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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

SAILING

"I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way where the
wind's like a whetted knife:
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trek's over."
John Masefield 1878- 1967 "Sea Fever" st. 3

When I was youngI used to wish I was a boy so I could be a sailor. I was fascinated by the sea, and especially pirate stories. In my teens I was entranced by the smart-looking American sailors that used to visit the port of Vancouver. Later on, when my dad bought a small wooden-hull boat, christened Myfanwy (because he was Welsh), we spent a lot of time chugging around the local waters fishing and pleasure cruising back and forth to our island cottage. It was a very small boat with an inboard motor but it was fun to go out fishing and once my husband, a friend and I made the long voyage from the city to the island which was quite a day's adventure.

Since then I've taken many ferry trips both here and when I visit or lived in Greece but except for a media tour on a cruise ship I've never actually taken a real sea voyage. One of these days I'd love to make the trip up the Inland Passage to Alaska. British Columbia has a wonderful naval history. It was in these waters that famous captains like Cook and Bligh sailed, and our city is named for Captain George Vancouver who sailed here on one of the British ships exploring the coast on a quest to find the Northwest Passage. I once wrote and published a brochure about our island, Keats Island, which was named after the British captain Sir Richard Goodwin Keats who surveyed the coastal islands.

In just two more weeks my friend Ingrid and I will be flying to Venice and from there we are taking the ferry to Greece, a 24 hr. cruise down the Dalmation Coast. I'm quite excited about it as I love travelling by sea. I'm also fascinated by the research I've done about the Venetian navy and how once it patrolled and controlled many of the Greek islands and ports.
There used to be 90 different pirate ships cruising those waters so the Greeks had appealed to Venice for help and thus the Venetians built many coastal fortresses and kept their navy in those ports so they could protect the people from pirate raids. So this trip, starting at Venice and ending at Igoumenitsa Greece will be quite an adventure.

I took a ferry trip over to Vancouver Island this weekend to attend a writer's event and visit my cousins. We spent Saturday morning at the Royal B.C. Museum taking in the Titanic exhibit.
Before you enter, you are given a boarding pass from the White Star Line with the name of a passenger (real one!) and particulars about them. My boarding pass was for a woman named Mrs. Peter Joseph (Catherine Rizk) age 24 and her two children Michael (6) and Anna (2). Their accomodation was 3rd class steerage. Catherine suffered from TB and her husband had sent her and the children back to Lebabon, likely because it was a healthier climate than her home, Detroit, Michigan, but also to save money. However, in early April 1912 he sent for them to come home so they boarded the Titanic for the voyage.

As you board the 'ship' and are greeted by the captain (who looks like the real Capt. Smith of the Titanic) and you make your way through the exhibits from the ship's beginnings to its tragic end. There are docents dressed as various crew and passengers and they answer questions and engage you in conversation about the voyage and particulars about the ship.
There are many exhibits of articles brought up from the wreck which had laid undiscovered for 85 years in the bottom of the Atlantic. Amazingly, anything that had been stored in leather was still preserved as apparantly because of the tanning process the microorganisms didn't eat through to destroy the leather (such as wallets and trunks). There are photos of many of the passengers, mainly the most famous, and also bio notes on them along with whatever possessions were found. You learn how to operate the wireless morse-code and how there had been many messages sent to the ship warning of the icebergs but the wireless operators had failed to pass them on because they were too busy sending greetings to NY from 1st class passengers. A pair of damaged spectacles in a case reminds you that the officers on watch on the crowsnest that misty cold night didn't have binoculars as they had 'misplaced' them. You go into a dark chilly room where there is an 'iceberg' which you can touch to get the idea of just how cold it was. There is the sound of breaking ice and crashing as the ship hits the berg. (If it had hit dead on it wouldn't have sank, but because it hit sideways and staved in six of the bulkheads it sank very quickly.) Then, at the end you check the passengers lists and see if your person survived the sinking. Catherine and her children miraculously escaped. Most of the third class passengers didn't. It was such a moving experience, very interactive and personal. There are a couple of videos shown, including one terrifying reenactment of the sinking. We didn't have time to take in the Imax show so I'm planning to go back again later in the summer. It's well worth a second visit.

Well, I don't expect my ship to sink although with the record for ferry sinking in Greece the last couple of years (and one recently off Santorini) it makes one pause for thought. However, not too likely, and it is a voyage to really look forward to. Yo ho ho and a bottle of ouzo! (or maybe Metaxa brandy!)

"There was a ship came from the north country,
And the name of the ship was the Golden Vanity
And they feared she might be taken by the Turkish enemy,
That sails upon the Lowland, Lowland, Lowland,
That sails upon the Lowland sea."
Anonymous Shanty "The Golden Vanity"

"Ships are but boards, sailors but men:
there be land-rats and water-rats, land-thieves and water-thieves."
William Shakespeare 1564- 1616 "The Merchant of Venice", 1 iii 22





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