Sailing Ariadne
My adventure buddy Jon joined me on Ariadne’s maiden voyage. I’ve known Jon for decades and we've seen some stuff. It’s nice getting older: you have more friends as the years go on, and your old friendships grow stronger. But as we age we become more disease prone, and more time means more time for accidents. What are the chances that someone you know will be struck by lightning? Eaten by a shark? Hit by space debris? Put enough stuff on the list, wait long enough, and the chance is 100%. So age then is the experience of being lucky enough to have dodged the space debris, but also knowing someone who didn’t. If you are very lucky you will be the last of your friends alive. But you won’t feel lucky. In youth we are lucky too, most of us, to have not thought of this yet. Though because we haven’t thought of it yet we don’t feel lucky then either. Unwanted or unnoticed luck at both ends of our lives.
I wasn’t thinking about this at all at 3:47am, out on the bow of Ariadne, trying to decide if the anchor was dragging. We had set the anchor at low tide in about 12 feet of water. Now it was high tide and 25 feet of water. It was the wind that woke me: Ariadne sails around at anchor in a breeze and I must have felt the change in the boat’s motion. There wasn’t much wind but I am grateful that it woke me up because the high tide had come with a swift current through the anchorage and we were in fact dragging towards the rocks. I put my hand on the anchor chain to feel for trouble. The gravelly vibration of chain on stone traveled up the 40 feet of rode and told me there was trouble. But it was 3:52am so I knelt there for a while on the foredeck trying to shake the fog of my dreams. The current rushing past the chain kept it from falling straight down. Instead it formed a taught arc that was illuminated by bioluminescent creatures. They hit the chain as they rushed by, emitting an explosion of sparks that trailed out behind the chain all down its graceful catenary into the depths. As I took in the beauty I didn’t think about the human condition, mortality, or anything else.
By 3:57am there was no doubt that we were dragging and I called down to Jon and we started the engine, pulled anchor, and tied to a mooring ball. Then we made coffee and hit the road. There was enough light by 4:45am to set sail, and who can sleep after nearly going up on the rocks?
We sailed south in the islands to spend the day with a friend who had recently seen off cancer. They subjected him to all the usual terrible treatments, but he is recovering well. We spent the day sailing out to Stuart Island and back. It’s a remote place but inhabited, with a rough grass airstrip and misspelled road signs carved into wood. There is an old cemetery where most of the names on the stones end the same way. We walked about, visited the old school library and their fine collection of Jacques Cousteau books, drank Rainier, pissed in a skunk cabbage swamp, and visited the lighthouse. In addition to the Rainiers we had packed a lunch. We picked a scenic overlook up above the lighthouse on a rocky bluff to eat. There we found shade under the only two trees on the bluff, a madrone and a doug fir. They had chosen the same spot to grow in a crack in the stone where a tiny bit of earth accumulated. Their entwined roots were adding new cracks as they slowly grew over the centuries. Under their canopy our lunchtime was just a blip, a mere instant in time. Those trees may have all the time in the world but we get to spend our short lives with eyes and so we were able to enjoy the scene: the majority of the Canadian Gulf Islands were visible, Sidney on Vancouver Island, out to the Olympic Mountains in the distance, and all that water down below, flooding up and ebbing back through the channels between the islands. We finished our Rainiers on the way back and pissed in the skunk cabbage swamp again.
We returned our friend to his island, raised our glasses to our good health, and said goodbye.
That night Jon reviewed his frog recordings. He made two attempts, one on Sucia Island and another on Matia Island. These little islands are at the far NW corner of the state, mere rocks lying exposed out in the southern part of the strait of Georgia. The best recording was the frogs of Matia. They were so loud, and such impossible creatures on a bit of land too small to have a real watershed. There is just a low point where the rain accumulates and the cattails grow and thousands of frogs spawn. They must have left some mainland community of frogs as eggs stuck to a bird’s leg or floated off with a log and held on until they went ashore with the driftwood. On Matia they live out their isolated lives in that tiny pond behind a thin curtain of trees, ferns, and moss, surrounded by salt water that is lethal to them.
On Sucia the frogs were quieter, so the recording wasn't quite as good. But the moonless night was lovely. It was so dark our anchor light cast shadows far from the boat. As we rowed our dinghy back from the beach in the blackness we could see the bioluminescence through the hull. The skin and frame boat is translucent and the hull moving through the water disturbs those little critters. They go by like stars streaking out after the spaceship has jumped to warp speed. It’s just the most extraordinary thing. Jon and I first saw that about 9 years ago when we were anchored out in our Pacific Loons off of Tumbo Island. That anchorage had a current much like the one we dragged anchor in and galaxies sped by under our hulls gently lighting up the boats as we slept. I’d like to sleep like that more often, but its hard to find the time. In our lives we mostly don’t get to sleep in anchorages full of bioluminescence, but I suppose the bioluminescent creatures do. And they always have.
It’s fun to think what immortality might do to us, or if not immortality, a very long life like Tolkien’s elves. If you are going to live for millenia, would you buy more durable goods? Why walk another day of your long life in poorly made shoes? Find a shoemaker you like and work with them for the next thousand years. They’ll keep the foot molds for you on file, so after 50 years when this pair wears out, it’ll be easy to make more.
I was using some crappy product, maybe it was something for shaving? Or a badly designed mixing bowl? And I thought that if mankind lived forever we wouldn’t stand for this shit. The company that sold it would be shunned and even centuries later an attempt to dupe the public into buying it would be met with scorn. Not that crap again! The “lifetime value” or LTV of a customer is a metric business types think about. How much can we spend to acquire one more Netflix viewer? You can spend almost as much as their LTV and still make money. What is the LTV of an immortal? What is the cost of losing their business? On a personal level too — if we were all immortal we would be very nice to each other, lest we have no friends left in a thousand years. “Hrothgar the moss covered one? Oh yeah, we used to room together during the crusades. Never did the dishes, what a jerk”
When I was fixing up Ariadne I read about chainplates. These hold the cables that hold the mast up. They are under a lot of strain and if they fail the mast will fall down. This could be bad, or it could be worse. This could kill you. Most chainplates are made of stainless steel. They are strong enough that they cannot fatigue from use. But stainless tragically stains, and the rust in stainless can be extensive on the inside while not so obvious on the outside. They are almost impossible to inspect and so the recommendation is to replace them every 10 to 20 years. Mine were likely 40 years old. We chose to spend twice as much money on bronze chainplates. These are slightly bulkier to insure that same fatigue-proof strength level given the weaker metal. And they look way nicer. But mainly — if bronze had been chosen 40 years ago I wouldn’t need to replace them now. Immortals would certainly choose bronze.
I only plan to sail the boat for another couple of decades. I am not immortal. I probably could have gotten away with stainless. But the boat will survive me. I don’t want the mast to fall on the next person either. And every day I see Ariadne I admire her bronze chainplates. How long does life need to be before you are willing to buy the nice shoes? Why walk around in cheap ones? What asshole designed that shitty mixing bowl? Hrothgar the moss covered one? Compared to those who died too young, those we loved who failed to dodge the space debris, we are if not immortal at least very long lived. The responsibility we bear for having the luck of these long lives is to live well. We can’t replicate the strength and permanence of the trees on the cliff, or the startling beauty of the bioluminescent plankton, or the existential purity of the frogs on Matia. But we can at least observe and appreciate them, and share the experience with our friends who are still left standing.
Also we should try to make less space debris.

Sailing Ariadne