Monday 04 DEC 2017 – Charleston Harbor, SC
Yesterday we moved the boat to anchor just off of Patriot Point in the Cooper River. None of the marinas in Charleston had a slip available, so we found an anchorage. There were not many options, but this one south of the Charleston Harbor Marina across the river from the city itself, seems good. Good, that is, if you don’t mind once in a while getting bounced from your seat in the wake of an immense freighter or cruise ship. We are sitting quite close to the busy harbor channel on which a lot of surprisingly large boats travel. When they come through, even if they are moving slowly their impact on a boat of our size is considerable. That, and we’re in the midst of a strong tidal river which swings the boat 180 degrees every six hours and keeps our anchor line taut from the currents almost continuously.
This morning we stop at the Harbor Marina office and purchase daily services (dinghy dock use, showers, shuttle service) for $25/day. Then, we head into town. We get a lyft in a big, new, black Cadillac from Peter, a lefty pastor who’s lived here for ten years, but hates it because of the extreme conservatism. As he drives he tells us that he came from Minneapolis to a church that recruited him, but then didn’t agree with his democratic socialist stances. His frustration is palpable as he describes the racism and classism he’s encountered in the south. He doesn’t understand the brutality of the Christianity he found here. “After all, Jesus would have been a democratic socialist if he had lived in our lifetime,” he says with a chuckle. I laugh too and agree with him and then laugh at myself even considering Jesus’s contemporary political affiliations. Is this what’s meant by “being created in the images of Christ”?
We get dropped off downtown somewhere. We have no exact plan or route, so we set off walking in the direction of an area called the Battery in the south part of the city. Immediately the specialness of the city begins unfolding around us. This is an old city, that grew organically, and was aesthetically considered, seemingly at every turn. There are large brick buildings with rich and complex details, intricate ironwork climbing like mechanical vines on balconies and columns, old leaded windows in every shape and size. The whole city comes from an era of handwork and specificity. And it’s got soul. As we walk further we take smaller and smaller streets to soon find ourselves in a shady, dreamy otherworld of cobblestones, magnolias, pickets, palms, and the most elegant southern colonial houses ever constructed. Some are grand, some less so but all have the patina of being cherished. At one point I even hear bagpipes playing. They transport me deeper into my sunny reverie. I am dazzled. I am astonished. “Oh Charleston!” I suddenly shout out loud in my drawliest, Scarlett-iest, southern accent. “You move me so!” Just kidding, I wouldn’t do that to the fourteen-year-old. Just kidding, I would, but don’t.
And so goes the rest of our daydrift: we wander into a bar covered in dollar bills; we stroll by the Battery underneath a pageant of ancient oak trees; we run into some Mormon boys on their mission, well, ok, I follow some Mormon boys on their mission until I feel like they suspect me; we stop at the public library for a work skype session for me; and we devour some fine, foodie tacos at a place on East Bay Street, among all the other foodie restaurants.
The dream ends with a shuttle ride back to the marina, a winding natter between the three of us about the breathtaking beauty we found in Charleston, and a call to a deep, floaty southern sleep. Except that before I do fall asleep I open up my head and explore one nagging feeling that remains in a dark corner: Is unjustified pain wrought on other humans defensible if it renders a beautiful world? Charleston was built by slaves. At one point in the city’s history ten percent of the entire slave population existed here in this small city. Without them – their ache and their blood – this place would hardly not exist. Is the world a better place without Charlestons if this would had saved thousands of people from monstrous inhumanness? I suppose all beauty costs something. This beauty cost way too much.
Tuesday 05 DEC 2017 – Charleston Harbor, SC
I am starting to dread Thursday. The weather forecast is predicting a dramatic drop in temperature to almost freezing. We are planning our departure for Savannah that day and I am growing anxious that we have enough warm clothing for the ocean passage. As Glenn likes to paraphrase the Finnish (or is the Norwegians?), “There’s no bad weather only bad clothing.” Yikes.
Today starts with showers. The facilities at this marina are quite posh and clean, so even though I think the price is a little high, we do get lovely accommodations. I’ve never thought about showers as much…
SMALL ASIDE: Who invented the shower? According to Wikipedia, the Greeks were the first to pump water through lead pipes into communal shower rooms where commoners and elites, together, washed themselves. So, to the Greeks we owe for the world’s three greatest inventions: showers, yogurt, and democracy. Or wait, given this info, are showering and democracy the same thing?)
I spend a few hours alone at the Starbucks trying to get some writing done. I have been struggling with the blog post due today because our last week comprised of a lot of very dull motoring on the ICW, one great sailed ocean passage, and two gnarly fights with Glenn. I want to write about the fights because they’re part of the trip and because it’s a good writing challenge, but I also wonder if I’m being fair to Glenn in my perspective and I fear breaching his privacy. I also struggle with this piece because it was awful and I don’t like dwelling on it. I write for a while and then decide to pass it by Glenn before I post.
