Thursday, November 6, 2014

In Memory of Two Fine Gentlemen

 This month has been a difficult one for the crew of the Schooner Zodiac. We lost our friend Barney Higgins several weeks ago and on Sunday night, our cook Ian Relay passed away. Both men were larger-than-life characters, both warm, friendly "gentle bears" and they will be sorely missed by our fellow shipmates for many years to come.

My youngest daughter never had to deal with loss up until now. She basically grew up with Ian in the galley and has been reminiscing a great deal lately. Stories of Ian changing his menu and cooking chicken soup for her when she was sick during a cruise--using wagon wheel pasta because Wagon Wheel was the song she was learning to play on the guitar. Her favorite Ian memory is when she walked through the galley and heard Dire Straits playing on Ian's playlist. She told him her parents named her after their favorite Dire straits song, Romeo & Juliet. Ian thought that perhaps her parents should have named her after another Dire Strait's song, Industrial Disease...and then proceeded to call her Industrial Disease for the remainder of the cruise.

Occasionally, Ian's son Stuart joined us on cruises. He helped his dad in the galley and volunteered on deck as needed. It was especially entertaining to hear them in the galley working. I'd stand next to the main mast and could hear them below through the butterfly hatch... "Now Son, think about what you're about to do."

Everyone has their favorite Ian stories. Most of them involve one of his hilarious sayings... "Winning an argument with her is like pissing in a dark suit. It feels warm and comfy right off the bat--but nobody ever notices." Or the oft heard (screamed from below randomly), "GLUUUUUUUTEN!"

My favorite memories of Ian however, are more subtle: The tea kettle of hot water he would have ready for me as I walked out of the mate's cabin every morning--no matter how many pots were on the burners or different meals he was in the middle of making, it was always ready for my "high-maintenance" french press... The shortbread cookies and tortoni that he'd hide away for me because he knew I always went to bed before dessert was served... the night we were dismasted and all of our passengers were shuttled over to Kwaietek--Ian sat on the deckbox near the helm as I stationed myself at our rudderless wheel. He had no passengers to cook for and was exhausted (like the rest of us), from the chaotic events of the day. I remember him just sitting...sun was setting, winds were picking up and chunks of mast lay all around, a can of soda was perched on his leg as Ian watched the horizon.

Barney was a Captain and a poet. He played rugby and cribbage and brewed beer. He loved his wife and his Irish whiskey. Although he didn't crew much on the Zodiac toward the end, he was an established icon; a big part of the ship's lore. Stories abound of Barney's antics on and off the ship. His poem  "Bosun's Ghost" was about the old ship's cat--and supposed demise of said cat. It was just one of several of Barney's creations that got published. Barney always had a funny story and a kind word for everyone.

Jeff's favorite Barney story is of when the Kwaietek arrived to aid the dismasted Zodiac. Barney and our friend Rory MacLysaght were onboard Kwaietek as licensed captains. The passengers were transferred aboard to ride back to Bellingham while Zodiac waited for the Terrapin to tow her back. As the seas got rougher and the boat turned beam-to, she began to roll. With sixteen kids and three chaperones on deck, Jeffery worried that someone might go overboard. He asked Barney to make a correction so the seas would follow them. Upon turning the boat for the swells to quarter her, Barney exclaimed loudly, "She sure is ass-friendly!" (The chaperones were not extremely pleased with that comment).

There are so many more stories and countless memories of our friends and fellow shipmates. I encourage anyone who sailed with them or shared in their land-based exploits to comment below and share their tales.

Below is a link to a poem that I wrote the other day.
For Barney, Ian and all lovers of the sea.

 click here:  windline press "A Shipmate's Departure"

Fair winds and following seas, boys.

~ Chris

Blow you winds, blow!

