Saturday, February 29, 2020
I know that my friend, Roger Gump, is a rare boat builder, who even made the carbon fiber mast for his 40’ TRAVELLER. I did not know that he is so talented a writer until I got ‘The Fish’ from him in an email this morning. I actually Googled to discover who wrote it. Well he did, and I would have been proud to have done so. In a subsequent email, Roger sent me the above photo simply captioned “said fish.”
I am a reluctant fisherman.
Reluctance as an activity is confusing.
While I steer White Cap over the Sea of Abaco in a fresh breeze,
Doron is fishing with my pole and lure.
I am sailing.
He is fishing.
I’d rather we not catch a fish, but we do.
When the fish hits the drag sings.
Doron is excited.
I am excited for him.
He commands me to furl the jib and luff the main.
The rod and Doron are under strain.
It is a big fish fighting for its life
under trade wind clouds and blue sky.
I am the fish
Fighting a 10 ton boat and a 6’ foot man
I am surprised that in my entire life of swimming and hunting in these waters
that I am hooked!
I am afraid.
I am straining against the hook.
It jars my mouth open as I fight to get free
to go back home.
Doron pulls the rod tip back and laughs with joy.
Others are watching me as I am dragged away from my life,
from the swimming sea
and everything I know about how to survive.
I am not surviving.
Doron orders me to get the gaff.
I have never gaffed a fish, but I get the gaff.
As I rise into the air hanging and swinging by a hook
I feel the gaff slice into my side and blood runs all over me
and onto the deck.
Doron throws a bucket of water over the beautiful red, gray and blue body of the Mutton Snapper.
I fall off under the main and steer for Black Sound.
My sight is leaving me.
I can smell them.
I can smell my blood.
I don’t know where I am going.
I lean over from the wheel and touch the beautiful fish.
He does not move.
Doron throws a bucket of water on the fish to clean the blood.
I feel the water and try to swim flopping on the deck
gasping for it.
I want it.
It is not enough.
As we sail back we delight in discussion of how we will prepare the fish.
We might fry or steam it with potatoes and onions.
Just butter and salt and pepper.
The beautiful red color that is me fades.
I can’t smell my blood.
I can’t find my will.
Doron showed me how to clean the fish very thoroughly.
He strives to eat everything he can.
A thorough cleaning and eating is our moral equivalence
to honor the life of the fish.
The knife is very sharp.
We look in his guts and see he was eating crabs.
We will bottom fish with his guts come another evening.
We steam the fish with potatoes, onions and squash.
It is lovely.
We drink wine and relive the day and talk about drinking wine in Paris
and the Louve
We go to bed early.
Come morning my chronic knees feel much better.
I wonder if it could be the fish.
To put Roger in good company, here is a line from Thomas Hardy’s ‘Night-Time in Mid-Fall’.
It is a storm-strid night, winds footing swift
Through the blind profound
I just did my workout and am about to go for a walk before showering, returning to GANNET and lounging indolently on deck watching boats, birds and sea lions, listening to music, enjoying the warmth of this last day of February, and of course sipping something, probably gin.
Thursday, February 27, 2020
Last evening with Steve Earley, who brought a chilled bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Steve flew home to the East Coast today, so tonight two glasses of pretty good Bordeaux by myself. Temperatures these last few days have been ideal. Mid 70s F/ around 25 C. Winter north of the Equator and beyond the Tropics doesn’t get much better. I started to listen to a shuffled playlist of non-classical, but it did not suit me, so I switched to Bach, who always suits me, an odd album of Glenn Gould performing THE ART OF THE FUGUE that must have been cobbled together from multiple recordings because some of the tracks are on organ and some piano. It doesn’t matter because all are pleasing.
I did my full workout on the foredeck this afternoon for the first time since I returned to GANNET. After laying off for a few weeks I always wonder if I can. I could.
Tomorrow I go to FedEx to pick up the cremated ashes of my friend Louise which I will spread at sea as she wished sometime next week. A sobering thought for a drinking man.
