Wings of Steel

I’m out patrolling my river again.  This is the earliest yet – boat in on April 18th, and as I leave for Japan I have already logged on 50 miles, bringing her around and going up and down the river to test and tune my ‘mistress’, as Quan calls Tycha. “Your work’s your wife and your boat’s your mistress – who am I?”

For landlubbers, I mentioned last post, these are the days between the ice and the bugs; for the sailor, these are the days between the launch and the setting of the traps.  By the 4th of July, this river will be so awash in the cheery and garish pot buoys that mark the lobstermen’s traps that you can nearly walk across the river on them.  They need to earn a living, not easy these days, but sailing then becomes like driving in traffic, requiring constant attention.  Nothing quite like being on an American freeway, a meditation at 70mph where the mind can roam.  Nothing quite like setting the sails for long reach, locking off the wheel, and letting her sail herself while you put on the kettle for a nice hot cuppa.

2 hours work – cleaning and restoring her, balancing her out – for one hour sailing, that’s been my deal with myself, as I try to avoid office work and stay outside.  So much to be done in this season – the screens in, the dirt out, the sumber plumming for the cottage, the branches and pine cones to be put on the burn pile, repairs to the pier from the winter storms…  My hands are cracked and full of cuts, splinters, and bruises from the spring work; I wonder if I will feel ashamed putting them up against the citified delicate hands of the Japanese physios and Pilates teachers?  Nah.

The best day we had all week I arranged to meet the Nat – I commissioned new sails last summer from our local world-class sailmaker before the recession hit.  It was a gulp this spring to pay for them, but what could I do?  Tall and craggy, with a square set of shoulders that cry out for bodywork he would never consider having, Nat is a local institution, and I am nervous of making a sailing error as he swings aboard to cast his practiced eye over my rigging and his handiwork. I was having a few teething problems, which he solved with a 20-minute resew and some terse advice about the shocking state of my outhauls and downhauls.

Sooner than I thought, I was back out in the current with the dacron snapping sharply.  I call them my Wings of Steel – do you know the Japanese fairy tale?  A couple of geese bless the sails by flying low overhead, honking, their own wings of steel having brought them up from the Chesapeake.

It is not often you get barefoot sailing in April up here, but in a few minutes of being in the lee, I am shirtless with my feet against the deck.  Round the corner and the layers go back on above (including a scarf by the time I got out to sea and the wind was really up – you want to stay comfortable asea, keep your neck warm).  The water is 40F (5C) – I put a thermometer aboard this year – and when the wind draws across the ocean, it cannot be much warmer than that, even in the sun.

The slopes on either side have the smallest wash of red in the buds – no leaves yet.  The weather snaps like a flag – suddenly it is raining as cold succeeds warm.  There is a rainbow, a rare sight in winter, with the pot of gold right into the Seal Ledges I am pinching to avoid – all nine colours in glowing pastel, confident and assured, not tentative and waving shyly like some rainbows I know.

The mussel boys are out on Mumbles as I return, all wool caps and oilskins, hosing the mud and protovertebral tunicates and starfish off the black almonds of full-meated mussel – they hand me a bag (my privilege as wharf manager) as I ruffle up beside them to pass the time of day yelling between boats.  Rope-grown mussels are superior to every other kind (because that’s what we do here).  A little white wine and parsley is all you need, never mind the garlic.

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One Response to “Wings of Steel”

  1. Sharon Says:

    Okay, now I have to comment. I try to refrain and leave your diaries unsullied. But this latest turn in your writing — the effect of it — restores souls. Including mine. Beautiful. Heaven.

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