Monday 11 November 2013

Pirates, Wenches, Rum... and a Whole Lot of Fun!

Arrrgh you ready for the tale of Two Harbors during buccaneer days on Catalina Island? Ye be warned it's not for the faint of heart. Those who read may be cursed with a turning stomach and thy ache to visit next year. Cast back into ye throne and read with steady speed all the while building thy image of the rough and haggard days of the untamed folk at sea.

Every year, around the first weekend of October, Catalina Island opens its Isthmus Harbor to thousands of pirates. They arrive by sailboat, powerboat, ferry, bus, car, even helicopter, and sleep in their boats or tents and mill about in costume and character. This isn't Halloween it's much better. Buccaneer days is a weekend of pirate debauchery.

Our journey started in Long Beach, where we loaded the boat with gear and set sail for Catalina. Our boat was a beauty, or so we thought. The "Patriot Dream," a large shallow vessel with a great breadth of beams, and bright white sides, just like an American. It was painted as if to give it a clumsy mercantile sheen exterior, but there were many things that contradicted this to the nautical eye. The decks were level and we could distinguish the grooves of her well-scrubbed decks. The mast was immensely strong and heavy, long and tapering. What a wonder it is, how many fine and slender coils it could support. The rigging was beautifully fit with every rope lying in the chafe of another. The sails were dry, old and patched, evidently displayed to cloak the character of the vessel by an ostentatious show of their unserviceable conditions.

Once at sea, I crack open a beer, throw on my bandanna and get ready to hoist the sails. It was a feeling not easily expressible in normal sentences, rather, much more elusively effective. It was a sensory overload. Liberating, freeing, bliss! Captain Campbell was at the wheel, motoring out of the marina. The rest of the crew was on the fore deck, watching for other boat traffic. All of us, grinning like sloppy newlyweds.

The main sail catches some wind, and the boat begins to heel. Pushing us forward, we cut the engine and let the wind take us away. I stop and listen, to the wind, the water, the chop of the ocean. The main sail flutters, the sound is almost musical, poetic. Captain yells to roll out the jib, we all reply, "aye aye!" twisting and turning the winch as fast as we can! We quickly pick up speed and glide across the ocean. The boat heels even more and as all the food and alcohol fall onto the floor, someone screams to reef the sail. But their request is quickly ignored as we pull the sail tighter! Sail on Captain, sail on!

Beneath the sparkling sky, our mast stands high carrying our grim reaper through the air. The sun is shining down over the water, illuminating the Earth. I step outside to enjoy some fresh air, and am suddenly escorted by dolphins at the port. The sweet mist of the ocean fills my lungs and the cool breeze entangles itself in my hair. Between the gusts of wind, I can almost hear the noise of excitement from other sailors miles away. 

As we make our way into the anchorage, harbor patrol directs us to our mooring ball. The water is so crystal clear you can see straight to the bottom. The depth of the waters captivates me. My state of reality is quickly altered and I'm suddenly stuck in a story of pirates and pearls. Several large bushy-whiskered fellows are lounging around nearby boat decks with their hair gathered into dirty tendrils. Many have red silk sashes hanging around their waists, through which they've stuck their long knives. Everyone has this certain daring, reckless manner. Several dozen boats are donning pirate flags high on their masts and the distant sound of cannons is firing off into the air.

We eventually make our way towards land to pick up our wrist bands for the weekend festivities. People everywhere are waving their sea worthy garb! After making our way to the dock without getting shot, ran over, or mugged, our next challenge is tying our dingy to the dock. There are some 7 or 8 rows of dingy boats you have to maneuver through as well as land mines of drunken pirates. The sound is almost legendary. Laughing, shouting, and the occasional burst of gunfire echo through the night as drinkers sing in unison...

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me.
We pillage, we plunder, we rifle, and loot,
Drink up me hearties, yo ho.
We kidnap and ravage and don't give a hoot,
Drink up me hearties, yo ho.

I meet some of the best dressed pirates and wenches I've ever seen. I can't even tell you how many people were holding swords in one hand and rum in the other. It was a weekend of pillaging and plundering to say the least! The many hours that took place before and after are now a cluster of random activities ranging from cannon fire, sloshed drinks, pegged leg men, snorkeling, stand up paddle boarding, kayaking, sailing, fishing and lobster diving.

The icing on our rum cake, was the long windy night of our boat rocking back and forth, then waking up at 5:00 AM the next morning with no power and a busted sail. With the liberal waterfall of booze, and the clear night sky, complete with a witching moon and smell of tribulation, we all succeeded in getting caught up in the fairy tale. Unfortunately, our hazy brains cast aside our boating responsibilities. Nobody paid attention to charging the boat battery overnight. The following morning, us rowdy pirates turned back into normal people with wicked hangovers and rolling tummies. Our plan of sailing out early the next morning to Avalon was quickly destroyed after waiting hours for a mechanic to jump our battery and get us going again.

We ended up sailing around the entire island, and made it to Avalon for a quick lunch! It was an epic weekend at sea. Our trip ended with a captivating sunset and narrow streak of moonlight. All sail was once more made. The bumpers were cast loose on both sides as we kept close to the wind. The giant white canvas was all we could see through the gloom of the night sky, like a snow covered wreath. Dark outlines of boats and other tumbling multitudinous billows guided us back from the horizon. The sight of land caused infinite joy among everyone.

"20 years from now, you'll be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the things you did do. So, throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbor, and catch trade winds in your sails. "

"Explore. Dream. Discover. 
You may not be able to direct the wind, but you can definitely adjust your sails. "

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