An excerpt from Prepare to Come About relating to a rather nasty week in 2010 from:

Chapter 32 Coping Techniques

 Holy shit!” Jeff exclaimed, as we watched huge waves crash over the seawall and break into the terminal’s parking lot. The wind’s ferocity had grown much stronger by the time it reached the south side of the bay. With miles of fetch to build upon, the waves were enormous—frightening, even. I tried to open the car door and found it nearly impossible to push against the wind. Jeffery stepped out to help Juliet from her seat. A wave breached the wall and doused him with salt water. “Let’s get her inside!” He yelled over to me. “I’m going down to the dock and find out what’s happening with Tim!”

            I grabbed Juliet’s arm and we pushed our way into the foyer of the terminal. Once we made it to the shelter of the brick building, the noise of the wind died substantially. “Man—this feels like the Oregon coast!” 

            “I don’t like this one bit!” Juliet replied.

            We walked through the terminal doors and found Christine standing next to the giant Christmas tree in the lobby, chatting with one of the Alaska ferry employees. Juliet ran over to the pair and gave Christine a big hug. “Hey, Miss J!” she exclaimed. “Fancy meeting you guys here on this fine winter’s day.”

            “Hi there. I’m sure glad you guys could come help—it’s flippin’ intense on this side of town!” I said, and nodded a cursory greeting toward the ferry worker. I continued, “Is your Jeff out there already? My Jeff just went down to see what can be done.”

            “Yeah, my Jeff’s trying to help push the fenders back in—I guess they keep popping out every time a new wave shows up. It’s deadly down there right now. I didn’t bring the right kind of apparel, so I’m staying in here where it’s dry and warm.”

            “Well then, would you mind hanging out with Juliet while I go down to help the guys?” I asked.

            “Sure! Miss J and I will keep each other company, won’t we?”

            Juliet nodded and then said, “Be really careful, Mom. It’s not safe out there.”

            “I will—wait here and I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

            I sensed a sort of dread and deja vu as I walked through the terminal doors. My mind replayed a similar incident—one that required me to leave my daughter in someone else’s care while I dealt with a dismasting. Why does it feel like I’m eternally handing off my kids? An icy blast shook me back to the present crisis as I turned toward Zodiac’s gate.

            I stared in awe at the scene below me. The ramp was covered in glazed ice and as I followed it to where it met the dock, I was shocked at how the entire structure moved—not merely moved, but undulated… The floating dock actually pitched, yawed and rolled in uneven rhythms. Snow covered over two-thirds of the concrete float, frozen into glacier-like sheets. I could make out four men in foul weather gear; they struggled to keep their balance as the dock threw them about with each swell. There were three other vessels beside the Zodiac that were tied alongside; they all lunged and rocked in separate tempos. Zodiac had the worst of it, as she was moored on the east side of the dock. The waves seemed to be arriving from a northeasterly direction and smashed her into the dock with each impact. Without her masts to balance her, she had no defenses against the pounding surf. Her deck was covered by a 2x4-framed structure, plastic-wrapped to keep the topsides dry for winter restoration. The weather cover worked against her now—its windage providing more surface area for the gale to assault.

            I held onto the rails and carefully picked my way down the slippery ramp. When I set foot on the icy dock, I immediately fell sideways. “We’re all going to die out here.” I muttered. 
Searching, I spotted Jeffery alongside the other Jeff—yanking on frozen mooring lines. Further down the pier, I recognized Grant, one of the captains from the large whale watching vessel across from us. His six-foot, four-inch frame was almost completely covered in waves as he pulled on the lines of the Victoria Star. The dock surged once more and I grabbed for a piling to steady myself.

            I heard the unmistakable sound of Zodiac’s 500-horsepower Caterpillar diesel grumble and splutter, then spring to life. I looked over toward the gangway—the only uncovered portion of her deck. Tim leaned out to check the engine’s cooling water and then yelled down toward me. “We’ve got to get off the dock! Are you coming?”

            I swallowed hard and paused—unable to reply. A dozen scenarios raced through my mind in a matter of seconds—only to be blotted out by the urgent sound of the captain’s voice. “Chris! Now or never—I can’t wait!”


~ Chris