In the early evening I meet Glenn and Ava and we walk to the cinema for the movie called “Lady Bird.” It’s good, but not great, or maybe just not as great as I expected, having read dozens of glowing reviews. What is great, however, is the movie theater. It’s that kind that has beer and full dinners. Never heard of this? Me neither, until now. We don’t order much – popcorn, beer, and some pretzels, but still if feels luxurious.
Wednesday 06 DEC 2017 – Charleston Harbor, SC
The weather is threatening us this morning. We run to the Whole Foods 1.5 miles away for a bit of grocery shopping before the expected front, that will bring its depressions, arrives. We make it back just in time. As predicted the weather starts to give us the shoulder around 2pm, so we settle in for a cozy night of roasted salmon, reading, knitting, and movies.
“Let’s not leave until the weather is better,” says Glenn.
“Great!” I think, a passage in this weather will be uncomfortable. We set our sights on Sunday as a new departure date when the skies and seas are to be a lot friendlier. It’s nice to have the option. Deadlines are the vehicles to jeopardy in this world.
Thursday 07 DEC 2017 – Charleston Harbor, SC
The weather has dramatically shifted. It’s freezing outside. The inside of Netzah becomes a dripping rainforest with condensation falling from every porthole and hatch. To the visitor it would seem that the rain outside is leaking through, but actually the boat is sealed up tightly. All of the moisture is condensation resulting from the temperature drop and maybe some heavy breathing (Glenn!). We put towels down to save our beds and furniture from getting too wet.
In a moment of respite from the rain, we make a break for it and escape to another movie at the luxe cinema. This time we see Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. This movie will take me a long time to digest. The plot is simple: After a young woman is raped and killed, the investigation into her murder stalls. Frustrated, her mother (the sublime Frances McDormand) rents space on three billboards accusing the police chief of neglect. The story centers on three main characters and their roles in this aftermath. The movie itself, however, is about the perpetual chain of personal actions and their ramifications on others’ personal actions. And it skillfully features the endless capacity for a human being to be simultaneously cruel and tender. Three thumbs up from me.
Friday 08 DEC 2017 – Charleston Harbor, SC
This post is dedicated to Sheila and Michael
It’s again very cold and rainy all day. We hardly feel the gloominess inside the boat though, as we anticipate the celebratory night out for Glenn’s birthday. On land, we take showers, put on our nicest warmest clothes, and shuttle to King Street where Glenn has found an excellent tapas joint named “Barsa.” We arrive early for our reservation, but they easily accommodate us with a high table and our very own tattooed waitress. Yes, please, I will have that sangria cocktail! We dive into the tapas first, having: broccolini, grilled octopus, migas, and pork ribs on little shared plates. Our joy at these tasty morsels explodes into a ripple of stories for Ava about the small family bars in Barcelona, a city that both Glenn and I have visited though not together, and the tradition of eating the specialty tapa of each little place. As we revel in our Catalonian memories out comes the main course: a shrimp and chorizo paella that I can only assume was sprinkled with the breath of a newborn’s giggles it’s so good. We fill ourselves all over again, savoring every layer of the complex deliciousness. And then, without pause, even though we are stuffed, even though it’s obscene, even though we shouldn’t, we do. We order flan. By the time we step out into the cold, night air again, it feels good to be in motion. We walk, sated and pleased, a long length of King Street, while thanking Glenn for being born.
On our way back to Netzah the wind picks up and it starts to rain again. Our short ride in the dinghy will leave us exposed to the pelting storm, but we will be in the cabin quickly where we can dry off and warm ourselves. As we approach the boat we notice that we are yet again closer to our neighbor, the ketch Kantala. Throughout the past few days we have been creeping toward each other. This could be the result of the vigorous currents and/or, now, the vigorous winds. We can’t tell. It’s also hard to tell which boat is moving. Glenn and I are inclined to think it’s their boat. We want to believe that our anchor is holding, but we know too, that specific water locations can be deceiving, especially at night. It looks worrisome, but we decide together to wait until morning to assess the situation again, knowing that the situation won’t deteriorate too badly until then. Plus, it’s so cold and wet and rolly. Down below, we take off our wet stuff, get warm, and put on bed clothes. As we are about to hop into bed, Ava comes out of her room with fear in her eyes, “I think we should move the boat,” she says.
“No, it will be fine, Ava, you can go to bed” says Glenn who is obviously operating on my same wavelength.
“It’s not an emergency,” I add under a breaker of laziness that has crushed my last bit of will.
Temporarily appeased, Ava goes back behind her door, but she comes back again in less than five minutes. “I think we need to move. We are getting too close to that other boat.” She has been watching out of her portholes. Glenn pokes his birthday head out through the companionway surveying the situation in order to prove to Ava that he has been careful.