Wednesday, February 26, 2020
Steve Earley is in San Diego with his aptly named daughter, Grace, and we went sailing yesterday. That is the first time GANNET has been sailing for months. The first time she has had a crew of three since I have owned her. The first time anyone other than me has sailed on her since Steve did back before I began the last circumnavigation in 2014.
Having the luxury of extra hands, I did not fit the usual tiller pilots. The new ones worked well. I am unclear about the warranty.
We left the dock under Torqeedo a little after 10 AM with fog that had been thick an hour earlier beginning to burn off. We raised sails just after leaving Quivira Basin and as we sailed out the entrance channel the fog continued to dissipate ahead of us.
With San Diego’s usual light wind we made three and four knots along Mission Beach and turned around after about an hour and headed back in, docking at 12:15 conveniently in time to walk around to the Royal Rooster for the world’s best tacos.
I enjoyed myself. I hope Steve and Grace did too.
GANNET told me last evening that she had a good time and maybe we ought to leave the dock a bit more often.
The photos were taken by Steve and Grace. I thank them for letting me post them.
The photos were taken by Steve and Grace. I thank them for letting me post them.
Monday, February 24, 2020
My batteries were delivered this morning. As I have mentioned, both were free of defects. Both came back fully charged and I soon fit the electric outboard which pleasingly started as it should at the touch of a button.
San Diego is due to have a beautiful February week even by San Diego standards with highs in the 70sF/20sC.
Baring unforeseen circumstances beyond my control, the little boat will leave the dock this week. Perhaps with a crew of three.
Sunday, February 23, 2020
I believe my time in San Diego, which goes back more than sixty years, is drawing to a close. Today I walked to the more distant Ralph’s supermarket needing necessities: oatmeal, trail mix, juice, berries, gin. I also bought yoghurt for lunch and a prepared turkey Cobb salad for dinner. I wondered at the ‘Cobb’, Goggled and learned that the salad was probably invented at the Brown Derby Restaurant in Los Angeles and named after the restaurant’s owner, Robert Cobb. You really do get a bargain here: great sailing; great writing; and an all around education.
Along the way I stopped and made a brief video at the location of my grandmother’s house where I spent my high school summers. I will upload it when I can. It is part of where all this began. The other part is in Kirkwood, Missouri, and I plan to go there later this year to document that too.
In the video I said that this is Sunday, February 24. It is in fact the 23rd. A lovely day. In the low 60s F. Light wind. And as you can see sunny.
There were a lot of people on the beach and on what is called the boardwalk though it is made of concrete. With bicycles, scooters, skate boards, in line skaters, and distracted walkers, really too many.
The top photo I call Duvall Street West which will have meaning to those who know Key West.
The second is of an unusual and charming collection of kites that I passed along the way. Grace and beauty with no purpose beyond their transient selves.
Last night I slept an unprecedented eleven hours.
I listened to music and sipped Sauvignon Blanc until about 8:30 when I retired to the v-berth to read. I only had two glasses of wine, but when I went forward I fell asleep. I woke from time to time during the night, but never for very long. Inexplicably I finally got up around 7 AM. I have not been doing anything strenuous. Perhaps needless to say I am very well rested.
Thursday, February 20, 2020
I recently read a very good novel, THE SECRET OF SANTA VITTORIA, set in an Italian hill town during WWII. I highly recommend it with the single reservation that there is a part where the SS is torturing men that is deeply disturbing. The scenes are essential to the story, but if you want to avoid or skim them, they occur in Part 7, The Rat in the Throat, in my Kindle edition from about location 5950 to 6250.
As I have written before, while I love being in San Diego and have history here that goes back more than sixty years, I expect and hope that my San Diego time is drawing to a close and that soon GANNET and I will be in Hilton Head, South Carolina. I thought that I was trying to unify and simplify my life, but toward the end of THE SECRET OF SANTA VITTORIA I discovered the real reason I must leave San Diego.
