Director of Operations – Bluenose II
Director of Operations – Bluenose II
From the trees
To make the grass,
Already the white of seagulls,
Have a flight plan
That makes them
In the fog.
Easy to do as
There are ships at sea
(If you care to believe).
For I have not seen
Nor seen them
The fog also
In the fog
Yesterday, I wrote the following blog, explaining my attempts to perhaps wed fiction and reality.
TODAY, I’ll relate what really happened.
I did get down to a chill and cloudy harbour in time to see The Alexandra. In fact, I was in good early time, for the ways of the sea don’t always fit schedules.
I stayed an hour and a half, with no sight of the ship. I would have stayed longer on a more pleasant day, but I was reaching a degree of cold that it is best not to ignore. So I returned home.
I started to follow The Alexandra on three different Marine sites. I could not fix an exact location, but it was obvious by its speed that it was not coming into a harbour. I then came across an arrival time of 19:00, instead if the original 15:00. But, even following it at that time, it was obvious it was not in Halifax harbour.
So, I kept a periodic watch from my windows, the manuscript for my own Alison Alexandra literally at hand. perhaps that was in some way more of a connection of reality to my fictional world.
At 21:00, well after dark, I watched The Alexandra and its tug boats pass along the harbour. It was a good view, though not as good a view as from a pier. I’m sure Alison Alexandra was pleased. Or, as she sometimes says, “pleased enough”.
I made the assumption that a ship six hours late would leave around six hours late. And, although I awoke well before such an assumed departure time, I found it had already left. I was, however, able to see The Alexandra depart the mouth of Halifax via port web cams.
I was by the harbour – chilly though it was – standing on one of the wharfs that was still in sunlight.
I had been cautious as I approached the edge, because I did not want to disturb an injured seagull, It was huddled beside a corner post, trying to stay out of the wind. I figured there was enough room for both of us.
The gull did shift its weight from time to time, and seemed to keep its side toward the wind. It was not a sleek-looking bird, and had misaligned feathers on one of its wings. It favoured an odd side-hop when it moved. I wondered what misadventure it might have experienced.
There was little traffic on the harbour, but the sunshine and clear sky made the water a deep and beautiful blue. I was looking out toward the ocean proper when a commotion startled me. My decrepit gull was fast into the air and then, even faster, into the water. Seconds later the bird was back in the air, its beak full of crab.
The gull landed a very safe distance from me. It began to dispatch the crab with fast and furious strikes of its beak. The gull kept the crab on its back as it pecked away at the softer underside. This was no delicate fine dining, as pieces of the crab’s shell flew in various directions, and made sounds as they landed on the surrounding dock. Soon, the only motions the crab made were from the piercing of the gull’s beak.
Considering that I dine – admittedly, with a tad more finesse – upon lobster, I had no problem with the gull acquiring its own meal. It had been earned.
And I will make no more assumptions about the state of gulls by appearance alone.
But where I’m walking, money only whispers if it says anything at all, and there are bars and used furniture shops and tenement buildings. The cars are old, not vintage. As I walk along the sidewalk a van enters the driveway immediately ahead of me. Stops so its ass is on part of the sidewalk and I have to swerve.
The side doors slide open and out come a dozen or so men and women. Poorly dressed. Unkempt. Quiet if not sullen. They are intent, and follow the gestures of the driver. This way. This way. They are all headed to a tavern on the corner. I follow the group along the sidewalk, although not into the drinking establishment. As I pass I notice the marker-on-cardboard signs in the window. ‘Two Bucks a Drink Thursday’.
I continue up a hill and then down a hill. I’m aiming for the harbour because I like the water, and the boats, and the vistas. This part of the harbour is also genteel, because there is a large hotel and retirement homes along the genteel boardwalk. There are benches upon which to sit. I appreciate all this. I chose a bench and I sit.
I can sit literally for an hour and more. I am no where near my quota when a roughly, though neatly dressed, young man sits on a bench a couple away from me. He stares out to sea in silence for a number of minutes. Then he starts to talk loudly enough for me to hear. I am the only one present.
“Gotta storm coming down the coast.”
“I heard.” And I have.
“Going to be bad.”
“So they say.”
“Not good to go out on that.”
“I gotta boat waiting for me.” He mentions the name of a fishing village. “Haven’t been out for awhile.”
“I wouldn’t start today.” And I wouldn’t, but I don’t fish.
“It’s a bugger.” He has not once looked at me. “Gotta go back sometime.”
“I’m sure you do.” And I am.
