Monday, October 26, 2009

Day 16, and the following night: Odysseus reaches Ithaca

Day 16 dawned bright and clear. Wind very light but steady and the Scapegrace would steer herself again.

About noon a tiny colorful bird came unexpectedly fluttering out of nowhere and landed, obviously dead-tired and miles from anywhere, on the Scapegrace's foredeck. I tried to take pictures of him, or her, not very successfully:

(More at flickr.)

Friends of mine who are strong in birdlore tried to identify this bold sojourner, but the sages were somewhat divided:

"A Blackburnian Warbler in fall plumage? Note the streaking and the wingbars."

"G. thinks it is a Magnolia but I think she's wrong (fall plumage is duller)."

"Or perhaps a Blackpoll?"

Since I can't tell one bird from another, it was nice to see the sages puzzled too.

Whatever his race and nation, birdie stayed on my deck for an hour and a half or so, then took wing and fluttered stoutly off southward. I wished him -- or her -- the very best of luck.

The pleasant sunny day passed without incident, apart from a gruesome Gothic floating snag that I nearly hit. A whole tree trunk, twenty feet long or so, with a limb stretching up into the air and a congeries of gnarly knotted branches that looked like a grasping ghoulish hand. Kinda reminded me of my first landlord in New York -- a chap who was actually, I kid you not, struck down by a cerebral haemorrhage at sunset on Yom Kippur.

Oh and I ran over a seal -- at least, I think I did. There was a thump on the hull and I looked around and saw, ten feet astern, the seal's sleek little round head pop up, and I swear to you he glared at me, then indulged himself in the kind of rueful "what are they thinking of" headshake that I reserve for drivers who try to bully me out of a crosswalk in New York.

As dusk fell, I entered the Anonymascott River, the last leg of my journey. (I was bound for a secret island whose name I cannot utter. It's a Masonic thing.)

Now this is Maine. So the wind died and the fog descended with an almost audible thump, so thick you could hardly see past your extended arm, and so damp that the sail and the rigging and my nose dripped, and my glasses fogged up.

It was more or less slack water, so there was no current to fight, and I was very keen to get into a real warm bed, on dry land, next to a wife whom I had begun to consider semi-legendary. I fired up the old engine and went roaring, heedless of rocks and ledges and shelves and reefs, up the black-as-your-hat foggy Anonymascott at six knots or so.

I sorta know these waters -- not like a lobsterman, of course, but I've sailed 'em before. Even so: this was an insane move. It's a miracle I didn't bring the Scapegrace and myself to grief, and sink us both without a trace, a mile or two from Ithaca and Penelope.

For one thing, I nearly ran us smack into a buoy. It's a buoy with a bell, and of course I heard the bell, but directionality at night, in the fog, is uncertain -- and then, oh shit, the damn thing materialized out of the fog, dead ahead, rearing up like a monster in a low-budget horror movie. I flung myself on the tiller and scraped past with maybe a foot to spare, and I swear I could hear the Scapegrace muttering, "Idiot!"

Then of course I mistook the island next to my destination island for the island I wanted, and nearly tore the Scapegrace's keel off on a ledge of adamantine Maine granite -- a very different affair from the soft sand of Billingsgate Island -- before I realized my mistake, twenty feet from disaster.

Finally I found the right channel. It's a narrow twisty one, say thirty feet wide. I groped my way through it and became aware of a soft light ahead -- what could that be? Moonrise? Another boat?

The weather gods must be opera fans. They chose this moment to lift the fog -- whoosh! -- like a scrim, and reveal, through the suddenly crystalline air, the old familiar boathouse, with its homey porch lamp, on the island I sailed all this way to find.


Got the Scapegrace on her mooring at the first try. Closed the hatch any old how. Piled into the dinghy, whose motor miraculously started. Staggered up the boardwalk from the boathouse.

Amazing how hard it is to walk fast on land after two weeks and some on a boat -- I reeled crazily from side to side, like an old gent much the worse for country-club gin. Once actually put a leg over the boardwalk's edge, knee-deep into the mosquitoey muck.

But I knew the way, and though no dogs bothered to turn out, and no swineherds embraced my mucky knees, I soon found myself at the door of the cottage where wife and children slept quietly.

Actually, that's a lie; they were all snoring like sawmills. Not that I minded. A nice noise. Sounded like a Tibetan monastery. I catfooted up the stairs, did off my rank nautical clothing, and snuggled into bed next to Penelope.

She stirred drowsily, murmured complacently, "Oh, there you are!" and went back to sleep.


  1. Certainly a Blackburnian -- nothing like that orange. You should see them in the spring! And they have a nice song, goes up so high at the end it's nearly inaudible.
    Good you got there. I'm sorry the tale is over, though! When's the next installment?

  2. Oh, there's still the return trip -- even more eventful, actually.

  3. And the part about killing the suitors! You have to tell that. -- Pen

  4. I was quite prepared to kill any number of 'em, but they were all gone by the time I got there.

  5. Email from one of my Vogelfest friends, in response to Susan's comment above:

    Ha! G. won't like that -- she hates it when I'm right, if indeed I was right.

    Blackburnians are one of my favorite warblers. As your friend says, the orange of breeding plumage is wonderful. We usually see a few in Central Park each May. They're neckbreakers, almost always at the top of the tree.

    But I'm cross I missed the faint bits of orange still at the breast! In spring plumage the entire neck and head are orange.