The mayor turned to Fabio.
“One rule, Fabio. One law that must be respected. Never grow old where you once have been great,”
I trust you know I am smiling.
I am also smiling at a poem by Thomas Hardy I read last evening, ‘The Ruined Maid’. I think you will too.
I need to go sailing. Seriously need. You understand. And I don’t know when I am going to get my Torqeedo batteries back.
Also last evening I watched the jungle episode of the Netflix series, NIGHT ON EARTH, in which low light and infra-red cameras have been used to photograph images of wildlife never seen before. Whenever I watch such documentaries I am struck by how life feeds on life, every possible vulnerability exploited by another life form specifically evolved to do so, by how consciousness resists unconsciousness, how DNA ‘demands’ to be projected endlessly into the future, even imposing sometimes death creating imperatives to do so.
Above is my new coffee cup. My old one ceramic broke. It was until now my favorite coffee cup. Short, squat with a low center of gravity, good on a boat. I found the above Yeti cup at Dick’s Sporting Goods while looking for something else. It is metal and seems indestructible, even better on a boat. Like most things Yeti, it is expensive. But then I may never have to buy another.
Tuesday, February 18, 2020
I awoke this morning expecting to get my Torqeedo batteries back and have a replacement stern deck running light delivered by Amazon. The batteries—the Torqeedo only uses one, but I have a spare—were recalled for inspection because some are not properly sealed and if water gets inside can explode and/or catch fire. Not exactly what you want hanging off your stern. My batteries passed inspection. I planned to fit them and test the Torqeedo today and to install the replacement running light. However, as Robbie Burns observed plans ‘aft gang a-gley.’
At 8:30 I got a telephone call from the inspection shop apologizing that they had sent me the wrong batteries and would I please refuse the order. I took this message up to the marina office, explaining that the shipment would be two large boxes. I don’t know if they have yet arrived and if so if they have been refused. I do know that the replacement deck light from Amazon was refused. So now I have no plans and no idea when I will get my batteries.
Instead I walked three miles to a supermarket. I needed berries, trail mix, grapefruit juice, tequila, and the exercise. I also bought paper towels, yoghurt for lunch and a turkey salad for dinner.
I have been thinking of selling GANNET. There, I knew that would get your attention. To put your fevered mind at ease, I am not going to, but I was slightly tempted.
I have long admired a class of boats known as Aphrodite 101s, which are in many ways a longer Moore 24, and I happened upon one for sale on the East Coast with an asking price of $15.000.
I do not know what it will cost to have GANNET towed from San Diego to South Carolina, but I expect I could sell the little boat here and buy the Aphrodite with that amount plus what is saved by not having the tow. But then I realized why would I want to do that? I have put a lot of time and money into having GANNET the way I want her. She is a great boat. She suits me. And I don’t want to start over again converting a day/short course racer into an ocean voyager. So I won’t.
However, I am giving consideration to the possibility that the next time I return to San Diego it will be to send the little boat east. I have always liked being in San Diego, but it is a city. As I write these words an airplane just having taken off from Lindbergh Field is flying over, and I no longer want to be urban. Plus of course there are few places to sail to in California where I can anchor in solitude. Perhaps none. There is reason to hope that the long delayed condo renovation may soon be underway. GANNET’s future is anchoring with alligators.
Tuesday, February 11, 2020
A beautiful day and about time. San Diego is in a desert and not supposed to be dank. I was about to file a complaint, though I don’t know with whom.
I got in the dinghy and scrubbed the waterline. There is still some black slim not easily removed, but the bottom was in better condition than I expected with the little boat just sitting here for months and bottom paint a year and 7,000 miles old.