“Lost a man last time.” I’m not sure I hear him correctly. “Messy death. The sea’s like that.”
I feel I should say something, and I’m sure I should have. But what? I am not certain, truth be told, that he is even – really – talking to me. There is no emotion in his voice. He has yet to look at me. At best it’s a monologue and I’m the audience.
He then opens his outer windbreaker and takes a large bottle from an inner pocket. It looks like a bottle that commercial mouthwash is sold in. He screws off the cap and starts to drink. He does not gargle. He takes a number of drinks in quick succession, and I am convinced it is not mouthwash. But I do not know. He screws the cap back on and puts the bottle back in his pocket. He sits. He sits in silence.
“Sea’s getting rough.” He stands. “Lot of wind.” He starts toward the railing along the boardwalk. “I’ve got the Spring run, but I’m not going out after that.” He leans against the railing. “Time to stop. Yes, it is.”
He stands, looking out over the raising waves for a couple of minutes. Then he walks away.
(Jacques Brel’s “Port of Amsterdam” via David Bowie)
This is not only an idea whose time has come, but it is an idea I have used in three novels starting over three decades ago. In my novels, I have some edible substance aged through transport at sea.
In A Lost Gospel, set in the time of Christ, I have seafarers strengthen an unnamed gruel stored in a barrel that is used to relieve the effects of seasickness. It tastes vile.
In my two historical “Onion” novels, I have special cheeses aged during the two year long sea trips my characters take for trading purposes. They return tasting right (and ripe) fine.
Here is a current news story set along the same lines.
A Nova Scotia distillery is sending its spirits out Monday on an around-the-world trip on a tall ship, promising it will taste better for the journey.
Four barrels of rum from Lunenburg’s Ironworks Distillery will spend the next 15 months in the cargo hold of the three-masted tall ship Picton Castle.
And here is an excerpt from my novel, China Lily.
The storage hold for the cheese is actually a room partitioned from the main hold by thick oak planks. Its back wall is the side of The Pegasus. There is a raised floor to keep the cheese from the bilge, and a barred door with heavy locks. The Cannaras had the room designed, and placed specifically, so it would not hinder the running of the ship through either weight or volume displacement. In addition, the Cannaras paid the other owners an impressive surcharge for the space.
Matzerath steps back as Cepa unlocks and opens the door. The cheeses have not been moved for over two years, except through the motions of The Pegasus itself. They are tightly packed with straw and wax, three to a wooden crate. The crates are kept in place through the use of ropes and webbing that allows them to move with the motion of the ship. If they break loose they can dent, break, or even shatter their thick outer shell of wax. The exposure to air would turn them to rot.
The two and more years of exposure to the sea salt atmosphere tightens the ropes and webbing. They reach a point where it is not worth the effort to unbind them. Cepa begins to use his knife on all the ties.
He is quickly followed by Matzerath, who does not question the reason for Cepa’s actions, but just follows suit. Together they make short work of the ropes and webbing. Matzerath gets by the doorway and takes his place in the human chain. Cepa hands a crate of the cheese to him. He carries it to the first man on the steps who, in turn, takes it up the steps to the next man. In this way the cheeses go from man to man until they are placed in the carts. It is not backbreaking work, but it is awkward and exhausting enough that Cepa eventually calls for a break. They all go up to stand on deck to take advantage of the fresh air.
“How long have you been selling this ‘voyage cheese’?” Matzerath is watching the frenzied activity on the dock.
“Over two hundred years.” Cepa keeps an attentive eye on the cheeses already on deck. “But never any trip as long as this one.”
“Any magic secret in making it?”
“The choice of the onions. But I don’t actually make the cheese – that is for others in the family.” Cepa smiles. “I help create the mystique.”
“Yes.” Cepa turns to scan the dock. “Look at those three men on horseback.”
“One is a priest; one from the noble’s house; and the third leads the cheese maker’s guild.” Cepa holds up his hand to shade his eyes from the morning sun. “Their sole reason to be here is to verify that these cheeses actually come off The Pegasus. They will affix a seal onto each crate.”
“They don’t trust the Cannaras?” Matzerath turns to Cepa in surprise.
“They trust us because this was our idea.”
“Ha! You Cannaras are crafty.”
“There are few questions asked about items brought back from far away. They are so foreign they have to be authentic.”
“But cheese made right here …” begins Matzerath.
“Yes – anyone can make cheese.” Cepa indicates that he wants to walk around the deck. “And it all looks the same once covered and waxed.”