I fell in love with the stunning, rocky, and rugged Maine Coast in fifth grade on my first visit to Camp Chewonki, which I wrote about in another post called Far and Near.
5) Community. Bringing people together who love art and adventure just feels right, and there are some opportunities so unique you don’t have to think; you just have to say yes. I wrote a post about this too—about “saying yes.”
Reasons 6-10 delve further into why I’m smitten with this upcoming adventure.
6) Reason number six? In a word, lobster. Every Maine windjamming cruise features a lobster bake. I worked on Maine windjammers for two summers and spent a third summer as an intern at WoodenBoat Magazine in Brooklin, Maine (they have a weekly lobster bake for the boat school)—so I spent three summers eating lobster at least once a week. Even that wasn’t always enough. On occasion, the captain would buy too much lobster, and we’d end up with a handful left over. My galley buddy, Kim, had infinite patience and would pick the extra tails, claws, and bodies clean to make lobster dip or quiche. One week, she still had too much and called me over and handed me the meat from two lobster tails and insisted I eat them.
“Are you sure?” I asked.
“I’ve used all I can. Don’t make me throw them away.”
That was all she had to say. I hid in the back corner of the galley/saloon and devoured the lobster like a wild raccoon.
Years later, I returned to Maine after far too great an absence. I’d been living in the Pacific Northwest, where I’d gorged on salmon and oysters but hadn’t eaten lobster in years. I pulled my rental car into a roadside restaurant with window service and bought a $10 lobster roll. I was by myself, so I drove down the road and pulled off at a park with an empty baseball diamond—and as if I thought someone would steal it from me, I furtively ate that lobster roll (just like I’d eaten the lobster tails in the galley). The taste was beyond good; it was criminal—food so good you feel you have to hide it.
7) Lucky reason number seven is stargazing. My first summer on a windjammer, I remember sprawling on the fantail of the Nathaniel Bowditch during the Perseids meteor showers with Gib, our captain, and my galley mate, Kim. We were anchored far from the nearest city. There wasn’t even a small town within view. Only an occasional house light was visible through the woods, and the sky sparkled like celestial caviar across the dome of our vision. We lay there, bundled in hats and fleece because the night air was chill, and we watched star stuff flash across the night.
8) Reading, writing, and talking literature is reason number eight. When I worked on the windjammers, I kept a journal, which I’m currently trying to find. But our days were so exhausting, I typically scratched out a page or two at best, mostly about crew gossip, cross-boat flirting, whale sightings, and being tired. Some nights I tried to read, but inevitably the book would hit my face a few lines in. I’d give up, put the book on the shelf, roll over, and try again the next night. By the end of the season, I’d feel starved for reading. I remember tearing through everything Maya Angelou had written in two days. Even before season’s end, I’d find myself toting books and journals, sometimes to the lobster bake or while up on watch, but the lack of time and physical exhaustion of our days made my efforts more about carrying literary stuff with me than actually getting into it. When the season did end, I’d binge on books and writing as if I’d been on a word diet. I’m beyond excited that this time, reading and writing are on the menu! We’ll be reading Andre Dubus III’s book, Dirty Love, before we sail, and we’ll be writing, talking writing, and sharing writing with each other and with Pam Houston throughout the trip. The only thing better would be if Andre Dubus III were coming too, but there’s always next year.
9) Reason number nine has to do with what Pam Houston calls “glimmers:” things that arrest the senses, adhere to memory—experiences that won’t go unnoticed or unremembered. For me, being on a big traditional schooner is all about glimmers because the very fact of being there forces a new view. Life on a windjammer is different from modern life on land, and being aboard offers a chance to experience a range of new perspectives. One difference is the relationship between inside and outside. On a boat this perspective shifts. It’s not so much inside and outside as on deck and below deck. It’s up and down versus in and out, and that alone creates a mental shift.
Morning exercise can be cranking the anchor off the bottom or hauling sails to the top of the mast. You may huff and puff and sweat just like at the gym, but there’s novelty right aside necessity. If the anchor doesn’t come up, we don’t go. If the sails aren’t set, we don’t sail. And, to flavor the experience, many crews sing traditional sea chanties. It’s exercise and a trip back in time all in one. It’s new language: galley for kitchen, head for bathroom, berth or bunk for bed. It’s a new more intimate relationship with weather. It’s the sound of the sea rushing past the hull. It’s the screeching of the gulls. It’s the smell of cooking wafting from below. It’s life like you’ve never lived it before.
10) Here’s reason number ten: the ephemeral and ineffable. When I was 27, I spent my first season as a cook aboard the schooner, Nathaniel Bowditch. Two of us worked the galley that summer. Our days started at about 4AM and ended at 10 or 11PM—depending on whether or not we had watch. We worked six and a half days a week for less than $200 plus bunk, food, and tips. It was best not to calculate the hourly rate.
One morning mid-summer, I was on deck early, just as the first light was filling the sky, painting it pale blue. My task was to fill three metal pitchers with water from the oak casks on deck. As I ladled the cold water, I looked out around the boat. It was the morning of the Great Schooner Race, so nearly all the boats in the fleet were in the harbor. The water was quiet, so the anchor chains hung straight down. A couple of the boats had left their mainsails up, and they held in the motionless air like weathervanes.
As I looked around I realized I’d never seen anything like the view that morning. These great, graceful ships were so few in number that odds of seeing so many in one location made what I was witnessing a rare spectacle. The scene was also devoid of most evidence of modernity, making it easy to imagine another time altogether. In that moment, I went from loving my exhausting, low-paying summer job to being truly grateful. I knew in that instant that these historic boats could slip from existence. I held my breath.
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