As I scrubbed and you can see in the above photo GANNET is at least two inches higher in the water than usual. I have removed a lot of weight from her. There are only two gallons of fresh water on her, easily refilled at the hose on the dock, rather than more than twenty. The Torqeedo batteries are not on board. I am down to my last fifty freeze dry dinners, some of which date from New Zealand four years ago, rather than often more than one hundred and fifty. The dinghy was not on board. All this adds up to more than two hundred pounds or about 10% of the little boat’s total displacement.
After scrubbing I rowed out and around the bait barge. It was just before noon and everyone was quiet and most were sleeping.
Sunday, February 9, 2020
(I reread this many times wondering if I should post it. That you are reading it shows my decision.)
Some have written that they want the unadulterated Webb Chiles. Well, I promise you you don’t and although we live in a weird time when every burp and sneeze seem to need to be shared that is not going to happen. However I sent an email to Carol yesterday that I am going to share part of with you. Perhaps it is more Webb Chiles than anyone wants or needs, but I am in the dying part of my life and owe no one anything, except you the truth with omissions and Carol my love, and I am going to put some things on the record for my future probably nonexistent biographers to find.
I am an old freak of nature. I was a young freak of nature, but it is more obvious now.
I have long acted as though my luck were average. That is very wise when you expose yourself to survival conditions. But I have come to believe that in fact I have been extraordinarily fortunate, both genetically and by chance, particularly in meeting you in the only brief moment our lives could have come together. I don’t know if that was better for me than for you. I hope it was equal.
I have understood my life as I lived it as very few have theirs. I understand it now that I am moving toward my death. Whatever my life meant in words, voyages, love, has mostly already been set, yet almost incredibly I am not yet used up. There is no precedent for me to follow. There never was. I am one of the cutting edges of our species and knew as I wrote more than forty years ago that almost all such original experiments are failures. I have fulfilled my destiny, and I expect that I am a failed experiment, particularly now when people become rich and famous by posting videos of themselves over eating. Yet this freak body goes on and I will too. I really have no choice.
You have overheard me say when I have drunk too much, ‘Die Webb’.
I would in fact like to outlive you, though that is highly unlikely considering the difference in our ages, just to be there to help you across the threshold at the end.
You among others have observed that I am among the best read people you have known and from that reading I believe that I have been out here alone on the edge as long as anyone who has ever lived. Those who have lived with the intensity I have burn out and die young. Yet through a combination of an exceptional body, an even more exceptional animal instinct to survive, intelligence, and luck, I have grown old. I almost said that I am tired. Well I sometimes am, tired of being me, but I will push on into the unknown. I am captive of myself. Who knows what joy I might yet find, what words I might yet string together, what unimagined voyages I might yet make.
I hope I have been a good husband to you. I have tried to be. As I have often written but don’t know if you have read, you are the great grace of my life.
Saturday, February 8, 2020
I had considered doing something radical today like going sailing, but the Torqeedo batteries are being recalled for inspection. The shipping boxes arrived yesterday and were too large to remain long on GANNET, so I packed up the batteries and sent them on their way. The Torqeedo only requires one battery, but I have a spare. It is easy to sail off this dock, not so easy to sail back on, particularly when there is no wind, so I pumped up the Avon and rowed a circuit of Quivira Basin on this lovely afternoon. I haven’t rowed for a long time, too long.
While in the dinghy I noted that GANNET’s bottom is cleaner than I expected after she has been sitting at the dock for so long. I will scrub the waterline tomorrow. I also noted three or four nicks in the paint on the starboard side where uncoordinated and/or oblivious kayakers have run into the little boat.
This morning while filling my water bottles as seen above I saw that a garden is growing beside GANNET. The tenacity of life is impressive.
For two days I have not been following my advice to listen to some Bach every day. Instead inspired by an article in the NY TIMES by a woman who listened to all sixteen of the Beethoven String Quartets while on the subway in New York and walking to work and by my friend Tim who is a serial listener to all of the works of various composers, I have been listening to the Beethoven String Quartets in performances by the Lindsay String Quartet. Like many, I prefer the Late Quartets and usually just listen to them. Hearing all in succession is illuminating and enjoyable. Not Bach, but close enough.