“We have to move the boat now!” he abruptly comes back down and says in a loud and alarmed voice.
It’s remarkable what a certain tone will do for one’s will. Instantaneously, I jump up and start getting dressed without any regard to my severe drowsiness of only a few seconds ago. Within minutes we are in foul weather gear and outside in the cockpit of the boat ready to act. Indeed, the situation seems to have worsened: the rain is stronger and the boats feel even closer together. Just as we are about to launch our plan, our neighbors appear on their deck, dressed in their foul weather gear, ready to move their boat. For a flash the five of us stand looking at each other. Then we start discussing details. Which boat is deeper (theirs), which boat has more room (ours) which boat has more anchor chain out (we can’t hear the answer due to wind). After a few more minutes the man on the other boat yells that he thinks the current has pushed their boat and the winds, ours. All we can say is that we don’t know, but we don’t mind moving because it’s easier for us. It at this point that the man yells something quite strange that I will replay many times after this incident is over. Into the cold and blustery storm, with all of us ready to act, he shouts, “But why should it be you that moves?” Glenn straightens up. He’s searching for an answer so that we can get working. Why should it be us that moves? We look at each other. We are stumped.
`“It’s fine,” Glenn yells back, “we don’t mind.” This is true, we don’t mind. We are in a better location to move and there are three of us to their two, but this is no answer to the man’s question, is it?
ASIDE: Ladies and gentlemen, can we take a minute to recognize all that is being launched in the seemingly simple question, “why should it be you that moves?” The man on the other boat, Michael, had been trying to figure out how to move his boat and, at the same time, had been weighing the fairness of the situation. He proposed an argument that both boats were equally at fault, that both boats had moved, one due to current (them) and one due to wind (us) and thus it was difficult to assess who should act. In other words, all things being fair, all parties equally at fault, what factors determine who should pay/risk/sacrifice more? It’s a good question. And I liked the generosity of spirit in which it was asked. “Why not me?” he was asking. Most people are very good at asking the opposite question, “Why me?” meaning, “Why should I pay more?” When do you ever hear, “why should it be you that pays?”
“Because it’s easier for us!” I shout across our gulf.
“Are you sure?” shouts Sheila.
“Thank you!” yells Michael, “we owe you a bottle of wine!”
Ava and I then quickly scramble to the bow and Glenn takes the tiller. I crank up the anchor, Ava points directions to Glenn, and Glenn steers. It’s now blowing hard so Glenn has to be careful to move the boat as soon as the anchor is free. Once we are in the new location, the two of us switch positions and I steer while he lowers the anchor. We have performed this set of operations many times now, but this time they are particularly rapid and smooth. I feel proud of our teamwork in the rough conditions as we hurry to get out of the weather and into our warm cabin waiting below.
“Good job,” says Glenn.
“Yea,” I agree and add, “I wonder if they’ll really give us a bottle of wine.”
“What? I didn’t hear them say that.”
Oh. I guess that was some wishful thinking on my part.
Saturday 10 DEC 2017 – Charleston Harbor, SC
In the late morning, we head back to King Street for some blogging time and bit of window shopping. At a small café I stop working on the blog post about the fight midstream and send it to Glenn. I’m tired of it and want to move on. Glenn reviews my version of events doesn’t have any objections, so I post it as is. I feel a bit funny about it because it’s intimate, but right away I get some likes. That’s odd, I think, I never get likes. Maybe my writing is getting better… Then I realize it’s because I posted on Saturday.
For the rest of the time in the café I text with a friend/colleague back home. We shoot the shit, catching up on our lives. At one point though she asks me a set of questions that later I see as somewhat pointed. She asks: “What are you into these days?” “What has your imagination, your free time, your interest?”
I suppose that in the minds of some people sabbaticals are supposed to be productive in the sense that they should produce some new thing or idea or perspective. This time away, this gift, this luxury, this extreme compensation should result in some symmetrical, reciprocal product. This production should be containable and instant and constant. In my answer to my friend I fumbled, like I always do, when I haven’t spent enough time on my thoughts on something. Plus, I too, have been searching for clues as to how I am changed or better or, at least, different. So, here’s what I know thus far: the longer I stay out here the more I guard against conclusions about what this is all producing. The fact is, I may never know. The fact is, it may not produce anything. So much that humans produce these days should remain unproduced. The only reason, I find, to be here, is to be here. Can presence be a product?
In the late afternoon we head back to the marina and boat. We have to prepare to leave tomorrow morning very early. We grab a few treats to sustain the upcoming overnight passage and shuttle back. When we get in the dinghy there is, in the corner by the engine, a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc (my favorite!) wrapped in a thank you note from Sheila and Michael of the SV Kantala. I heard correctly!!
Part 2 of this blog entry will be posted on Tuesday, December 19, 2017. See you then.