Monday, July 27, 2009

sailing the mist of avalon

well, that was a nice little blogcation and we're back to celebrate pay-per-hack writer's 100th post in style: aboard the 100-foot high, 100-foot long, 100-ton tall ship mist of avalon.

i somehow managed to talk my way on board the beautiful boat last monday and joined the parade of sail out of halifax at the end of the tall ship festival. don't i look like i'm the loneliest guy at the high school dance? soon after this photo was snapped from shore, we lowered the zodiac to ferry a couple of short-term passengers to land. my parents, on shore, evidently thought it was me abandoning ship.


we sailed out of the harbour to queue, and then followed the bluenose's lead back around george's island to sail past the assembled dignitaries. that pic's from the deck of the mist - lemme tell you, onboard is the best seat in the house.

after that, it was anchors away and off on the 36-hour trip to cape breton. that involved resetting the sails, and that involved me discovering that a leisurely life pressing buttons on a keyboard does not well-prepare you for the vicious work of crewing a tall ship. my delicate writer's hands, with their silken skin, were soon running red with blood. i had no idea what i was doing, but when someone yelled at me to pull on a rope, i pulled; when they yelled to let it go, i let it go.

after a heart-pounding decade of minutes, the sails were set and we serenely floated out of the harbour.

after we got safely away from the shore and all of its collisiony rocks, the captain, george mainguy, let me steer. including me, there were 9 crew on the mist and we divided the day up into 3 4-hour shifts - my group had noon to 4pm and midnight to 4am (more on that later).

sailing a tall ship is possibly the coolest thing i've ever done. i'm used to handling the yaris, and the biggest vessel i had previously commanded was a paddle boat, so steering the mist took some learning. i would notice i was veering off course on the compass and steer hard the opposite way. nothing would change, so i'd steer even more. then, the great bulk of the boat would yawn and start changing course. by that time i had so over-steered that we wound up heading to ireland. a rapid correction the other way suffered from the same problem and i was basically doing donuts in the ocean.

eventually, i got the hang of it, and it seems to offer general wisdom for life: make a little change, then wait 5 minutes. if more correction is needed, make a little more change, and wait.

repeat as necessary.

i'm writing it up today for the next few road warrior columns. No. 6 ran yesterday - an amazing acadian artist and her family living a rustic, thoughtful life in clare's bayou.

i fell in love with the family straight away and wanted to move into their cozy 1-bedroom cabin. it was the most serendipitous article - i had nothing planned, but wanted to write about acadians. i ran into sheila at a farmers market and could tell she had a great story to tell. i met her kids and then followed them back to their home to chat.

my favourite bit was when sheila told she was adrift in maine, working to get ralph nader elected. one day a rogue radiowave blew the voice of the cbc's costas halavrezos her way. he was discussing quilting on maritime noon, and her homesick reaction told her it was time to return to nova scotia.

i sent costas a note on that - he was tickled to learn the potency of his dulcet voice.
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