I have been reading some poetry every day. Even occasionally my own. But presently I am reading Thomas Hardy and Pablo Neruda. This morning I came across a poem by Hardy titled ’A Young Man’s Exhortation’. The last lines are:
If I have seen one thing
It is the passing preciousness of dreams;
That aspects are within us; and who seems
Most kingly is the King.
Thursday, February 6, 2020
Just before I left Evanston I received a link from Peter to a YouTube video titled ‘Ballon Art and the Mysterious Nature of Joy‘. I thank him.
I watched the video just before I went to the airport. I am glad I did because videos are beyond the limited Internet on GANNET.
Some of you may recall that I have written that our lives are as brief as a butterfly’s cough and that I believe they are redeemed by moments of joy.
The video is just under thirteen minutes long, entertaining and wise. I doubt you will do anything else today better than view it.
My friend, Steve Earley has posted an excellent entry in his Log of SPARTINA that his last day on the job as a news photographer is tomorrow.
Steve and I correspond frequently and I knew this was coming as part of the apparently unstoppable decline in print newspapers. He has been fortunate to have been born when he was and have this happen when he is ready for retirement. Among other things, his spring and fall cruises in SPARTINA will be longer. They might even meld together into one.
As soon as I read the entry I thought of the above photograph, which I ran here some years ago. Fortunately Steve also runs it today so I didn’t have to search. Steve is too modest when he says he is not a great photographer because that is a great photograph and only one of many he has shot.
I noticed in the comments that someone expressed the hope that Steve might now write a book about eating his way around the Chesapeake. Personally I hope he does something better than that.
I wish him joy.
I wish all of you joy.
Wednesday, February 5, 2020
Pusillanimously abandoning Carol to face winter alone—remember that I have never claimed to be brave—I flew to San Diego and GANNET yesterday. To my surprise above is the little boat as I found her with decks so clean they don’t need to be scrubbed, so obviously the birds have not been roosting on her, and a dock so clean that obviously sea lions have not been basking there in my absence. In fact there are only a few sea lions around and they are uncommonly quiet. Perhaps the loud ones have gone elsewhere for the winter.
Inside the cabin was not so pristine. There was mold, heavier toward the bow, and I found my sleeping bags to be wet. They were not under a hatch and I wondered if GANNET had a leak of which I was unaware. Not wanting to sleep in clammy sleeping bags unnecessarily I took them up and washed and dried them. You may recall that I use a three part sleeping bag system given to me by Tom of Baby the Sea Beagle fame in which one bag zips inside the other and a Goretex cover snaps over both. I am glad I did. The temperature dropped to 39º during the night and I was at times cool inside both bags. The coming lows are forecast to be higher, but I unpacked a third sleeping bag that I may use as an extra quilt tonight and/or start sleeping in my silk long underwear.
To my profound disappointment and disgust at myself I found that I had left only a finger of tequila on board. I will not do that again. I rectified this disaster this morning by walking 3.5 miles to the nearest BevMor, my favorite local liquor store, where I bought two bottles of Laphroaig and two of Plymouth gin. They only had Navy strength which is 114 proof and must be diluted. I can do that and have.
I also went to a nearby supermarket for berries, a roast beef/cheddar cheese sandwich, half of which I ate for lunch, the other half I will eat for dinner, and some bite size brownies.
Ubering back to the marina, I ate lunch and then spent almost three hours removing mold. In the bow forward of the v-berth condensation on the inside of GANNET’s uninsulated hull caused by the difference in air temperature inside versus outside was dripping like a rain forest. That, not a leak, was what soaked the sleeping bags. While I was working the temperature inside the cabin was a comfortable 72º with the hatches open. Outside was 59º.
It is great to be at sea level, to be on the water, to feel the little boat constantly if slightly moving. I love Carol, but I am a creature of the sea. And it is due to snow 6” in Chicago.
Monday, February 3, 2020
From NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day: